Ask any Atlantan what inner city street most often leads to suicidal thoughts and you will undoubtedly hear the words Howell Mill. This treacherous strip that takes drivers from the edge of downtown to the West Side is fraught with narrow space, fickle traffic lights, and general peril. Howell Mill exists to trap drivers like you and me in endless, bumper to bumper traffic behind the the drivers with a “God Hates Fags” bumper sticker next to the one that says, “Smile! Jesus loves you!”
Howell Mill is Atlantan for “Agony.”
On a chilly evening in September, I experienced agony as hundreds of cars slowly made their way past the spot where my car lay, nearly beaten to death, in a pawn shop parking lot. The set of flashing blue lights coaxed passing traffic to slow down and get a closer look at the scene. As I stood by the wreckage, I had no choice but to meet each inquisitive gaze as I held tight to my drivers license, insurance card, and full bodied rat suit complete with foam helmet.
I have only ever engaged in two relationships that resulted from my stint in online dating. My first experience with a semi-pro Dance Dance Revolution competitor should have taught me my lesson, but masochism and amusement ran hand in hand and I occasionally continued to subject myself to OkCupid.com’s finest. Each one seemed more hilariously bizarre than the next - until I met Topher, a rather normal pre-med student.
It was pleasant for a little while. He lived in Atlanta, making it convenient to live a separate life from my weekday routine at school. After five days packed with day classes and evening rehearsals, I would drive an hour into the city and stay at Topher’s house while I worked my job at the soda museum on the weekends. In the evenings we would make dinner and I would write more of my thesis, a one woman show due to be performed in the spring.
Pleasant though it may have been, it was also doomed from the beginning. I carelessly and casually tossed in the phrase, “I love you,” a month in and he met my parents shortly after.
“I can love people and not be in love with them,” I said to him one night, “and just because someone met my parents, what was the big deal? Everyone meets my parents.”
Further complications resulted his ongoing struggle with depression, the fact that we had little in common other than a mutual love of drinking the whole pot of coffee, and lack of any real sexual chemistry. Realizing that I was doing more harm than good by staying, I began to look for a way to make as graceful of an exit as possible.
That is, until the accident.
We had stopped at the intersection of Howell Mill and a neighborhood street. Rush Hour traffic clogged both lanes, prompting periods of stagnation intermixed with random spurts of green light and drivers stepping on the gas to see how many cars could make it through the shrinking gateway to freedom. All of this chaos - and I needed to make a left turn.
“Why didn’t you just go to the light?” Topher asked, annoyed.
“I don’t know,” I replied, "I just didn’t."
“You’re never going to make it,” he said quietly.
“You don’t know that,” I replied, feverishly shifting glances from left to right.
“I do know that.”
“God! Why is this so difficult? Can’t these people see that I need to make a left turn?”
“You just keep a look on the side and I’ll tell you when it’s clear over here.
“No, I’ve been there and done that before. It ended with my car getting t-boned by the Honey Wagon man.”
“The septic tank cleaner.”
“He called his truck the honey wagon?”
I couldn’t back up; there was already another car behind me.
They honked their horn.
“Jas, you need to go,” Topher said.
“I need a better opening!” I replied, annoyed.
I looked to my right.
“Ok, no one’s coming from that side, what about -”
“Jas. No one is coming! Just go!”
“But what about -”
“There is no one coming; I can see; GO!”
Startled, I put my foot down on the gas and turned left into oncoming traffic.
I suddenly felt the heavy impact of a fully loaded mini-van.
End Part I.
Please return for Part II - where I have to face the Atlanta Police Department and explain to them why a full bodied rat suit is in the trunk of my car.