December 26, 1976
Walking to the car, I saw Nancy trying to balance a stack of gift boxes and unlock her front door simultaneously.
“Got a match?” I asked, catching a cookie tin before it could hit the sodden welcome mat.
“It’s never going to end,” she wailed. “And they gave us all this crap to move! Can you come over later? We’ve got tons of leftovers.”
“I’ll be back after six,” I said and drove my ’61 Fleetwood chugging up the hill, all gas-guzzling eight-cylinders.
Although the time would come when I could live in Atlanta without a car, in the mid-1970s, unless one was willing to settle and work in a smaller perimeter than I-285, one needed a car. My impulsive purchase of a turquoise land yacht turned out to reflect a trait that can still, 30 years later, undo me. I believed I understood how to buy a car because all my previous cars had been cream puffs. Not new, in fact, all of them had cost under $500. I knew it took talent to get a deal on a used car, and I thought I had that talent. But it had been my father who had chosen my previous cars. Not me. I knew nothing. It was my father who had been a driver in the Army, a chauffeur in New York and an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Corps before settling into a 30-year career hauling engines in and out of TWA’s fleet of Constellations, DCs, 727s, 747s. Not me.
I had reached the Atlanta Flea Market on Piedmont Avenue and Lindbergh, only to discover it was closed for the holiday. I parked and walked to the door, pulling a notebook from my purse, determined to at least get their hours. A flea market was my kind of place ― cavernous, seemingly infinite and promising everything. I made my notes and scurried back to the car. It had begun to drizzle and was turning cold again.
Ten minutes later I was walking across Piedmont Avenue, toward the Buford Highway. The Fleetwood’s engine simply wouldn’t turn. It appeared as if the battery had died, but I couldn’t be sure. An hour later, standing in the model apartment that served as their office, the two Buford managers couldn’t hide their amazement.
Clearly, they weren’t expecting me. Even more, they couldn’t believe I had walked all the way from Piedmont.
I couldn’t blame them. A mile’s damp walk along a busy highway, had given me a soupy look. I was all pink-faced and frizzy. Out of breath, too.
“You’re supposed to be here tomorrow,” said Barbara, a hard-faced blond with a smoker’s cough and a body that spoke of steady starvation. There was nothing of the camaraderie I’d heard from her two days ago. “Did Judith send you?”
Intimidated by the accusation in her tone, I faltered.
“She–she said I should swing by and get to know the complex a little. I was just going to pick up some floor plans and maybe get a tour? If you’re not too busy?”
Barbara twisted her mouth, as if trying not to say what she really thought.
“You can do that tomorrow, it’s not that big a place.”
“Well,” I said, feebly, “I was heading to Lenox anyway and thought I’d swing by.”
“You were walking to Lenox Square?”
“That’s the problem. I stopped at the flea market, but it was closed. I don’t know what happened, but my car is stalled there. I mean I can’t get it started. So, I thought…”
Here I faltered. They were so suspicious! “I figured I was closer to you than Arborgate and I could call Judith from here…or Tim.”
Dead silence as they thought this through. Can’t say I blamed them. They were thinking Judith had sent me over to surprise them.
“We’re actually quite busy today,” said Tina, the assistant manager, a chinless girl with a Dorothy Hamill wedge as sharp as an ax. Tiny eyes. They glanced at each other and appeared to be communicating in some fashion.
Mr. Eberhard walked through the door then, much to everyone’s surprise. I’d thought he was still in Boston. Clearly, so did his staff. So. Did he do this often?
“Good for you,” he said when we’d told him my reasons for coming in a day early. “We can put you to work, if you really want to. Are you sure you don’t want a day off? You’ve been through a stressful experience.” As he said this, the others took on momentary looks of compassion that passed in seconds.
“I’d like to see this complex,” I said. “I’d like to know how larger properties are different from smaller ones,” I said. What a good girl I am.
“Why don’t you look around, do something in the office for a few hours, then I can drive you to your car,” he said, kindly. “I’m going to Arborgate later, so if it doesn’t start, we can at least get you home.”
This was the kind of treatment I was used to. I agreed happily, turning to Barbara and Tina for what I was sure would be an enjoyable assignment.