Cartoon Airplanes


I bought this framed poster, a print of an illustration called Plane Crazy, at a flea market in Monteagle, Tennessee for $10. This was not the giant, roadside I-24 Flea Market that greets interstate travellers at the peak of Monteagle Mountain every weekend. It was the other flea market, the one happening simultaneously, further down Highway 41, where locals go to buy and sell melons and tomatoes, chickens and ducks, camo and boots (new and used), taxidermied deer heads and scabby-tailed puppies, and strange collections of VHS tapes, glass ashtrays, and framed art. It’s the thrift store for a town without a thrift store, a yard sale for a community without yards.

Since I was standing in a gravel lot on a mountaintop in Tennessee, it took me a minute to recognize the airport. The airlines are now mostly defunct: Eastern, Pan Am, Piedmont. But the orange terminals caught my eye. Then the details: the Hapeville Ford plant, I-75 and I-85, and a MARTA train the size of a caterpillar. I have never seen such a wacky, colorful, loving representation of the gargantuan airport in my backyard.

The old man selling this drawing took my cash and I told him it was the Atlanta Airport. He didn’t know anything about the poster or where it came from. A tiny signature at the bottom says Alex Black (Psalm 139) and a tiny bus on I-75 is labeled “Convention ‘88” with a donkey. Maybe this poster was commissioned for the Democratic National Convention in 1988. Or some celebration surrounding a milestone at the new Midfield Terminal, which opened in 1981.

Whatever the occasion, this poster is evidence of an interesting moment in the history of aviation, of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and of the southside of Atlanta. It is a celebration of the Atlanta Airport. With all those big-nosed, cartoon airplanes, all its Where’s Waldo activity, in its goofy and specific attention to detail, it makes the airport look fun, or even beloved. 


I wrote this post on an airplane. 

The next day, Mug spotted another Alex Black creation hanging on the wall at Delta Community Credit Union. This one looks like a playful, Delta-commisioned tribute to its fleet and employees created, maybe, around the 1996 Centennial Olympic games.

This one feels like an ad, where the first was more like a tool for placemaking. If I commissioned an illustration of the airport now, what would be celebrated?  

The Last House on South West Street


This part is so predictable, it’s almost boring. Like death. I dread writing it and, in fact, have been putting it off for months.


Last fall, a friend sent me some photos from Mountain View. They showed a freshly cleared demolition site: a yellow backhoe parked beside a bulldozer, a plane of combed red dirt, and a tidy stack of broken concrete slab.


I knew right away it was the lot at the corner of South West Street and Old Dixie Highway. I could tell by the angle of a jet aiming up and over the blank backside of a low warehouse. I’ve spent a lot of time with that one ivy-eaten oak tree, its top branches honeyed by the sunset. It was the site of the last remaining house on the last remaining corner of the street where I used to live.


The back of my neck felt hot as I flipped through the photos. It felt like a particularly large bill had finally arrived in the mail. You stand there in the street for a little too long, vaguely wishing you could mend the torn envelope, close the mailbox, return to sender. It was a dirty shock, but it could hardly be called a surprise.


They tore down Dell Air.


I have been observing the steady erasure of this block over the last decade. I’ve been to this spot many times, always in search of some clue about what happened to my house. What began in the early ‘80s with residential buyouts continues today with the clearing of commercial properties. It’s a slow process, imperceptible to the average passerby. The demolition seems to happen in slow motion, or in the night. I never actually witness the backhoes in action. I just cruise through and another Mountain View artifact is missing, fresh asphalt in its place.


Aside from that clawed up, unsettled feeling, it’s no surprise because the plans are out there; they’re public record. Mountain View has been at the top of Clayton County’s list of redevelopment projects for over a decade. While it may look like a good place to dump tires, in the eyes of a planner, Mountain View has a lot going for it. Clayton County’s Economic Development Director called it “the last great green, developable area inside the perimeter.”


It’s a delicate pitch. Mountain View is not a blank slate. There are still a few businesses, homes, and stragglers that need to be cleared. The only “green” swaths fall between the rows of warehouses, when summer kudzu unfolds across the ruins of the old neighborhoods.


