Same same but different
Questions arising from a morning meander along Karangahape Rd.
This article was first published in the January 2016 issue of Metro. Photo: Joe Hockley.
It’s 9.16am and the security guy outside the ASB Bank on the corner of K’ Rd and Upper Queen St is smiling. God knows why. Is he daydreaming about a robber turning up and breaking the boredom?
It’s the same pretty much every weekday morning — he’s standing there near the entrance to the bank, and he looks pretty happy about it. If you smile back while you’re waiting for the lights to change, he will often slip you a little something.
Not the sort of something you might expect to be slipped your way on K’ Rd. What he gives is simply a greeting, followed by a passing comment on the weather, or good wishes for your day. Perfectly pleasant, utterly ordinary. Yet some days, for some reason, this is enough to carry you along the entire length of the grittiest of strips.
Cross to the other side of the road, beckoned by the morning sun, and walk past St Kevins. That old-timer Alleluya is hanging on down the back of the arcade, but its days are numbered, by choice.
And if they weren’t already, they should be, since they took the smoked fish hash off the menu. K’ Rd, eh? Long nights, longer memories, though most tend towards the fuzzy.
A few steps along, towards Leo O’Malley’s, the faded man who offers books of poems for sale is setting up shop on his usual wooden bench.
No chance of mistaking this man, or this place, for the French equivalent — a young man who sells poems near the Pompidou Centre in Paris. But they have poetry in common, at least.
The young Frenchman wears a suit and sits at a small card table. On it is a typewriter and a handwritten sign: Poems For Sale. What price a poem? Pay him enough and he will craft a poem just for you, while you wait. Or perhaps he simply types up the same poem, over and over again?
Back on the corner of Pitt St, the lights change and the strip shifts gears. There’s the old Naval & Family Hotel, reborn as Calendar Girls. It’s home to plenty of navels these days, but no longer a place for families — if it ever was.
The Las Vegas, where burlesque is the new tease. That fresh, flash-looking budget accommodation. Are backpackers cashed up now?
Up through the wind tunnel of bus stops, above the motorway crush, past sad cafes flogging cheap chips, and stalwart restaurants. A smattering of small businesses high on quirk.
This morning, K’ Rd has its little diamonds in the rough, its smiling security man and its bit of sun, but there’s stuff-all sparkle. What do you expect? K’ Rd is sleeping off the night before, if she’s even in bed yet. The stars come out only at night.
Door after door, shut tight against the light. Do these doorways talk? Let’s hope not.
Stop near the western end, look over that damn petrol station, and give a respectful nod to the murals. They’ve earned it — they’re survivors, like this storied strip. The city needs these touchstones. They anchor us.
Just a few steps more and K’ Rd recedes. Turn right towards Ponsonby and it’s gone.
Same city. Different world.