A Marta Moment

By Chelsea Stanton

An exciting Thursday: today is the day of the Thanksgiving basket sign-up!  Managing the steep stairs down from our apartment, I see crimped lines of people stretching down the driveway, waiting (im)patiently for a neon bright index card with the Muriel Lokey Center stamp and number that Bethany and I spent Wednesday preparing. It is just after 9 a.m. and already a crowd of triumphant people loiter at Mr. McGruder’s store and the bus stop, moving on with their day, secure that Thanksgiving dinner will happen this year.

I wander past the lines, clad with my splattered-paint backpack and purple Vans, to join the folks at the northbound MARTA stop, all standing quietly. My travels on Atlanta’s unreliable public transit help me feel like a part of the city, moving through the streets en masse, sharing a common experience with thousands of annoyed travelers.  Like a tiny miracle of regularity, the bus appears, the driver greets, and our group moves onto the already-and-always crowded #55.  I take my usual place standing beside the back doors, my paleness sticking out like a sore white thumb, a familiar sensation.

“I saw all those people waiting at the bottom of the driveway, not even seeing that red-bearded man waiting at the top with nobody around ‘im.  So I just trotted on up there.  Made it out with my card in five minutes,” the woman in the green hat announces, smugly yet warmly.

“Me too, dawlin’.  I saw you start up there and followed right behind,” says the woman with the red handbag, “a great idea.”  They discuss more thoroughly the placement of the card givers and the silliness of the unobservant folk waiting in line.

The first woman turns to me, and, with a look of motherly concern, asks, “What number did you get?”

“Me?” I say, surprised and delighted to be invited into a conversation I thought I’d only been eavesdropping in on, “I didn’t get one.”  She tilts her head at me with a look that questions why not.

The conversation continues, my brain simultaneously listening and wandering off to process.  A Word arises in my mind, matter-of-factly: this is where & who you need to be.  A member of humanity, living in touch with the reality of poverty, refusing privilege earned by oppression, remembering moments that bring into focus the beautiful commonality once dulled by prejudice and fear.

I am overcome with gratitude.  Thankful to be a part of the life of the city.  Thankful to be seen as more than my skin color and my gender.  Thankful to be cared for by strangers.  Thankful to be perceived without judgment or strict expectation.  Thankful for a moment of communion.

Our conversation continues, jokes waffling in the air between the two women, myself, and a man carrying a retro Dijon yellow suitcase. I lean against the cold metal bar, shuffling away from the door at the stop-requested dings, amazed to be where I am.