Still, the location, wedged between the interstates and the airport, is ideal for logistics firms, freight-forwarders, and government agencies like the FAA. This proximity to the airport once made it an undesirable place to live. Now that’s the chief selling point. Clayton County is betting its economic future on these haunted acres.

A conceptual land use plan from 2003. 


(Portrait by John Kelso) 


The last house on South West Street wasn’t really a house anymore. It was the headquarters and sole location of Dell Air, a heating and air conditioning shop founded by Dell Thompson.


“My dad bought this house when I was 6 months old,” he told me. “In 1942. Back then, it had an outhouse.”


The house sits on a busy stretch of Old Dixie Highway facing the railroad tracks. As the only building left on the block, South West Street is essentially the driveway for Dell Air. The neighborhood of his childhood home sounds rural: chickens and goats, garden plots, a general store, and outhouses.


Thompson lived there until 1960, the year he graduated from Forest Park High School. That’s when his family moved out of Mountain View. Dell married, had kids, and came back in 1973 to set up his own business in the old house. He knew the location was ideal; he had learned the trade right down the street at his first job with Estes Heating & Air.


It should be no surprise that I had a family connection to Dell Thompson. His wife was my mother-in-law’s best friend and his son grew up with my husband. Now retired and living in Alabama, he met me at the office during one of his visits to Atlanta for medical appointments. I told him my parents lived on South West Street, it was my first childhood home too.


Thompson reminded me of that stoic uncle who’s a fixture at every cookout and holiday, maintaining his quiet post. A tall man in his 60s, I imagine he was a redhead before his mustache turned white. I recognized the heavy hands and shoulders of a long career in blue collar labor. Thompson’s measured, quiet demeanor could be a form of shyness. Or maybe it was the natural reticence of any interviewee. He kept his hands in his pockets and directed his words not really to me, but to the spaces off to the side. It was hard to get him to talk, so I asked for a tour.


The house had survived many conversions and additions over the years. The bricked-in porch was converted to the company vault. A 2-storey addition off the back of the house  more than doubled its square footage and gave the place a decidedly commercial entrance off Old Dixie Highway. This architectural hodge podge was cemented, literally, by a wraparound parking lot that connected the office to a long storage warehouse.


Even so, the heart of Dell Air was a lovely old bungalow. For me, it was an obvious model for my lost house down the block.


Inside, the domestic touches gave me flutters. The arched doorways and heavy glass knobs. The glossy tile indicating an otherwise hidden fireplace. Look past the traffic jam of filing cabinets and a service map rudely stapled to the wall, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine living there.


Except for the airplane noise. Due to the constant roar, business was conducted down the hall, in the unfortunately wood-paneled, but better-insulated addition to the office. The whole time we were talking, we were also lip reading. It’s a skill, he joked, that was part of growing up in Mountain View.


I asked if he remembered when the jet noise started to become a problem.


“In the ’40s, I guess,” he said. “But before that it was the trains.”


The Nancy Hank line, which ran mail for the U.S. Postal Service, was a regular presence in the neighborhood. It came through every morning at 9am, made the trip to Macon, Savannah and passed through again by 6pm. There were 3 crossings in Mountain View, each one a dangerous intersection.


“The trains were always billowing black smoke,” he said. “In the ‘50s, they tried to make the trains slow down.”


He shook his head. Another lost cause. Before the trouble with the airport, he told me, it was the trains. This was never a great place to live.


We stepped outside and I snapped some photos. He casually mentioned that the house was going to be torn down soon. He already had a deal with the County to sell the property, it was just a matter of timing.


I kept digging for some trace of sentimentality. Wasn’t there anything about the place he would miss? Not really, he said, amused that I would suggest it.


Thompson was pragmatic, but he did show me one thing. We searched for spot where the back stoop used to be where his initials and his brothers’ were etched in the concrete. He kicked aside the clumped weeds to find it: D.T. E.T. 1955.


Small fingers in wet cement. He made his own tiny memorial as a child. 


Road Realignment Phasing Plan, GDOT 2010.

I found a Georgia DOT map that shows how Mountain View will be transformed into the hub of a vast transportation network, connecting the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal (“Atlanta’s Front Door to the World”) on the west with I-285 to the east. At the center of these plans is the new Southern Crescent Multi-modal Transportation Center, a proposed commuter rail line that would connect Atlanta to Macon.


