Every city has at least one iconic street. New York has Broadway. Los Angeles has Sunset Boulevard. Chicago has Lake Shore Drive. Atlanta? It has Peachtree Street.
And one frozen night in early January, within blocks of the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote “Gone with the Wind,” Peachtree became more than a street — an urban rebel christened it as an ice rink.
There’s an old saying that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. An Atlanta man named Andrew Nendel decided that when life gives you ice, go skating.
Videos of Nendel zipping up and down Peachtree between 11th and 14th Streets in Midtown Atlanta have received more than 200,000 hits and have been televised worldwide.
The Back Story
The Southern city that’s been known to grind to a halt at a half-inch of snow got several inches Sunday night, January 9. A sheet of ice topped things off on Monday. Icy roads shut down schools and businesses for almost a week.
At about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, videographer and web developer Brian Danin and his wife Valerie were out walking near their Midtown loft.
“We kept saying, ‘if only we had ice skates!’” he recalls. Then they saw Nendel. “Wow — there’s somebody actually with ice skates,” Danin said.
This was the “money shot” of the city’s worst winter storm in 15 years right in front of him. Even though Danin didn’t have the gear he’s accustomed to, he had his Droid X smartphone.
“It was one of those ironic moments,” Danin said. So he held the camera still, braced himself against a street lamp, held his breath, followed the action, and then posted the result on YouTube.
“I knew while I was taking the video, ‘Wow — this is really cool,’” Danin recalls.
The Viral Effect
But he had no idea how popular it would become. “On a different one of my YouTube channels, I have 85 videos,” Danin says. “This one video beat the other channel entirely within about four days. My mother-in-law from Colorado called saying she saw it on the news there.”
“I never expected this video to go viral or become so widespread throughout the news community,” Nendel told me via email. “I just made the video for myself to document the night I ice skated on a major road in Atlanta.” But when he woke up the next day, it was everywhere. Media outlets all over the world picked up the clip.
“My video has gone international!!!! Hello Canada, UK, and Holland,” Nendel tweeted jubilantly.
CNN Student News anchor Carl Azuz closed his January 13 newscast with it, saying, “Of everyone who’s ever passed through the middle of downtown Atlanta, this guy’s gotta be one of the only people ever to do it on ice skates.”
First Time Skating in Years
Nendel, who said his schedule was too tight for a phone interview, put enough info online to paint a picture of how the night developed. He hadn’t ice skated in years, but kept his skates because he wants to get back to playing hockey and maybe coach. The storm gave him an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“When walking home I came up with the crazy idea of ice skating on the road in Midtown from 11th to 14th street,” Nendel wrote on Vimeo. “The thickness of the ice on the street was just like a pond back home in Indiana and seemed perfect. I skated for about an hour while people walking by took video and drivers on the street were just confused.”
People’s comments summed up their delight. “Just awesome…saw this on the news the other day — something bright in the doom-and-gloom-and-oh-no-we’re-out-of-milk-and-bread news broadcasts that have been going on,” posted one admirer.
“Would you skate over my way and bring me a few things i’m running low on…I still can’t get to a store and I’m out of coffee and half & half,” joked another.
“I was a little surprised how long it took to get plows out on the road,” Danin says, adding that, “the first plows I saw come down Peachtree Street were Tuesday evening.” He saw the first one near midnight and snapped a photo — almost 24 hours after Nendel’s ice capade.
Nendel was surprised at how long it took as well. “After the video was posted and then viewed by many via local news, Peachtree Street in front on my building was cleared within two days,” he says. “The rest of the street though took a bit longer.”
Clearing the Street
That Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed met with reporters at the now-cleared intersection of Peachtree and 14th — part of what had been Nendel’s public ice rink — to say the city had ramped up snow removal efforts.
What did Nendel think of that?
“I honestly didn’t think much about it, due to the video being made just for fun and not to promote some awareness of the road situation in Atlanta,” he says. “I believe the Mayor handled the press situation well and the town did what they could with what they had readily available. My big complaint about the roads is all the mounds of dirt and sand now left in the street not being cleared.”
Nendel’s website says he works in ambient and guerrilla media, social media, design, interactive marketing, design consultation and print media. It also says Kelly Leak, a character from the movie “The Bad News Bears,” was his childhood hero.
“Kelly Leak was a rebel, the cool kid, a secret loner, and knew how to get the ladies,” Nendel’s website says. “I look back today and still want to be that rebel I grew up admiring so much.”
And has skating Peachtree brought him closer to that goal?
“Now that I’m one step closer with the rebel cool points earned by this stunt I feel this is only the beginning to the completion of my dream,” Nendel says. “So keep an eye open at all times cause you will never know what I might try next.”
Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.