Random Play by Graham Reid


My City In Ruins

Although I wasn’t born in Auckland it is where I grew up. I consider it my city. I have lived in Mt Eden, in Birkdale on the North Shore, in Pt Chev and am now -- given the mortgage add-on required to repair our leaky building -- in “Morningside for life”.

I spent 17 years working at the Herald in the centre of the city and went to clubs, theatre, cinemas and so on in the central city for many decades. Still do, in fact.

I was also a regular at many and various bars: for years Cheers in Wyndham St was where I would retreat every Thursday for a five hour lunch while the section I worked on was being pasted together. I was a regular in places like Deschlers, and before that the Occidental, then located halfway between the old Star building and the Herald so a meeting place for old rogues and scribblers with carbon and nicotine stained fingers.

A little later it was a meeting point for Flying Nunners who had their head office just around the corner.

The Mexican Cafe seduced me far too often.

I spent a lot time at the Belgian Bar too, and for far too many years when I was given a fast turnaround assignment on a Wednesday afternoon for Saturday’s paper I would get all my documents together and repair to Tony’s on Wellesley St. There I would order a bottle of some cheap red and over the course of a few hours do all the research, drink the wine, have a $10 steak and then head back to the office with papers covered in scribbles and arrows, and documents with scrawled numbers and highlighter marks.

I would announce to my editor that the story was done, it was just a typing job now.

I loved this kind of life -- and of course the Shakespeare Tavern was a rather-too-regular haunt with Herald troops.

I say all this, not with nostalgia, but to establish the premise that I loved Auckland. These days I am not so sure.

Yesterday I took a train in to the city because I had a meeting in Stanley St, a 15 minute walk from Britomart Station. Just as well I left early.

The 15 minute trip from Morningside took 45 minutes as the train stopped regularly between stations with no explanation, and then ground to a halt at Newmarket while they put some water in it to stop it from overheating. A number of angry folk abandoned the train at this point and, I guess, got a cab into town.

At Britomart I couldn’t help notice the pungas have either died or been trimmed down to ugly stumps and the water spray feature that I recall from a year or so ago doesn’t appear to be working. The place is starting to look shabby.

And what is it with the lack of seating for passengers? At the end of the working day the many dozens who wait have to mostly stand around. Sometimes for a very long time. The staff seem to happily take up one of the benches.

Anyway . . .

I left Britomart and walked through that weird netherworld between Quay and Customs St: a scrabble of car parks and not much else. I guess this is where the Spiegeltent is going to be during the forthcoming festival. That should bring some life to the area which is largely a space going begging at the moment. And after the tent has gone?

I walked along the foot of town and would like to hear the architectural defence of those appallingly ugly Scene towers which are brutally ugly at ground level and even less attractive above. They also cut out light and create a wind tunnel. But we knew that before permission was given, right?

Of course that area now -- which was once the bustling Railway Station and old hotels -- is now just a place where articulated tracks carrying containers thunder through. Another no man’s land, this one noisy and fume-filled.

After my meeting I went into the city and walked the length of Queen St up to Real Groovy (those $6 dump-bins of vinyl bins are terrific by the way: I am into US stadium rock and buying albums by Kansas and Styx and Journey!)

It was a depressing walk up Queen St: the footpaths were filthy; the walk was deafening because of jackhammers; and the air thick with fumes from vehicles servicing the roadworks. I stopped to watch the demolition of another building: avoided the four drunk guys in the middle of the footpath passing beers around; and gave a wide berth to a guy out of his head on something and yelling at no one in particular.

The group of Japanese girls was justifiably terrified.

Of course you long ago gave up on seeing any cops just walking around the street. We gave them all cars, and that seems to be where they stay these days. In the States I like the fact you go to café or fast food joint and there would be a couple of cops sitting there: visibility is the key.

I went around the Chancery area and wondered why traffic still runs through there. You could close a couple of those small roads which now just slice through otherwise pleasant pedestrian areas -- and what about no traffic in High St between 9am and 6pm? Maybe service vehicles only? Worth thinking about?

And so it went: an increasingly depressing walk during which I only heard music once (a Turkish Café, thanks).

The main drag is becoming increasingly ugly.

These days I don’t have to go to the city that much -- in and out to movies, shows, record shops and the Herald mostly -- and so I seem to notice more and more the incrementally run-down quality of the place.

I mention this because yesterday just before I caught the train -- and I’ll think twice about that again -- I read that John Banks and Dick Hubbard could be going at it again for mayor. Hmm.

Hubbard said he was a businessman who rolled up his sleeves and got the city running in a business-like manner. Banks talked about rates and about, if he ran, being more inclusive. Double hmm.

I dunno. I always thought Hubbard got in only because it was anyone-but-Banks for many voters, and he hasn’t done much that has impressed me. Like all these guys -- and John Key I suspect is another -- he’ll get enthusiastic about something with a Big Vision (World Cup, waterfront stadium etc) and then have to have a cold shower of reality.

My wish is that anyone running for public office should just spend more time walking the streets of their hometown, looking at it from ground-level -- both literally and metaphorically.

Auckland is still my city and when I was interviewed by Paul Henry the other day (about New Zealand being 4th in the world as a great place to live, in some dodgy survey) I did say I loved the fact that I could (and do) swim at a beach just 10 minutes from the main street of the biggest city in the country. I doubted you could do that in too many places.

I love Mission Bay, and I still love Auckland. I wouldn't want to live in a town anywhere else in the country.

But less and less I am enthusiastic about that main street. Not even the whiff of Tony’s can get me in there these days.

There is a Tui sign in Britomart which I thought very apt: something about the only thing wrong with Auckland is billboards.

PS: Music at Elsewhere right now includes the new Lucinda Williams, recent but ignored Leonard Cohen, the very cool El Perro Del Mar, and something real good for Valentine’s Day. And much more.
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