Even when you know the plans are out there, it’s jarring when it happens. A decade is a long time to wait, for rumors to drift, for people to protest, then dream, to be converted, then forget what the planners pitched. Planners can study and propose ideas, but they have no authority to build. It could take decades for market conditions to align. In 10 years, a baby becomes a fifth grader. In ten more, that kid is gone, his childhood home fixed in memory. Meanwhile, the eraser is a lumbering thing.


According to the map, Mountain View’s main streets, Old Dixie and Conley Road, will be relocated. A constellation of red dots mark structures for demolition, including Dell Air. Many of the buildings pictured in the base map are already gone. There will be nothing left of the original Mountain View community, except the name.


The red dots are precise and final--a glaring period that puts an end to all my words. 



Talking to Strangers


(photo by John Kelso)

It's hard to talk to strangers. First of all, they're busy people. Or, in this case, not busy, just waiting for customers on the side of Old Dixie Highway. The humidity makes it feel like it's a hundred degrees out here and there's no escaping the brassy, late August sunset, slapping your forehead and making it shine. They just want to know if you pulled over to get your car detailed or what. Then they want to know if these photos are going to "get them in trouble."

If you have a big camera, having a baby with you really helps. A baby is still sacred; a "little one." If we were the undercover police, code enforcement, or scammers of some sort, we probably would've left the 16-month old somewhere else, somewhere air-conditioned. With his overalls and rowdy blonde hair, the baby is undeniable proof that we must be okay folks.

"I wish my kids was still that age," says the lady, after we introduce ourselves. Why do people always say that? How do they forget about the sleeplessness, the repetition of mopping up, packing snacks and rushing out the door, the paralyzing anxiety and humiliating love that constitutes life with a toddler?

"How old are your kids?" is what we say.

19 and 21. Both in college. One's in Charlotte, an aspiring chef. The other is just starting at Georgia Tech, for nursing or cosmetology, that part isn't clear. 

It's hard to talk because of the airplanes. They are taking off half a mile from here, slicing overhead every 20 seconds or so. They cover the distance with audible muscle, climbing and blackening against the cloudscape. It looks cooler up there. The big jets roar and block out everything; the smaller ones buzz in the background. The baby clutches my neck and hides. He is the only one having an appropriate reaction to the noise. 

I'd like to hear what Jeff is saying about this spot. He's middle aged, unsmiling. All I notice about him is that the white of his undershirt attracts stinkbugs and makes his shoulders look blacker, which he swats rhythmically as he speaks. He remembers Mountain View and without us even asking, remembers Plunkytown. His parents' parents lived over there until '71 or '72, when they tore it all down. I want to ask more but the planes keep coming and it's too loud to talk.

Once they appraise us as neither customers, nor troublemakers, but merely a bore, we proceed to make a few photographs. After several days of rain, some dirty blue sky is finally visible behind layers of scudding clouds. It's not the landfill we see out to the east, it's Stone Mountain. 

"Look, an airplane." I say to the baby and point, following it from west to east. I say it over and over, so he'll learn the word.


One of my New Year's resolutions was to clean out the garage and transform it into a working printshop. That means letting go of a bunch of old junk projects that have been piling up. Emboldened by our recent success with Craigslist, (we sold an old sink at 200% profit) yesterday I posted a new round of offerings. The photos and half-hearted copywriting really capture a funny moment in my life... its a catalog of my dumpster-diving over the last couple years. I had high hopes for some of this stuff... now I just want the cash and the space. Within an hour, I had several takers. People are especially curious about the safe!

Diebold Steel Safe - $10


Just what you've been looking for...a massive, oldschool steel safe. If you can open it, you can have what's inside! This big heavy thing came with our house and its kind of a mystery. We just want to get rid of it.
25"x42"x25" deep.
Vintage Retro Highchair - $15


Scruffy little chrome high chair that made us nostalgic so we picked it up off the side of the road. The little animals look very '70s. Clean it up with steel wool and add it to your retro baby room.

Vintage Retro Table - $40


Here's another cute diner-style table from the '60s.
Chrome and formica with a red teapot pattern.

