Big City Life: Things I’ve Learned

A couple of months ago, I moved.

I moved to a place that’s really, by almost anyone’s definition, not particularly exciting. It’s a place I bemoaned the existence of in the years prior to my moving here. I’ve been known to call it “the Dullsville capital of Australia” on multiple occasions, a slogan most would consider fit only for that last bastion of peculiar mediocrity, Radelaide. I thought it perpetually filled with utterly pointless roadworks, without identity or culture, incapable of progress, an exercise in painting with only several shades of beige.

Factor in a few things. The place I started in – and spent much all of my formative years in a tumultuous love-hate relationship with – is a place with not a single set of traffic lights to its name. It’s 400km from the nearest Big W and contains a population still loudly and vehemently bemoaning the demolition of a beloved pub going on ten years ago. But its people, in my experience, are a kind and special breed, its location world-class, and aside from the obligatory backward town planning there’s really only so many things a resident can complain about. Unless you’re somewhere between the ages of 16 and 30, perhaps, in which case you’re likely to bemoan the lack of things to do.

I hated those people. I always thought they were stupid, that they never opened their eyes and paid attention to the riches created when beautiful countryside and determined tourism industry combines, and then I realised I was, when it suited me, one of them. But at the point of realisation, I was less like them than I’d ever been, and that meant I had to get out.

Not because I hated it. Not because I saw no future there. Not because there’s only so long a person can live in a place with only two dedicated bookshops. Because I was getting comfortable. Too comfortable. Soon I would see the need to visit Target in the hope of finding that obscure book I’d been looking everywhere for not as a pointless Hail Mary but as a perfectly reasonable step in my search (I know. Crazy talk).

It’s because of The National, really, and what Matt Berninger said.

“If I stay here, I’ll never leave.”

And there has to be more to the world than a place with a Red Rooster that routinely runs out of chicken.

It took more than my little existential crisis to get me out, though. It took the job I’d been eyeing off for years falling into my lap (in that agonise-and-cross-fingers-for-weeks kind of way) and an apartment I didn’t even know I was looking for suddenly becoming available.

Sometimes the stars align right when you need them to, sure, but in my case it seems there was less timing and more waiting involved. It seems this is where I’m supposed to be, at least for now. I’m comfortable again, already, but it’s a different kind of comfort. If I were a sap I might call it contentment, but I won’t because it’s not and also because I’m a writer and we have no damn idea what that word means. There’s always a better get to be got and always another offer just around the corner we wish we could seize with both hands. For now I think I’m realising this is one of those offers, and I did seize it. I did the thing that had caused me to lose sleep countless times. The thing that scared the bejesus out of me in more ways than one. And now there’s like, 40 bookstores within a ten-kilometre radius of my house.

When I’m not counting bookstores I’m learning other things about this place I hated so vehemently until I moved here. I think, actually, that I arrived with the world’s most open mind. The city itself is almost entirely foreign to me and I am the brave exchange student who has taken the plunge and gapes, wide-eyed, at all this new and newer landscape has to offer. Every alleyway hides a coffee shop and every street corner holds a restaurant, and apparently Sunday trading is not a myth or a topic for debate but a liveable, tangible thing people engage with each week.

Here are some other things I’ve learned:

1. City lights at night are proof that, just occasionally, man-made things can be as beautiful as natural things.

2. Don’t believe Loreal. Paying $16 for two cans of Glen 20 and feeling ripped off is the first sign of ageing.

3. Silence doesn’t exist as a concept within a 300 kilometre radius of not just this city, but any city. Cities have cars, and construction, and people shouting across the road to each other for reasons good or bad and even though they’re not especially loud the sound echoes off everything fixed in place. And they have sirens. Lots of sirens.

4. Getting annoyed at the sirens, even though they generally mean a house is burning down, or someone’s livelihood has been broken into and ransacked, or a wife has found her husband slumped in a heap in the kitchen and doesn’t know what’s wrong with him – in spite of all these things, it’s important to remember: you are allowed to get shitty when the sirens wake you up at 2am. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

5. Having a McDonald’s outside a five-minute drive is the best thing for you.

6. When one of the two elevators in your building breaks, your chances of finally meeting your neighbours doubles.

7. Paying for parking is a ridiculous concept but it only takes three fines within the space of a week (I’m just guessing) for you to backpedal and wholeheartedly embrace the system.

8. Buy a bike. Buy a bike buy a bike buy a bike. Then bike.

9. There is a special place in hell reserved for drivers who don’t know how to merge.

10. There’s something to be said for following the logic of a song. I think I’ll do it again sometime.

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One thought on “Big City Life: Things I’ve Learned

  1. I’ve had my own love-hate relationship with this city – particularly after returning from Melbourne and finding it attitudinally retarded. But I am converted now. I’m so glad you got your dream job.

    Just be wary: some songs have pretty bad logic. I’m thinking “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’ as an example of advice not to follow. I’m sure there are many others.

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