Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living a small town existence in a big city

Last night I spent yet another Saturday night doing a whole lot of nothing. That's because there isn't much to do around Christchurch at the moment, and what can be done is very busy or difficult to get to.

Four major movie theatres are closed, two of them probably never to open again. Two art house theatres are closed, possibly to never reopen. All the main live theatres - the Town Hall, the Theatre Royal, the Mill, and the Court Theatre - are all closed: the Court Theatre are working quickly to get a new venue up and running, but the Mill will be torn down, and the Royal and Town Hall are years away from reopening. If any live theatre is happening, it's in marquees, school halls, or whatever community venue can be scraped up. Small and inconvenient venues, but the spirit of arts communities does live on.

There are no major concerts. The pub scene is slowly crawling it's way back, but again it's suffering from a lack of venues. Salmonella Dub are going to do a show in a CARPARK soon because of the lack of venues, of all things. Partying outside in the depths of winter - yeah, you gotta be pretty hardy to put up with that. There's no Oxford Terrace Strip, no Sol Square, no Poplar Lane, no Manchester Street bars and niteclubs. There are no wine bars like Le Plonk (torn down) or 205.

The restaurant scene is slowly coming back. Recently I've discovered St Germain, the Bohdi Tree, and The Flying Burrito Brothers have reopened in new venues. I still have no word on Pedros or Simos.

Even IF you can get to any of the open venues you're struggling against traffic and a lack of peripheral entertainment venues. For example, if you go to a restaurant, you'd expect to move on to a niteclub, bar, wine bar or coffee house afterwards, and because venues are so scattered, it's difficult to string together a decent night out. These days I go out for one thing, and one thing only, and I'm usually home well before pumpkin time.

And even IF you decide to make the effort, you're dealing with increased population flow into these reduced in numbers venues. And with bigger numbers at less venues comes the stress - people are struggling to find relief for their tension and trauma, and it's finding it's way out in alcohol, fights, or the simple stress of having to be in a big crowd. I go out for a good time, and though I like the good vibe of crowd that's got it going on (that's what Sol Square used to be like some nights), I feel a certain tension in Christchurch crowds at the moment - I don't want to be shoulder to shoulder with people who haven't released their post-February stress in a healthy way. Are we all looking at each other wondering if an aftershock is going to hit?

People think about these things, and it will hurt the hospitality industry for a long time to come.

And it's not just one's free time that has been truncated into a waiting game. Most days are get up, go to work, come home again. If you need to do any of the basics, like grocery shopping, you have to PLAN it. Popping down to the supermarket is not a viable option any more when it's packed like Christmas time after 10am most Saturday mornings. BF (Before February), I used to be able to pop down to some handy shops or service centres for any errands, or shopping. Now I have to plan days in advance, find routes and work out what and where the shop is.

If I want something from the library I have to reserve it: no wandering into the huge central library with it's fantastic SFF section. Dog forbid if the central library's resources, historical documents and stack can't be rescued.

And travel. Travel. *sigh*. Some days you don't even know if certain roads are going to be open. I can watch streets worsen in quality as time goes by and they take a heavier traffic load. These too will have to be closed to be fixed. I've taken to biking a lot more, and I wish people on Christchurch roads would too. It would sure ease the load - cars, and road rage wise.

I have visited Sydenham twice since February, Ferrymead once. I've been over Aranui way a couple of times to visit my "car guy", but have tried to limit those trips because the roads are the worst in town. I haven't been to Sumner or Redcliffs, and only go to Hornby if I'm leaving town to go south - and even then I've learned to take the back roads.

Travelling, in a city that used to take 20 minutes to cross, is a nightmare.

I don't even know what parts of my city look like any more.

And it makes me stop and think. This is what my life used to be like when I lived in a small town - compact, parochial, boring, and stressful living within that boredom. Bored people do stupid things, or bored people become very small people. Oh, I didn't have the broken roads or inaccessible areas. But right now I'm certainly living a small town existence in what was once a big, thriving, interesting, cultural centre of a city.

Hmm. I'm sure I'm supposed to be saying things to reassure visitors to the city, tourists, that we want you back, things are slowly coming back online. Ok, sure. If you're the adventurous type, come on down. But I won't lie. It's a very boring and broken city to live in right now. If you can find fun here, you're doing better than me.

Christchurch isn't dead, but it's certainly on life support right now.

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