Atlanta - On this day we take time to celebrate freedom and its many meanings with friends and family. As our world changes and becomes increasingly divided, incendiary and unpredictable I find it comforting to know that our country is still for the most part what it was when pen was put to parchment back in 1776- a passionate mass of human expression. And that's why I love the Peachtree Road Race.
Former race director Julia Emmons used to say that Peachtree (and later Peachtree Junior) was a race you could put your arms around. Not so much today, with 60,000 runners taking to the street every Fourth of July. Peachtree is still very much our "baby" though, maybe we can't hug it anymore, but we can love it and experience fierce civic pride when watching it.
I was born in Atlanta, grew up just a couple of blocks from the TV station where I would work for over three decades. The same TV station that gave me the task of producing Peachtree Road Race coverage for about a twenty year span. It was during that time that I truly came to appreciate and understand the meaning of freedom. Peachtree was a blank canvas. A chance to work with the best crew in town and create three hours of live, unscripted television for all of Atlanta to see.
Every 4th of July I would sit in the production truck at the corner of Charles Allen and 10th Street with director Pat Looby and audio engineer Mike Thomas by my side. Stacks of rundowns long tossed aside once the race started and Atlanta's original reality TV show unfolded. Freedom.
"Ready camera three, take camera three."
'Ready five, take five."
And so it went.
We took whatever shots looked best. Pat painted the picture. No one told us what to do. It was ours. Coffee. Adrenaline. Exhaustion.
My father entered hospice in June of 2008, weak, weathered-hardly the strong, brilliant and confident man who helped raise me and my sisters back on Harvard Road. Very soon Peachtree would become something different to me, but I didn't know it at the time. For two weeks I stayed by his side. Took him Chick-Fil-A milkshakes that he couldn't drink. Sat around the table with family and helped sing his trademark happy birthday song to my daughter as she turned seventeen on July 2nd.
July 3rd. Unspeakable sorrow. A straight jacket for safety. Fear in his eyes. How can this be? How could I leave him? Peachtree wasn't gonna wait for either of us. Back in June, when he could still speak, dad told me to do my job. Finish the drill as Mark Richt would say.
The 39th Peachtree Road Race had a winner. Terefe Maregu of Ethiopia crossed the finish line in a pedestrian 28:30. After that, streams of everyday runners filed by for what seemed like an eternity. I got the call from my wife. Dad was gone. It was a little after eight O'clock and I was sitting with my friend Pat in our trusty old production truck.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the Fourth of July. In many ways, I'm thankful Jerry Zeller did too. Freedom.