Oh, how quickly we forget. On Wednesday morning, it took more than half an hour to get from the Tom Flood Centre to Mitchell Street, usually a matter for three or four minutes. I fumed. I smacked the steering wheel. I gave surly looks to about 500 blokes wearing eye-watering orange vests. I muttered obscenities at their STOP lollipop signs. I wanted someone to blow up the pointless lane closures in Barnard Street. Why shut down lanes on the very road you’re trying to use as a detour? Who thinks this stuff up?
When I eventually got to the coffee shop I was heading to, I reckon my bloody pressure was in the thermonuclear range and I was about to blow an O-ring. Bloody Commonwealth Game baton. Bloody city shut-down overkill. Why choke the few lanes bypassing the CBD? At school drop-off time? Some hours have passed now, and I feel what passes for normal again.
Just last week, I had to spend some time in Melbourne and I got stuck on the CityLink between the Bolte Bridge and Southbank. In the wrong lane. I was being dragged inexorably at 5kmh towards the Domain Tunnel and Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, when I really wanted to end up at a hotel near the Yarra on Southbank. It can be pulse-racing to play chicken with 50-tonne B-doubles, trying to play real-life Frogger to get to the far left lane.
The next day, all I wanted was to get across the Yarra, edge up past the City and head out Flemington Road towards dear, peaceful, dry-armpitted Benders.
No. Somehow, we get pushed to Richmond, round the back of AAMI Park, the MCG, Rod Laver Arena, back past State Parliament and up towards Lygon Street. While this unexpected tour of Melbourne’s sporting arenas (yes, including Parliament) was interesting, it wasn’t closing the gap between me and Big Hill.
Melbourne traffic is bonkers. A flatulent fly can cause a 10km back up on the Monash. One angry student with a sharp HB pencil can shut down the CBD. And one Friday night football match can have traffic backed up for hours many suburbs away.
I lived in Melbourne for eight years during the '80s, and commuted for two or three hours a day, but it was nothing like now.
The traffic lanes seem much narrower. The parking bays are smaller and rarer. The green lights conspire against me.
And the CBD is jammed with huge white cubes called delivery trucks which don’t seem to be subject to normal driving or parking rules. Pedestrians staring at mobile phones are apparently invulnerable to being hit by a two-tonne bit of metal. Too often, I find myself shouting – with the windows firmly up – “Why are you trying to kill me? I’ve never even met you before.” Or: “Sorry. I’m from Bendigo. Sorry.”
Friends and family who have to live in Melbourne now (is that oxymoronic?) are used to it, and when they come here, they wonder where the hell all the people went.
So, Wednesday’s two or three hours constipation in Bendigo could serve as a simple reminder of how good it is here for the other 99.96575342465753 per cent of the year. Go on. Check it. However, a little bit of advice:
a) Don’t close down the entire CBD for a fairly localised event at Charing Cross
b) Don’t stage this event at school drop-off and business start times
c) Don’t close everything down for five hours for an event which could have taken place in 20 minutes
d) We don’t need reminding how awful Melbourne is.