Vintage Retro Maytag Washing Machine - $60


Rusty old Maytag washer from the '40s with a wringer on top.
Looks like a cartoon.
Maybe you'll plant a palm tree in it?

Vintage Retro Diner Table - $40


Classic chrome & formica diner table from the '60s with a 12" leaf. Its been used as a work table, but with a little steel wool on those legs, it'll shine again.
With the leaf its 59"x35" and 29" tall.

Vintage Retro Pedestal Sink


Elegant old cast iron pedestal sink. A classy addition to your renovated bathroom. Considering its age, the finish is in great shape... just needs a good scrub.
The top measures 23"x20" and its 30" tall.
Asking $60 or best offer.

HON Steel File Cabinet - $30


Here it is. The file cabinet of your dreams. You know you don't want to go pay retail for something to hold your boringest paperwork.
in classic drab taupe
3 drawers & a door.
29"x38" and 16" deep.
$30 or just make an offer

Vintage Retro Wood Side Table - $25


Neat little solid wood side table. I picked it up because I love those atomic era looking legs. Needs to be refinished, but with a light sanding and paint job, this thing will look rad.
The top is 24" x 24" and its 25" tall
Asking $25, but whatever.

Time Machine


There’s time to think about the life that comes
after the tanning bed. Instead of cancer
and blue light, the August heat will gust
in from the parking lot, tremulous, through
the waiting room, the long slow afternoon.
I won’t be naked in a box full of lightbulbs,
the heavy lid just inches from my nose,
or dozing in a strip mall, a thin-walled stall
that holds the machine and the timer.
The digits wink down to the future when
I'm out. I will race to get dressed.
The present still pressed between hot glass,
The door chime clatters in my wake.
In minutes, I’ll fly past shoppers
at the grocery store. They are standing still
as I weave a cart around their clusters, their lists.
Meanwhile I am unbelievably raising my arms
overhead to pinken in the warm embrace,
practicing for the mammograms, the MRIs
I’ll have someday. Scan here and here.
Miss young and proper and just breaking a sweat
in this room with a number on the door.

Greatest Hits Nightmare

(d. mathias)

When I can’t write, I dream. Then I write my dream:

1. My dog scratched up my scalp and face. She didn’t mean to. I debated going to the emergency room. The scratches weren’t bleeding and were hidden by my hair.

2. The hospital was in midtown Manhattan. The nurses were lined up behind plexiglass teller windows. At first, they wouldn’t admit me because my driver license had expired.

3. I decided to use my time in the waiting room cramming for two college finals that I somehow needed to retake: Calculus and the Novels of Jane Austen.

4. I picked a name for my unborn daughter: Hera. Sure it has some negative connotations, but I’d tell her only the good stuff about Hera. “You’re the queen of the Gods,” I would say.

5. In the interest of accessibility, the hospital had no stairs, only long tiled ramps of dark chocolate brick. These long ramps made me more tired and slow, somehow, than stairs.

6. Then I had sex with my uncle in the waiting room.

This was like a "Greatest Hits" of all my nightmares: test-taking, incest, bureaucracy, pregnancy and weird architecture.



The kids across the street, they know what goes on. Five of them, chanting, “Lemonade for Sale,” they come running like they’ve been waiting for me all day. Cynthia and Miguel and their prim little cousins from Oklahoma.

“Its a hundred degrees out here, you know that?” I said. They were already crossing the pavement, barefooted, carefully bringing me a thin plastic cup. Yesterday I peed into a cup and it looked like this.

“Don’t drink it!” shouted the oldest. “Its nasty!” But even he crossed the street to see me.

The little ones crowed, “It's good!”

“Don’t drink it!” he said again.

I drank it. The lemonade was warm and sweet— the only flavor of Kool-Aid I can bear. Granny used to mix it in a scuffed crystal pitcher and let me turn the wooden spoon.

“What did you put in here?” I asked. “Did you poison it? Did you spit in it?”

“Nooo,” they giggled. I paid them with two quarters.

There was a green tarp strapped over the neighbor’s car. It filled with the hot breeze and lifted.

“Look at that.” I said. It hovered and strained against the twine. “We put that tarp on there because her windows are down.”

