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HOMETOWN U.S.A.: Atlanta

Snow puts Hotlanta on ice

Just 5 lingering inches shut down schools, ice roads and jeopardize pizza delivery.

January 16, 2011|Richard Fausset

The extent to which modern, multicultural and ever-morphing Atlanta can be considered a "Southern" city is one of its richest and most mystifying questions. At times the metropolis feels most comfortable wearing its Southernness in quotation marks: At the Heirloom Market BBQ, the pulled pork comes marinated in Korean gochujang chile paste. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has declared the dish an unqualified hit.

But this month, the city proved quintessentially Southern in its inability to deal with 5 inches of snow.

It had stopped falling by Monday. The problem was a cold-weather system that floated down from Canada with freezing temperatures that just wouldn't let the stuff melt all week. The city and state struggled to clear major roads. For a few days, commerce and public life were put on hold.

Some Atlantans improvised. At a Domino's on 10th Street, they broke out what might be called the "Rely on the Yankees" plan. Senior assistant Tony Reynolds said his drivers had the option of coming to work or not. Some chose not. "And I got some guys who have lived in Chicago, places like that, where snow is like an everyday thing," he said.

Reynolds originally hails from Newark, N.J., so the snow didn't bother him. "It just kind of made me mad that nobody was out to clean the roads."

On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the city's meager stash of snow-clearing hardware had been bolstered by an army of private contractors who were slogging away around the clock.

But by early Friday morning, much of the snow and ice remained stuck to the city like white on rice. Schools were closed for a fifth straight day. Numerous city bus routes were canceled. Navigating icy side streets on foot felt worthy of an 8.2 score from an Estonian judge.

The zeitgeist among Atlantans had tilted decisively from "sleigh bells ring, are you listening?" to "enough is enough." At the website of the alternative weekly Creative Loafing, a blog entry from writer Thomas Wheatley summed up the mood at 8:47 a.m.: "Snowpocalypse, please just go away now."

And then -- just before lunchtime and right out of the George Harrison playbook -- here came the sun, melting away a week of frustrations both personal and civic.

At Hurt Park downtown, a homeless man named Cleophus Traylor doffed his coat, and sat on a dry concrete bench amid a melting field of glistening snow, reading a book called "One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven." He'd been spending the last few days stuck in the packed homeless shelter on Peachtree Street.

"It feels good to be out, man," he said.

On the Atlanta Connector -- the north-south band of interstate that bisects the city's heart -- drivers who had spent days crawling around in second gear were once again engaging in daredevil lane changes, high-speed drafting, and other techniques apparently lifted from NASCAR.

At 10:40 am, Wheatley had changed his tune, punning on the fictional ice planet where Luke Skywalker was mugged by a deep-space Yeti:

"I now declare Hothlanta to be called Thawtlanta," he wrote. "Discuss."

People from colder climes might laugh at Atlanta's snowbound woes. But in the city's defense it must be noted that Atlanta usually gets only about 2 inches of snow a year. And it did try to shovel its way out.

In the Grant Park neighborhood, for example, massive front-end loaders could be heard sporadically scraping through the night Thursday.

Not everything went as planned. Wheatley's colleague Scott Henry documented a pile of sand left in the middle of a Grant Park street, apparently to be spread later, but with no orange cones marking it off.

A few hours later, he took a photo of an Acura Integra that had plowed into the sand pile and apparently become stuck.

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