On the Friday March 24 edition of Georgia Today: Airport construction during the Spring Break travel rush; schools won't be able to mandate COVID vaccinations; the Braves step up to help a fan mourning the loss of his dad

New Georgia Today Podcast Logo

Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Friday, March 24. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode: The Atlanta airport is starting some big construction projects just in time for the spring break travel rush. Schools will soon lose the right to require COVID vaccinations; and we'll hear the story of how the Atlanta Braves stepped in to help a man mourning the loss of his dad. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1

Peter Biello: Officials with Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport expect 4.4 million passengers to travel through the airport over the two-week spring holiday period beginning Sunday. And as GPB's Devon Zwald reports, the crowds are coming as the airport plans to block off parts of its roadways.

Devon Zwald: Beginning late Monday, March 27, all north lower level lanes will be closed for 72 hours for work on the parking deck renewal project. Andrew Gobeil, spokesperson for Hartsfield Jackson, asks travelers to prepare in advance by going to ATL.com.

Andrew Gobeil: So if you are driving into the airport and you haven't been here for a while, obviously we're undergoing some construction in our parking structures. So we want you to go to the website where we will provide the latest information.

Devon Zwald: He says travelers can find information on parking options, security wait times and even concession options at the airport website. For GPB News, I'm Devon Zwald.


Biden sets COVID deadlines & GOP debates its future: asset-mezzanine-16x9

Story 2

Peter Biello: The Georgia House gave final approval to a bill that would block any COVID-19 vaccine requirement by public schools, state agencies or local governments. Representatives voted 99-69 yesterday. Supporters say it should be an individual choice. Opponents warn lawmakers are tying the hands of government in a future pandemic. They also warn supporters are contributing to falsehoods that are driving down vaccination rates for all diseases. The measure now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp.



Story 3

Peter Biello: Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced the members for his new community Task force, providing input on the Public Safety Training Center. And as GPB's Amanda Andrews explains, more than 40 people were selected.

Amanda Andrews: The new task force will start meeting in April to discuss four key issues: parks and greenspace, repurposing the Atlanta Prison Farm site, sustainability and first responder training curriculum. The recommendations will supplement input from the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee. An initial set of recommendations is expected by July, but the group does not have the power to stop the project. The task force comes after months of major protests and arrests on land and parks near the site. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond issued an executive order Friday declaring Entrenchment Creek Park dangerous and possibly life-threatening to the public. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.


Story 4

Peter Biello: Federal transportation officials have awarded the public transit system in Savannah's Chatham County a $1.2 million grant to develop a prototype rideshare service. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

Benjamin Payne: Chatham Area Transit, also known as CAT, plans to use the money from the Department of Transportation to fund on-demand shuttle service to and from bus stops for some riders. The idea is to help people whose homes or destinations are far from a bus route. Here's Department of Transportation Undersecretary Carlos Monje.

Carlos Monje: What CAT is doing is so forward-looking, combining the best of both worlds, the best of Lyft and Uber and the best of a bus, and really help people in a low-cost and efficient way to get to where they need to go.

Benjamin Payne: A similar services prototype last year on Atlanta's MARTA system. Researchers say about 70% of people who used it were new transit riders. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne in Savannah.


Story 5

Peter Biello: Georgia Republicans shelved a plan yesterday to expand the state voucher program for private schools. They apparently lacked the votes in the House. The bill was tabled, meaning it could be taken up again before this year's legislative session ends Wednesday.


Story 6

Peter Biello: On Wednesday, the Georgia Senate approved its version of a $32.4 billion state spending plan that cuts funding for higher education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. GPB's Stephen Fowler has more.

Stephen Fowler: The Senate passed its version of the spending plan that fully funds the states K-12 education formula. Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery said it's largely similar to the House version.

Blake Tillery: If you take and look at just where two of the bodies agree, just the House and the Senate, 1176 lines where we already agree. That's 83.29%.

Stephen Fowler: The Senate also adds additional money for some law enforcement raises, while cutting $87 million from the teaching budget for Georgia's colleges and universities. It also cuts GPB's state funding by 26%. A conference committee from the House and Senate will hash out differences before Wednesday. For GPB News, I'm Stephen Fowler.


Story 7

Peter Biello: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has unveiled a new exhibit of prehistoric artifacts illegally acquired at Hartwell Lake in Northeast Georgia. The tools, ax heads, and arrow points are between 1,000 and 10,000 years old. Agency archeologist Andrea Farmer says someone purchased the items at an estate sale and turned them over.

Andrea Farmer: We don't know if someone was walking along and happened to see some artifacts on the surface or if they found an archeological site and dug there, which is highly illegal. Someone had taken the artifacts and kind of arranged them on a board and probably hung it up in their home as artwork.

Peter Biello: The prehistoric items from Hartwell Lake were placed on display at the lake's visitor center.


When Ryan Douglas lost the hat his late father gave him, the Braves sent him replacements, along with a note.

When Ryan Douglas lost the hat his late father gave him, the Braves sent him replacements, along with a note.

Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Douglas

Story 8

Peter Biello: Think for a moment about the thing in your life that has sentimental value because it was a gift from someone you've loved and lost. It could be a tool in your kitchen that reminds you of a grandparent or a T-shirt from a beloved aunt or uncle. For me, that's a jacket that my mother gave me when I was a teenager — so maybe about 25 years ago. My mom died when I was 20. She had cancer. And this jacket, it was great when I was in high school. I wore it a little bit in college, and it's kind of gone out of fashion. It's just a plain black coat, really not great in the winter because it's kind of thin. And generally speaking, when I have clothing that I'm done wearing, probably won't wear again, I'll donate it. But this is one of those things that I just — I won't donate. I'll hold on to this forever. It'll just take up space in my closet. I'll look at it, I'll think of my mom. It's that kind of thing. You might have something like that in your life. For Ryan Douglas of Lawrenceville, Ga., just outside Atlanta, it was an Atlanta Braves baseball cap. His dad bought it for him. Joe Douglas lived in Brunswick about 5 hours away from Ryan. And though they didn't get together often, they spoke on the phone about once a week, one day a few years ago. Joe came up and they went to a Braves game together.

Ryan Douglas: I guess it was around the middle of the game. We grabbed something to eat, we're walking around and he was like, you know, just pick out a hat and I'll get it for you. So I picked out the one I liked.

Peter Biello: It was a fitted royal blue hat with a lowercase "a" — a vintage design with a little feather on the side. Ryan says he wore it all the time. His dad got one, too. Then in August 2021, Joe Douglas died of a heart attack in his sleep.

Ryan Douglas: I have the normal regrets, you know. Wish I would have called more. I wish I would have had more time together with him.

Peter Biello: And the hat took on more significance.

Ryan Douglas: You know, after he passed, that was one of the tangible connections I had to him because it was something I could hold and something I used every day, you know, and I could touch and see it.

Peter Biello: Then a few weeks ago, he and his wife, Sara, went on a day trip to a resort in East Georgia. He didn't notice he'd left the hat behind until he got home. He called the resort, but they couldn't find it. It was a loss on top of a loss.

Sara Douglas: I just felt so bad and horrible for him.

Peter Biello: That's Sara.

Sara Douglas: I knew that he was still working on dealing with his dad's death, even though it was a few years ago, and I just hated to see him sad about something else I would remind him of — of his dad.

Peter Biello: So she reached out to the Atlanta Braves, told them about Ryan's special hat, and asked about buying a replacement. The one she bought came close to the original design. She knew it wouldn't be the same, but she wanted it anyway.

Sara Douglas: Because I thought maybe if it came from the Braves, they would, you know, have a little bit more meaning.

Peter Biello: Then, to their surprise, the Braves responded. They sent the fitted hat Sarah ordered, plus two others, along with a handwritten note.

Ryan Douglas: Says, "Hi, Ryan, we are so sorry to hear about your cherished hat. While we know these hats will not ever compare to the one you had. We wanted you to know that the Braves are always with you. Sincerely, your Atlanta Braves."

Peter Biello: Ryan was touched by the gesture. He posted a photo of the hats and the note to the Braves subreddit.

Ryan Douglas: And I think somebody in the Reddit thread said "a win for the Braves. World Series Champ Life."

Peter Biello: He says, though he's upset he lost the hat, he's grateful the experience gave him an opportunity to talk about his dad.

Ryan Douglas: He was a really hard worker, you know, he loved his family and he always worked hard to provide. You know, sometimes that meant working two jobs around the holidays. And he did that.

Peter Biello: And Ryan says he still hopes the original hat will turn up. If someone finds it and wants to get in touch, he says he can be reached through the post he made in the Braves subreddit.



Story 9

Peter Biello: Georgia College and State University today opened a $3.5 million visitor center at the farm, once home to Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor. The Interpretive Center at Andalusia Farm, just north of Milledgeville, is the culmination of decades of work by O'Connor fans. The college's historic museums director, Matt Davis, says it's a giant step in restoring the site, where O'Connor wrote most of her works before she died in 1964.

Matt Davis: During her lifetime, she would write two novels, 34 short stories, and over 100 literary critiques which continue to be not only influential but inspirational to many individuals and all walks of life.

Peter Biello: The center's ribbon-cutting this morning came a day before O'Connor's birthday celebration. Born on March 25, 1925, she later defined Southern Gothic literature and stories like "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Wise Blood."


And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. Thank you so much for tuning in. I really do appreciate you choosing GPB as a way to stay informed about what's happening in the state. Just a quick check on the weather this weekend: There might be a little bit of rain here and there in some parts of Georgia over the weekend, but for the most part, it looks like it's going to be sunny and warm. Atlanta's got highs in the upper 70s. I've been keeping an eye on Sunday in particular because that's the day my recreational baseball league is planning on having a game. So I'm looking forward to that and I'm looking forward to being back with you on Monday as well. I'm going to be sore. I'm going to be sore. That's just what happens when you play baseball at my age. But that does not mean I can't give you the news through Georgia Today.

So the best way to remember to come back to us on Monday is to subscribe to this podcast — you knew I was going to get to the subscription part, right? Subscribe to this podcast. We'll be there for you on Monday and every weekday afternoon. If you got feedback, we'd love to hear it. Send us an email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. And if you like this podcast, leave a review. It helps other people find it. I'm Peter Biello. Thank you again for listening and have a great weekend.


GPB's Georgia Today newsletter hits your inbox on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with top stories from around the state featuring news, politics and more. Subscribe here.