Local Life and Lore in Atlanta

Driving is a way of life in Atlanta, so mastering the unique local traffic-speak is key to getting to know the city.


Photo by: VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm

VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm

By: Margarette Burnette
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Atlanta is located in the heart of Georgia, so you can expect to see a bit of Southern flavor here. Grits are plentiful, you’ll hear “y’all” quite a bit, and Southern hospitality still exists, so expect a friendly “hello” from strangers.

The city is also a major urban center with a strong economy, and that is not by accident. Historically, leaders have made a conscientious effort to brand Atlanta as a hub of the South, attracting businesses and making it an appealing place to live. The metropolis has confronted bruising struggles, such as the racial turmoil of the 1960s and emerged as the “city too busy to hate.” As a result, today, Atlanta is a prosperous, diverse metropolitan area.

However, along with Atlanta’s growth has come traffic. In fact, most of the lingo that’s unique to the city is traffic-speak. Here’s a primer on some of the most popular terms:

The Perimeter. Atlanta is encircled by its own beltway, Interstate 285, also known as I-285 or the Perimeter. If you receive directions that involve the Perimeter, make sure you know if you’ll be traveling on the Inner Loop or Outer Loop (clockwise and counterclockwise direction, respectively).

Some city dwellers discuss the metropolitan population in terms of ITP or OTP (inside or outside the Perimeter), a phrase that separates in-town residents from suburbanites. The Perimeter isn’t a strict dividing line, however. Many towns that sit just outside of the Perimeter have an urban feel, with dense housing, bustling business districts and access to MARTA, Atlanta’s mass transit system.

The Connector. If you travel into the city center, you’ll likely find yourself on the Downtown Connector, where Interstates 75 and 85 converge into one superhighway that takes you through the heart of downtown Atlanta. Residents use this highway to travel to traditional Atlanta events such as the Thanksgiving Day parade, Independence Day fireworks at Centennial Olympic Park or Atlanta’s professional sporting events.

Buckhead. Travel north on I-85 from the city’s center and you’ll see an exit for “Georgia 400.” This state highway goes north into the Buckhead community. The trendy district is a fascinating blend of old-money mansions and new-money nightlife. It offers some of the best shopping in Atlanta with Phipps Plaza and Lenox Mall. The latter hosts several Atlanta traditions, including the lighting of the Macy’s Christmas tree and the December “Pink Pig” train rides for children.

While Buckhead is widely recognized, it’s not its own municipality, so don’t try to send mail there. If you do, it might end up in the actual Buckhead, a small town in eastern Georgia, far removed from the glitz and glamour of this Atlanta community.

Spaghetti Junction. Head north on I-85, and you’ll eventually reach the junction with the Perimeter. It’s at Atlanta’s northeast quadrant in DeKalb (pronounced “de-CAB”) County. A few other highways converge at this same interchange, creating a complex set of loops that looks like a plate of spaghetti, hence the nickname.

Driving is a way of life in Atlanta, and once you master the traffic-speak, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a true Atlantan.    

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