05 December 2011

Cruising in the red zone

Photo originally from stuff.co.nz
On Saturday I took a cruise through the red zone.

No, I didn't have some special dispensation to drive in like 89% of the population seem to; I got on the hot, overcrowded bus, listened to the safety message tell me for the eleventy billionth time that I might die, suffered through being elbowed by some lady trying to take a picture of her family group on the bus, and experienced the old high-school phenomenon of being the very last one anyone chose to sit next to until every other seat was filled. Even the one in the middle of the back seat where you couldn't possibly see anything.

Our bus was a chatty one. As we pulled away from the curb, "aaaaaaah"ing in unison when the air conditioning came on, you could easily have mistaken us for a field trip to an Inane Babblers Anonymous meeting. 

I settled into my seat, popped my sunnies on and prepared to be astonished by the sights of the CBD red zone.

I had a great view to my right. Unfortunately, everything to my left was designated out of bounds by Bus Etiquette. This is the phenomenon experienced when you try look past the person sitting next to you, and if they're not looking in the same direction as you are, it's like there's some invisible force field of politeness that compels you to immediately turn away. Much as I tried to fight it, it's impossible. 

The image of the ghostbusters, sitting on a bus together in full kit and crying "Don't cross the sight streams!" jumped into my mind. I nearly giggled but held it in, just in case they decided to kick me off the bus (or that last woman who had to sit next to me decided standing was preferable).

Most of the things I was seeing were sanitised and unemotive. Bare tracts of earth, piles of neatly broken-down rubble, orphaned high-rises standing like the token tall kids in the playground, lonely and conspicuous. PGC was the only site that affected me. But that could have been because the safety girl startled me by blaring out through the loudspeaker that we'd be stopping there a few minutes. 

At the site of CTV, the whole bus went silent for a moment, and then broke out in hushed whispers that carried further than outright shouting would have. Everyone had a story. The site was on my right, so I couldn't not look at it (the Bus Etiquette rule - the lady next to me was staring to her right, so I couldn't look anywhere else!). I think she thought I was tearing up. In fact, the sun was just burning through my sunnies. Any contemplation I might have done of the carnage and lives lost on that small square of land was made impossible by the ridiculousness of the situation.

In Victoria Square, half of the long-abandoned lanterns had disintegrated, their delicate red shells no more than confetti on the breeze. That simple sight brought home to me the passage of time since it all went wrong, better than a thousand empty sections could have done.

As we pulled back in at Cranmer Square, I realised at last that it's too late. Any grieving I once longed for has missed its chance to happen - like allowing a fallen child back on its horse only after the horse has died, and a crude wooden toy has been carved in its place. My passion for this broken city, like the broken city itself, has been swept unfeelingly aside by bureaucracy and risk management - like so much demolition dust.


  1. its going to be so weird to see the city totally changed.

  2. Yeah. I won't lie, it will be really weird.