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Peachtree and Broad

The corner of Peachtree and Broad, bordering Underground Atlanta, the World of Coca-Cola, and Atlanta's largest train station, is probably the friendliest spot in downtown Atlanta. At most of the city's street corners, if two strangers are just sitting around inactive, they will view each other as potential threats. But there is no violent crime at this corner; both regular cops and local drug enforcement units heavily patrol it. Petty salesmen and panhandlers are not permitted here, although street preachers are, and the pimps are chased down a few blocks, away from the tourist industries. Since no one needs fear their surroundings, and no one is able to make a business transaction, there's no need for posturing, intimidation, or evasion. The city's residents will tend to cheerfully greet people they bump into on this corner.

I was sitting on top of an empty newspaper dispenser. I was saying hello to the people that walked by and watching the traffic four yards away. I was listening to the street preachers, both regulars, a man with flamboyant clothing holding a small, leather, beaten-up bible, and a woman covered in giant placards saying PLEASE DON'T GO TO HELL, along with dozens of other messages. The man shouted a lot and called women "hors o' babb'lon" or "bulldoggie." The woman handed out tracts and was the surliest of the corner's regulars. They hated each other.

Periodically, someone would sit on one of the other newspaper vending machines, next to me. Most of them had bags, as I did, and laid them at their feet, as I did. We always greeted one another but never said much. Many of these people seemed crazy or fucked up.

There was one other guy sitting next to me when a woman came out of the train station and moved to perch on the newspaper machines. She was twitching pretty badly, and greeted us far too loudly. She slapped her bag right down next to me, and the zipper on the bag was wide open. I didn't want to be that close to another person's belongings. She started talking to the other man:

"How have you been?"

"I've been alright, I've been good. How 'bout you?"

"I've been beautiful," she said. "Everything's all right good beautiful, you know what I mean? You know how things are?" She talked in a noisy, fast-paced murmur.

"Sure do," said her audience, and started walking down the street.

"How you doin'," she asked me. She was filthy, though her clothes were intact and relatively clean. Her eyes bugged far out of her face.

"I'm great, how are you?" I said, and promptly looked at the ground.

"Wonderful wonderful wonderful wonderful," in that same hyperactive shambling monotone. She jumped from her seat and started walking back and forth a bit, leaving me with her open bag.

"I've been talking to God and He and I have been getting a lot discussed," she continued. "He wants to take care of us, he wants to keep us warm. It is safe in the arms of the Lord. When you are warm and safe and well loved, that is when you shall know that you are in the arms of the Lord. That is when you shall be in the arms of the Lord."

"Hor of babb'lon!" the man with the old bible shouted at her. No one payed much mind.

She was drawing a couple of odd glances; the other people at the corner, like me, hadn't seen her before. She belonged, well enough. She was the antithesis to the Black Muslim that shouted on the opposite corner. He was only there on weekends, though, not that day.

"You know God loves you?" she asked me.


"'Cause God do love you. God cares about you. God wants to love you and fill you." She turned away from me and started pacing again, no longer addressing anyone. "God wants to touch our lives. God wants to touch us. God wants to hold us in his arms, and when you are held in the arms of the Lord, you shall know you are held in the arms of the Lord. Everything is beautiful. God made all the beautiful things. God made the beautiful flowers and the beautiful trees. God made these beautiful buildings." She reflected a bit on what she had just said, but only a bit, before continuing. "God made all the beautiful animals. God made these pigeons. Don't you like pigeons? God loves these pigeons."

"Hor o' babb'lon! Blasphemer!" shouted the man with the bible. Two beat cops came out of the train station. They moved past me, through the crowd and to the edge of the street, and stood there, watching the scene.

"God made these beautiful pigeons," she continued. People saw the cops and started moving away. "God made all the beautiful animals. And then God made the people. God made all the beautiful people. Each one of these people He made. Each one of these people is a child of God. And each of these people are beautiful. And by their beauty shall you know that they are children of God."

An ambulance siren sounded over the traffic. The ambulance appeared, weaving its way past the thick line of cars, and pulled to a stop in front of the cops. The siren shut off, and two paramedics climbed out, then went to the back of the vehicle for a stretcher. They grabbed the stretcher and followed the cops into the train station.

"God wants to touch these people," continued the woman. "God wants to touch them and hold them. God's arms are warm and safe. God wants to feel them." Her words were coming less naturally now; she was doing a lot more thinking. "God wants to be with them and keep them, because God loves them. God wants to keep them warm.

"I want to wrap you in the arms of the Lord!" She shouted at one passer-by, a student who moved quickly away. "I want to hold you in the arms of the Lord!" She shouted at another. "Then shall you know, you shall know you are in the arms of the Lord, and you shall know the love of God, and you shall feel the love of God, for you shall be in the love of God, for God loves you, and God has made you beautiful."

Eventually, the cops and the paramedics came out of the train station, wheeling the stretcher between them. A badly overweight woman lay on it, silent and still. They loaded her into the back of the ambulance. One of the paramedics rounded the ambulance and sat in the driver's seat; the other remained outside, talking to the cops.

"You are all beautiful," said the woman. "God wants to love and feel and hold you all. God wants to caress you all. God wants to touch you all." The words were a real struggle for her at this point, as she tried to figure out what God did or did not want. With the presence of the cops, the man with the bible was quieter than usual.

I couldn't figure out why the paramedics seemed to be in no hurry. Their patient seemed to be in horrible shape. I wondered if she was dead, but uncovered so as not to create a stir, or if they just weren't real concerned.

"Now look at this pretty white thing right here," said the newly-arrived preacher woman. Being the only white thing around, pretty or otherwise, I looked up. She pulled a baggie of more than an ounce of fine white powder out of her bag, the one that she had left right next to me.

"This stuff," she said, "My pretty white friend here. My pretty white friend is beautiful. God made my pretty white friend, God loves my pretty white friend, God wants to hold and touch my pretty white friend and keep it safe. And then shall you know the Lord, for the Lord knows you, and the Lord loves you, and the Lord has provided for you. And the Lord has given you many friends, such as this one, because the Lord cares for you and wants to touch you. God wants to love you, and you must let the Lord love you. You must let the Lord touch you and hold you and keep you warm. You must let the Lord be who the Lord is, for then shall you know you are in the arms of the Lord."

She was still waving the baggie around when the paramedic stepped into the ambulance, and the cops turned around. The ambulance drove away, but the siren was not on and the lights were no longer flashing. The cops walked past the woman and back into the train station.

"For the arms of the Lord are great," she continued, "And the arms of the Lord are beautiful. And the arms of the Lord will hold you and keep you forever, and they shall keep you warm forever, and you shall never hunger or thirst, and you shall forever be in the arms of the Lord." I got up and left the street corner.

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