Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Modern Cities You've Never Thought Of

            I've stopped to spend a leisurely hour in the city of Hartsfield. Sitting beside one of the major thoroughfares, I'm watching the heavy traffic flowing in both directions, and speculating on the origins and destinations of all the other travelers passing through.
            You won't find the city of Hartsfield designated as such on any map of Georgia, although its average population must make it one of the larger cities in the state. The climate is remarkably even, varying little from an ideal 70 degrees , summer or winter, year around.
            Hartsfield is a futuristic city. Conventional cars must be left in parking lots on the outskirts of the city. A robotic rapid transit subway system whisks commuters between the business areas of the city, and a woman's soft computerized voice announces each station stop. The few vehicles you see here are electric powered, and are reserved only for those who are unable to walk easily. Virtually all of the traffic within the city limits is pedestrian.
            The entire population of this city has arrived recently, actually within the last few hours, and although I'm  told that the number of people here at times exceeds fifty thousand, no one stays long. There are no residences here, and workers leave at the end of their shifts to travel to bedroom communities located in Atlanta or other nearby towns within easy driving distance. Hartsfield, with its totally transient population is indeed a city of the future, complete with its own roads, shopping malls, fire department, police force, and city administration.
            This is a new kind of city, having come into existence only within the past couple of decades, taking its place along with the other great unmapped cities of its kind like O'Hare in Illinois, Dulles in Virginia, Heathrow in England, and Le Bourget in France.
            Like the traffic in more conventional cities, the volume of traffic in the city of Hartsfield ebbs and flows fitfully, punctuated by the low rumbling roar of jet engines in the background. Fascinating as it is, everyone seems anxious to leave, stopping in clusters to scan with furrowed brows the rows of digital data on banks of computer screens that display a continuously changing list of arrivals and departures.
            Somewhere far off to the south, a couple of weeks walk, many hours of driving, or an hour and twenty minutes by plane, other intent eyes are scanning digital data on other banks of computer screens, all of them focused on the departure of a single flying machine now scheduled to leave on Dec. 17 at 8:51 p.m. EST. That is the tentative targeted time when space shuttle Discovery will leap for the last time from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I'll be watching.
            A faceless voice is announcing my own departure from this strange city. It's time to grab my possessions and to join the others crowding to leave Hartsfield International Airport. I know that I'll be back. Even though I wouldn't want to live here, it's a great place to visit!

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