The privileges of Ponsonby


The sun sort of curves around Ponsonby, preventing a photo opportunity of the sun streaming through its voluminous trees. Instead the light stops before it hits them and leaves those sections of the pavement in darkness.

In this mid-afternoon darkness it is surprisingly difficult to find a cafe that is open but also isn’t a fast food joint.

There was one though.

“Watch your step!”

I looked down expecting to see a block of concrete or some other health hazard that would explain how this cafe needed to stay open when all others had since willingly handed over their business to Restaurant Brands. No such hazard, just a slightly damp floor.

“I just mopped it, so it might be slippery.”

Perhaps this cafe wasn’t open after all, and I paused before coming straight out with it.

“Oh.. are you open?”

He replied almost instantly.

“Yeah yeah yeah, of course! I was just getting a bit of a headstart because it was looking a little quiet.”

And why wouldn’t he. Auckland’s cafes and restaurants are always extraordinarily concerned with closing up and turning off their coffee machines. In fact, quite often they’ll start packing up with almost a full contingent of customers still there. A few miles up the road, in the ‘heart of the city’ it is not unusual to find places with signs saying they’re open 8AM till ‘late’ only to find they mean they’ll have their lights turned on till late but not their coffee or dishwashing machines.

So, needless to say, I was quite pleased to find somebody able to provide me with coffee at 3.15PM. Not only that but the guy hadn’t said anything about them being ‘takeaway only’ (which is the other trick Auckland cafes often play after 2PM), so I eagerly placed my order, to which he added the inevitable-

“-umm.. is that to takeaway?”

I paused.

“Oh, are you guys closing?”

“Nah nah, you can have it here, we’re closing in an hour.”

Well at least he wasn’t closing up two hours beforehand I guess, although I suspect this guy hadn’t gotten Auckland Tourism’s memo about Auckland being the ‘Show that Never Stops’.

Still, I felt a little bad for the guy, I’d clearly shattered his sense of reality about what to expect from the universe by wandering in one hour before closing. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long before somebody else came in to share the guilt and order 8 takeaway coffees.

“We’ve just finished editing.”

The customer stressed the word ‘editing’. As he stressed the fact that he routinely ‘charged’ things to ‘the company’ because he had a ‘job’ ‘editing’ a ‘magazine’ that was not only ‘published’ but routinely ‘printed’. He repeated those words loudly – and in various combinations – till his coffees were ready to takeaway. The guy was clearly pleased to have a job, although tellingly he never really mentioned what exactly his magazine was about.

He left, and the barista shouted out a note to himself that he shouldn’t mop up so early next time. I again felt sorry for him, judging by the number of closed cafes on the stretch he probably assumed there was no market for coffee at 3PM in the city’s alleged cafe precinct.

Well, the rest of the late-afternoon coffee market – consisting of two girls – almost walked in at 4.25PM, but were stopped by the overeager barista who announced “we’re closing in five minutes.”.

One of the girls replied,

“that’s good, because we still have five minutes, we’ll just grab a seat.”

The barista had clearly met his match.

“Aw nah, you can’t really coz we have to close up.”

Some discussion ensued which I couldn’t really make out, then the two girls took off without so much as a takeaway coffee. Although it’s possible one of the girls opted against a takeaway coffee on account of it being difficult to carry a takeaway coffee and drag a green canvas trolley bag – that made it look like she’d just stepped off a seaplane from the 1930s – along the pavement.

“Those girls were weird.”

I agreed, but possibly not for the same reasons the Barista had for thinking as much.

Of course, not wanting to be lumped into the weird category that those girls had clearly been sectioned into I proceeded to pack-up and leave. Best to leave on a high I thought. And, in fact, I’d really felt quite privileged by the whole experience, I had been served coffee while the exotic seaplane aviators from the 1930s hadn’t, and at 3.15PM in the afternoon no less. Perhaps this is what privilege means in Ponsonby?

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