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Our Shops

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Smell the romance in the air. No wait, that's the pizza place.

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What's your shops?

Here in suburban Australia everyone has their shops. Not the big behemoth malls, which dot the landscape like chateaus in medieval France - quick, take refuge, the English longbowmen doth approach! - but, the little ones which cater to the five minute needs of us suburbanites.

When my (Mr Speech) family first moved to Brisbane, our shops were on the street where we lived. More precisely, they were directly opposite our house. It was not far to walk to get a meat pie and a magazine.

They did not occupy prime position on a main road of any sort. They were
Some of the greenery out front of our shops. Most of the treeage ahead was removed so we could all see the McDonald's sign. Beyond these trees you can now see the McDonald's sign.

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awkwardly placed, on a small strip which looks over backyards to the back and faces jaded 1970's Queensland facades. It was as though the land once housed people but was suddenly re-zoned when someone decided goodness, we don't have a fish 'n chip shop within five minutes' walk!

At the time, the bakery, newsagent and trading card shop were all very popular. The trading card shop was not popular for too long; when the market went south so did its revenue I suppose and the pony-tailed young man who stood aloof behind the counter disappeared.

For much of my adult life I have lived five minutes from that place, in a different suburb, and with its own shops.

Our shops are called Wishart Shopping Village. It's not so much a village as a small retail junket astride one of the busiest roads in southern Brisbane. It's kind of a large-ish truck stop, with all the conveniences one would expect for truckies hurtling between the airport/port of Brisbane and the southern suburbs.

Every suburban shops has one of several things: a newsagent, a fish 'n chip shop, a doctor's practice. Some have video stores. Ours used to until the complex owners in a fit of lunacy typical of small-time local moneygrubbing, forced them out.

There's usually a pharmacy as well, and maybe a dentist. There's always a convenience store, a mini-mini supermarket where you can spend five dollars on milk, if you really have to.

Our shops have a bit more because they sit on the truck route: we have two doctors, a chiropractor, a florist, a real estate agent and a pathologist. We have a Red Rooster, which makes average fast food. We have a McDonald's next to Wishart Shopping Village, which makes average fast food.

The pizza shop...new and improved well, just new.

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There's a pizza place with a bit of a story. It used to be really lovely; run by a qualified chef, with indoor/outdoor seating, red tablecloths and al fresco gas heating which belied the fact that it's basically next to a highway.

The atmosphere suffered a little but not more than the fact that people stopped going to their local pizza place and buying twenty dollar pizzas. You can get three from the larger chains for that price, and soon it was not unusual on friday nights to look over and see an unbroken chain of empty tables. I think the high rent did them in just like the video shop, in the end.

One day there was an official notice on the door from complex management saying they were in breach of their lease terms, next to a letter thanking loyal customers. The place sat empty and after a few months it was taken over by the yokels, who tried to sell the same twenty dollar pizzas, only with a big garish vegas-style neon light out front which murders any chance of atmosphere. Just like the highway has always tried to do.

The McDonalds is a major addition that was just completed a few months ago. It used to be a shabby little petrol station constructed from off-white bricks. The off-white was not a good choice for a place basically exposed to a lot of oils and fumes and stuff. It took on the oeuvre of a joint to avoid unless you needed pastries at midnight and iced coffee, which I sometimes did.

They blew it up (not literally) and replaced it with a combined McDonald's/petrol station which has schmance value up to here. It's very classy. High ceilings at the bowsers so you don't die from, you know, breathing while you're filling your car up. And the McDonald's has class. I'm afraid to walk in there - they'll find out I don't drive a BMW.

The chippy. Scourge of cardiologists everywhere.

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The doctors' practices are a boon to our suburb (you can visit them for an ECG after you've been to McDonald's) as is the dentist, and I'm sure the chiropractor to people whose bones are inside out or whatever. The florist has been a boon for Valentine's Day.

I don't know exactly why any of this matters. I don't know why there is a lady we know by name at the convenience store, or why when I leave my doctor's office I walk around the back way to the front of the shops, or why the Indian woman who runs the fish 'n chip shop once asked me if I was divorced, because my wife was in America, and she hadn't seen her with me for a while.

I'm not sure it does really matter.

But I know this: suburban fragmentation has led us to become a bunch of individuals who never speak. Mrs Speech and I live in a fairly tightly-packed unit complex where no-one talks to each other and I'm pretty sure the same dynamic pervades our culture generally. No-one knows each other. Whenever they talk about 'community' I wonder what galaxy they are living in; the fifties are long gone and we're social mercenaries when we leave work.

But the local shops is where we come together. It's where we say hi once in a while, or excuse me if we need to get past someone in the convenience store. It's where we have a friendly chat with someone not of our family, just because for the time it takes to swipe our credit card, that person is in our life. It's nice. It's rare. It's valuable and possibly crucial.

And when the entire world figures out that absolutely everything can be done online, it will be extinct. But for now, we have our shops.

The author of this post would like to thank Mrs Speech for her superb photographic abilities.
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