The moment you leave the multi-storey car park your slut Honda hatchback bats its wipers at a Mercedes E-Class sedan and, receiving a headlight flash come-on in return, reverses onto the three point star and they couple in a cacophony of red-line revs, piston-knock and ungoverned screams that will result in a … Lexus? A Mini Cooper? Who knows what sort of automotive progeny issues from miscegenation of this kind?
These acts must have been caught on CCTV. They're keeping the tapes from us. The car parks are an orgy of automotive fornication; Hummers mounting Fiats like rottys on pekes, 4X4s ravishing Renaults and SUVs with STDs copulating with coupes. How else do you explain the plague? The infestation? The spate? The explosion?
At daylight they emerge from their underground caves onto the roads where they freeze in a vast grid of tessellated glaciers that might be an art installation created to illuminate "human submission to capitalism's heedless appetite" or some other cliche of the catalogue. An organism with the id of an Englishman – programmed to queue. And queue they do, they queue and queue as if at canine woo, nose to tail, locked in hindsniff like a libidinous conga-line of beagles.
Cars become traffic becomes jammed. Welcome to Melbourne. The jam is her biggest suburb, strung out and strung out. A place of trapped souls like the Gaza Strip. A place where the hope of every dawn descends into despair.
Many Melburnians now suffer the daily insult, and irony, of arriving at work jetlagged after a journey whose average speed was 10km/h. Jamlagged. They are jamlagged. And greeting their co-workers they no longer lament the uncle who died or the lover who packed and left over the weekend – they rage at the commute. "Crapsakes. Took me two hours to get here." "Two! I wish. Sweet run, two. Three me. Busload of Jehovah's Witnesses stuck in the tunnel. They reckon the Lord moves in mysterious ways. I reckon he moves his Jehovah's Witnesses in mysterious ways."
And by such statements you are signalling to your peers that you're the sort of powerless son-of-a-gun who's going to spend precious chunks of his life twiddling his thumbs in a river of twiddling thumbs. But at least your marathon commute shows the boss you're committed. He who commutes furthest is the stone cold zealot of the human resources dept. Dan drives in from Cranbourne? Well, Greater Love Hath No Dan.
Melbourne was once a collection of villages, divided and individualised by distance, each suburb a self-contained community: butcher, baker, pub and school, and no need to leave the suburb because no way of going. People used to travel from the CBD to St Kilda … and stay for summer. Richmond knew Brighton only as a rumoured seaside duchess. When Burke and Wills set out for the gulf they spent their first night in the exotic hamlet of Essendon.
Do you think Port Melbourne residents shopped in Toorak in the spring of 1865 while talking of Lee at Appomattox? They didn't. Distance forbade such a thing. But over the next century distance died. And by the late '60s baysiders could discuss the Vietnam War while picnicking in the Bot Gardens. Now distance has been reincarnated. The numbers have beaten the technology. As numbers will.
Sarah and I tried to drive to South Yarra last weekend and turned back after hours shouting at cars through dark glass. Well … I was shouting. It's how men move traffic. Personal internal combustion.
Graeme Davison, in his book Car Wars, writes that after World War II only 15 per cent of Melburnians travelled to work by car. By 1974 more than 60 per cent did. But statistics can't tell of today's citywide mess, the web of pain, the houses empty while the roads teem.
Behold the hoodlum interred in traffic, frustrabating his gearstick and gunning his Ferrari like Daniel Ricciardo driving the hearse at the funeral of an arch enemy. Behind him a single mum in a Subaru whose kids were born and have reached puberty on the way to work. Her eldest leans from the window and tosses a bag of commuter-stool at a dumpster as they pass.
And check the news tonight – another grinning baby-kisser announcing another road upgrade: bypass, highway, ring road, arterial … Take your pick from the array of cure-all snake oil blacktops that will eat your days and shit your dead years as we again become a collection of isolated villages. See ya, South Yarra.
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