"Time is Longer than Rope."

I was in a coffee shop in midtown Atlanta recently waiting for a friend and, since I was a few minutes early, I passed the time people watching. As I did so, I had a sense of history so strong that it felt like a Tom Cruise movie with time distortion effects. But, first, let me set the scene.

It was early afternoon on a Tuesday. Every table was taken by people of all ages, most typing on laptops or occupied with cellphones. Near me were two boys about eight and ten years of age playing a board game. Their father was sitting on a sofa working on his computer. Every now and again he would look up and direct a question or comment at the boys, who turned out to be brothers. I realized that the boys were on holidays and their father was supervising them. Dressed in T-shirts and shorts, all three seemed very familiar with the coffee shop, ordering sandwiches and chatting to the staff.

After a few minutes’ observation, I had a mental shift that one can only have after a certain age. I went back 40 years to the Atlanta I knew when I first arrived in the city and I tried to imagine a similar scene then. I was unsuccessful. 

In 1975, Atlanta was a completely different place. First of all, I would not have been in downtown Atlanta casually having lunch in an integrated coffee shop. Not only would I have been uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t have been served so enthusiastically – if at all.

In 1975, the staff of any shop would not have been as diverse as they were here. Even if they were, the multi-cultural baristas and waiters would not have chatted and laughed with each other as easily as this.

In 1975 – and in the middle of the week – you would never have seen people sitting in a coffee shop (a diner back then) working. Everyone worked in offices. And we didn’t have computers or cellphones.

And in 1975, and this is where my time warp started, it would have been unheard of for a father to be working while baby-sitting in a coffee shop. Maybe the mother would have taken her children out for the afternoon, but never a working father. 

This is a different country, a different Atlanta. I’m glad I experienced it in 1975 – and I don’t want to go back there. But my experience over 40 years has made me appreciate how “time is longer than rope,” as we say in Jamaica. Everything has to change. And that gives me hope when we look at ISIS and mass murderers and the pipeline from cradle to prison. It will all wash away one day and another set of conditions and issues will prevail. I’m glad I’m not psychic!