Hard News by Russell Brown

Dear Auckland

Perhaps we will never really know what brought 17 year-old Thomas John Davidson to Auckland's Northwestern motorway at 5.30 last Friday morning, there to be killed, under the Newton Road overpass, by a truck.

If he was, as is being supposed, hitchhiking, then he picked a bloody awful spot. Although the unfortunate driver of the truck that clipped Thomas may well have had a safe pair of hands on the wheel, the same cannot be said for many of those who ply that stretch of road. I have seen worse driving only State Highway One, north of Hamilton.

People come blazing in from the West, trusting their brakes and fate to haul them up a couple of metres short of slowing traffic; or they leave their lane change for the southern motorway till the last minute, veering across lanes and skimming the bumpers of others; or they drive apparently unconscious of the dodgy world around them, declining to acknowledge the indicator of the car trying to make that vital change for Nelson Street.

So it's intense. It's a handy road, though - I can leave Pt Chev most times after 9am and be parking in Princes Street literally five minutes later. For all that you hear about Auckland's traffic woes, it's actually only when an unforeseen incident reduces road capacity that it all really turns to custard. The classic incident of its kind, of course, is the paint spill on the harbour bridge on the Friday before the 1999 general election, which gave people in their cars all too long a look at the big National Party billboard declaring "Auckland: Keep it this way".

And that, sadly is how Thomas's death was made manifest last Friday: terrible jams on the alternative roads in from the West. I crawled halfway down Williamson Ave before I could nip up Millais Street and onto Richmond, thereby to Ponsonby and well on the way to Radio New Zealand. You have to know the shortcuts in Auckland, physical and metaphorical.

There was quite a bit in the press over the weekend about Auckland: Lee Baker and Benjamin Crellin's Way of the Jafa was profiled in the Herald's Canvas magazine, seeming to be cleverly-written (Baker is a lead writer for Eating Media Lunch, Crellin does a good Holmes impression) but relying on stereotypes for its jokes. Then the Sunday Star Times' investigation about living in Auckland or someplace else.

These things get overdone. Really, Auckland is a village on a harbour, surrounded by a lot of boring suburbs. It lacks cohesion, it gets too much rain and the mayor is a clown. But it is a somewhat larger village than any of the others and, crucially, one that reaches out to the Pacific. Thus, we are strange and dynamic in way other cities can't be.

Leaving aside Auckland's overrated, TV-centric celebrity culture - easily enough to avoid if you don't go to the Viaduct and don't get on the Lists of People to Invite When Launching Things - the city has its charms. Town might be a shabby strip full of Net cafes, food halls and Asian students, but it's really quite close to my 'hood, with its open spaces and summer beach. Seamart is always fun, the fare is good at West Lynn Organic Meats, Orchid is a nice new bar on Ponsonby Road and I'm happy to say that Auckland now has its own Mediterranean Food Warehouse (on Gaunt St in the maritime quadrant). All we need is a Moore Wilson and we're set.

But it's good to get away, and I am, briefly, to Queenstown (I see Aucklanders in Queenstown is the new Metro cover story - quelle horreur!) where hopefully other folks will pay for the expensive stuff. I'll be sure to let you know if Joe Cotton stars in an amateur porn video or anything, and I (hopefully) have something special lined up for tomorrow morning on Public Address. I arrive back in Auckland tomorrow afternoon, and several hours later I'll be spending our massive advertising receipts taking the Public Address crew out to dinner at Rice on Federal Street. You'd like Rice. And thereafter, I expect I'll rest. But ... resting. Doesn't that sound so Christchurch?