Over 30,000 people live on either side of Buford Highway, the seven-lane concrete river that slices through northeast Atlanta. The majority is foreign-born; at least half are Latino. Over 1,000 own businesses along the highway. As the area has mutated from a, white, blue-collar, automobile suburb into a poor, immigrant, pedestrian community, the highway itself has become a murderous obstacle:
To sum up the video: (but seriously, watch it–even if it means skipping the rest of this post):
- Crosswalks along the highway are at points a mile apart along a hilly, low-visibility road.
- Bus stops and sidewalks are mostly patches and strips of dirt.
- Crossing Buford Highway on foot is, frankly, pretty suicidal.
I discovered all of this on my very own this Wednesday, as I wandered up and down Buford Highway. I was on assignment from Gray Ghost Ventures to dive into the life of the working poor in Atlanta, with only a MARTA card, three dollars, and a role to play–that of an out-of-work cashier in need of a job. What I learned along the way:
- Atlanta’s Latin American Association has their act together. I went through LAA’s job placement seminar on Wednesday, and am probably going to start looking for jobs there in my real life.
- People on Buford Highway are generally friendly and helpful. Juan gave me tips for job-hunting (“stand up straight! Approach with confidence!”). Gilberto called his construction boss and got me an afternoon job after overhearing my pitch to a restaurant owner.
- Even on Buford Highway, Wendy’s value menu is lunch option number one if you only have $2.
- There is a private bus company and a bewildering system of taxi shuttles along the highway, in response to slack MARTA service. Seriously entrepreneurial, that one.
- Being bilingual makes finding a job very, very easy. If my life falls apart, I can totally scratch it out on Buford Highway.
- A valid Social Security Number is most definitely not a prerequisite to finding employment in this corner of ATL.
- It is easier for me to convince people that I have a deadbeat Ecuadorian dad than to convince them that I have no high school education (Thanks, Caddo Parish School System?).
Some non-linear internet research revealed the following:
- The GM plant around which these suburbs first developed in the 1940s may become the Falcons’ new home.
- Some seriously terrible ideas have been floated for how to monetize Buford’s international flavor.
- ATLANTA JUST ISSUED ITS FIRST FOOD TRUCK PERMIT. ROACH COACHES, HERE WE COME!
- People can get way, way too serious about fast food: “Woman starts fight over chicken nuggets.”
*Much like you, dear reader, I have my doubts about the ethics and the efficacy of trying to mimic the lives of the poor. Because that’s a relatively boring argument, however, I ask that you ignore that point and continue meandering along with me.