“She don’t have the keys,” said Miguel.

“Where is she?” asked the cousin.

“She’s sick.” He is thirteen and he thinks he’s grown.

“She’s in the hospital,” I said.

“In the head,” he insisted.

“She’s just old,” I said. “She needs someone to take care of her.”

“In a nursing home?” says Joseline. She’s so small, I forget she’s ten. Not a baby. Why do I lie to kids?

My other neighbor opens her door a crack and waves a dollar bill. “Y’all selling lemonade?” she croons.

They scream with delight and run to fetch the money. I’m free to get out of the driveway and into some AC.

The last thing I see is Joseline’s mother yelling for them to come inside this instant. They are visiting from Oklahoma, but they already know the story. One neighbor is sick in the head, the other is even worse. Where did they get the idea to sell lemonade? They know this isn’t that kind of neighborhood.



Twice in one night I got called “lady.”

I was standing in the Kroger parking lot on Metropolitan gawking at a minor car wreck. A small white 4-door had turned the corner way too fast and jumped the curb. It plowed up the sidewalk and landed with an awful cha-chunk on an elevated concrete manhole. I think. What did it land on? It was hard to tell. All four wheels, no three, no four again, were suspended above the ground.

It was like seeing a rainbow. I needed to share it with someone, anyone. The driver of the car tried reversing, then revving the engine. This only caused the wheels to spin stupidly in the air and the car to wobble on its mount. It was bad to laugh, but I laughed. I scanned the parking lot for fellow witnesses, someone who might have a clue what to do.

“Excuse me,” said a voice behind me. “Can you tell me the way to Buckhead?”

“Oh my God. Did you see that?” I said.

Here was a skinny young Mexican guy with braces. He had not seen the accident so I gave him the eyewitness account. Meanwhile, the driver and his family descended their dangling Taurus and three Burger King employees started across the asphalt. Maybe they were planning to lift the car?

The kid, Arturo was his name, was mostly unphased. He was anxious to find the Marta station and get back to Buckhead.
Feeling guilty maybe, about the stranded family and their busted up Taurus, I offered Arturo a ride. “You’re not going to kill me, are you?” I said. “I’ve got a hammer.”

He giggled. “Oh no!”

I asked him questions as we headed towards Stumptown and he answered in broken, lisping English. He was starting at Emory next month. His mother was in Mexico, his father in Brazil. Near University Ave, I heard him on his cell phone telling his roommate, “This nice lady is giving me a ride.” That’s funny, I thought. I’m a nice lady, giving him a ride. He probably would’ve got mugged on Marta.

Later that night I drove deep into Kennesaw, down a dirt road searching for a stranger’s house. “Billie” and I had arranged a transaction on Craigslist and because of my detour with Arturo, it was now dark. I hadn’t expected the dirt road, the series of ramshackle trailers and outbuildings. Where am I? I thought. Lord. Again, I was thankful for the hammer. 

I was met by Samuel, a stocky Mexican dude with his name sewn on his shirt. He introduced himself and Pedro the chihuahua.

“Billie’s not here,” he said, “She went to the store. She said some lady coming by.”

It took me a second to realize that I was “some lady.” Funny how old it made me feel, how detached.


(d. mathias)

I wonder how many of us had the same dream
of blasting a laser beam from the car window,
mowing down trees at seventy miles per hour,
or a giant saw blade clipping streetlights
at the root. That line of mailboxes? Forget it.
Those rotted trees, toothless in the swamp?
Billboards? Telephone poles? I sent them all
to an orderly doom. Like wipers slicing through
a field of rain, just doing my job.
Why does riding in the backseat
conjure such visions– a minor apocalypse
along the interstate between dad’s house
and mom’s every other week? Why is it
the pines up front pass so much faster
while the deep forest hovers behind the blur,
secret black at the center? No matter. My long
arm lays em down, a thicket of dominos.
It’s finer than anything in real life, wider,
cleaner than the stubbled path of a tornado.
It shames the power company and their half-assed
tree-trimming. My knife never stutters, never
strays, leaves not even a splinter dangling.
It slips through trunks like scissors through bangs.
I dreamed I clear cut acres with my stare,
the blade of one palm flexing in the wind.