Sunday, September 03, 2006

Spaghetti Junction

Most American cities I've spent much time in adhere to a pretty strict grid system when it comes to streets. Denver, DC, Chicago, St. Louis, Tucson -- all parallel layouts, all reassuring right angles.

If those cities are Mondrians, Atlanta's a Pollock. A bird's-eye view makes it look as if the city was laid out by a maddened child. Where other cities have straightaways Atlanta has curves. Streets change name seemingly at random (I've been told by several natives that it's because the city's white population didn't want to be said to live on the same streets as the city's black population; I've never found official confirmation of it, but I'm inclined to believe it). Streets stop only to resume a mile away. Orphaned blocks of once-important streets lead nowhere, strangled by development.

I'm not sure what created this chaos. Could be the need to rebuild the city after past disasters, the hilly topography of the land, the viaduct system put in place early in the 20th century, ill-conceived and aborted highway plans that left scars on the city's landscape, or just the heat driving city planners to insanity.

When I was a teenage sociopath, reading every horror novel I could get my hot little hands on, I read a bunch of novels by a fellow named Charles L. Grant. I couldn't relate the titles to you if you held a gun to my head (I'm not suggesting you do that, by the way), but one detail has stuck with me all these years: the town in which these books took place was a Lovecraftian place of horrors, one that played evil tricks on residents' minds, and one character was left crawling along the town line, disoriented, unable to figure out how to proceed homeward. While I'm not suggesting Atlanta is evil, it plays similar tricks. You'll run into things that you've mentally placed a block or a mile away. Remember our friend, the mystery tower? I first ran into that on a journey that took me south and a little east of where I live. Today I went south and west -- and ran into it again. These things are common. Things aren't where you think they are.

That's part of the purpose of these walks -- to help me get a grasp on the geography that surrounds me. As may be obvious, it's not totally helping.

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On this morning's walk, I came across this really cool and really decrepit house. Nothing to add to it, really, so I'll just present the photos:

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