We learn how people refer to roads by taking calls from our Traffic Troopers in our 24-Hour Traffic Center. We hear how first responders and dispatchers pronounce roads by hearing their transmissions on scanner radio feeds.
Another of the many ways we gather traffic info is by calling the various Metro Atlanta 911 dispatch centers at least once an hour and just asking for any problems on the roads the dispatchers may have, which also helps teach us different names for the same roads. During rush hours, we email our different traffic problems to one another. Rounds calls, as we call them, is the first thing in traffic that I got good at and I would proudly rattle off a list of wrecks to Captain Herb. Sometimes I would go on the air and throw in a crash I had just cleaned. Then the Traffic Center phone would ring with a familiar number.
“Hey, listen,” Captain Herb would gruffly begin. “Nelson Brogdon Boulevard and Highway 20 are the same road. It’s easier just to call it Highway 20, since it changes names so often, okay?” That accent. Captain Herb’s corrections for me and anyone else that worked closely with him taught us not only the different names of roads, but also the technique of not just trusting the name that one person or entity gives to a road.
For example, we don’t simply take information directly from GDOT, as is. The state may have one exact way they are reporting something or they are just echoing how a motorist reported it to them. There is no such thing as “I-75 at North Avenue.” At that Midtown spot, it is “I-75/85, the Downtown Connector.” Cobb PD often calls their wrecks “I-285/westbound at Atlanta Road,” for instance. But I-285 runs north and south at that point below I-75, not east and west.
Speaking about The Perimeter again, Captain Herb would constantly remind us of how I-285 crosses I-75, I-85, and I-20 twice each. So when we refer to those areas, we need to designate the county, city, and/or exit number, so people in Clayton County don’t get their part of I-285 confused with those in Cobb.
I will never forget the eloquent “Gridlock Guy” column that my buddy Mark Arum wrote shortly after Captain Herb’s death. Arum nails it: ”Your traffic reports every six minutes on WSB Radio will never be as good, your traffic reports every 10 minutes on WSB-TV will never be as good, this column will never be as good. They can’t be. Herb’s knowledge, experience, ambition, drive, determination, effort, voice and sense of humor can never be replaced.”
Captain Herb’s dedication to speaking a commuter’s language, instead of assuming they already speak his own, is one big example of how his knowledge, experience, ambition, and effort materialized. Emory’s commitment to learning the different road names and then being patient enough to teach green kids like Arum and me those same traffic hacks is one way that he learned and taught others how to speak the Atlanta driver’s language.
That language is changing and evolving. Few people know what Spaghetti Junction (where I-285 and I-85 meet in DeKalb), the Cobb Cloverleaf (I-285 and I-75′s intersection near Cumberland Mall), or Brookwood (where I-75 and I-85 come together on the north end of the Downtown Connector) is. Traffic dialects have changed between Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers.
The average person now often speaks “GPS”, which is very technical. There are far more transient residents that have lived in this town for a short time than there were before. So the colloquial, homely monikers can end up as noise or gibberish. But knowing landmarks and nicknames is still necessary to speak the language of those that know them and radiate the warmth Captain Herb did. WSB Triple Team Traffic and I stay committed to learning and evolving with the traffic landscape. And we do so in the spirit of Captain Herb Emory - a gregarious and generous professor, muse, and bulldog, whom we will never forget.
We’d love to hear which road names confuse you and hear your favorite Captain Herb Emory memories. Send us an email and we would love to share both in Captain Herb’s honor.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.