It’s no wonder that George’s Heights has for hundreds of years been a critical point in Australia’s defense network. Luckily these guns were never fired in anger, but the diggers who manned these guns certainly had good views up until the base was decommissioned. (A “digger” is what Australian’s call their army soldiers; it’s become a term of endearment and pride among most in the army.) Last weekend we were lucky enough to get a tour of the underground tunnels and facilities that were in use when this was an active base – pretty cool.
I’m also paying more attention as I walk through the city every day. Some of the things I’m seeing are fascinating, others mundane, others annoying. Like the guy who plays his guitar in the park every morning looking for people to buy his silly CD. He smiles like he’s really enjoying himself, like he’s just in love with the music, like he’s not tortured in the least. I find that guy terribly annoying. I love music too, but I mean really guy, you’re here every day, playing the same stupid riffs on your beat up guitar, this is a job, not music for music’s sake.
I’ve also observed what I consider one of the more interesting phenomenon that I’ve seen in a major city; drivers in Sydney rarely use their horns. I walk close to two kilometers a day in the city and as I’ve paid attention in the last week I have not heard a horn blown once. Go to any other city around the world and you hear horns all the time. If cars don’t start moving the second the light turns green, horns blare…when cars block the grid at an intersection, a justified excuse to blow the horn…when someone cuts me off as I try to merge onto 128 traffic on a Friday afternoon headed toward the cape, I’m going to lay on the horn for crying out loud. Not here in Sydney. I suppose people here might be more civilized, but I don’t think that’s it, drivers are crazy, traffic is nuts. Perhaps I just have my Walkman up too loud (Yes I said Walkman… I have a sweet cassette version that only weighs about three pounds and has its own shoulder strap… but I have my eyes on this wicked cool portable CD player and I think I might upgrade soon.) If I upgrade from my cassette Walkman I can buy a CD from that guitar guy and see if he really has reason to be so smiley. I don’t think it’s my Walkman’s volume either. I think Sydneysiders have just collectively given up on the horn. It doesn’t really do anything anyway. You might think blowing the horn makes you feel better for a moment as an escape valve for the stresses of your life, but that’s a pretty fleeting escape. Perhaps if drivers were able to exact real revenge things would be different (I’m thinking about a Taser-like stun gun or maybe even a dashboard mounted laser). Until those inventions become reality (and as a result there is a lawyer riding in ever car), I’ll stick to using the horn.
So why title this blog-post, “Scenes from a Sydney sidewalk?” I was inspired yesterday by an interaction I saw at a traffic light on my way through the city. It was raining (another post for another day on how Sydney has become like Seattle in the past two months), and as I walked up Market St. on my way to York I was slowed by a mob of people trying to navigate overwhelming umbrella traffic clogging the sidewalk. At the crosswalk a young visually impaired woman waited to cross the street in what was clearly an overwhelming and difficult flood of conflicting stimuli. Before the walk signal even turned green a digger in his full camouflage gear full pushed his way up next to her and although I didn’t hear him, I imagine he asked calmly and quietly if she wanted a hand. She smiled, took his elbow and they walked across Clarence Street toward the train station. Once across, she nodded and thanked him and then went on her way as he went on his. This kid couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, and he had the presence, decency and poise to help in such a dignified way, it made me feel good about people, and especially about diggers.
If I had been at the front of the mob, would I have offered a hand? I hope so, but I don’t know. I certainly will now. Thank you anonymous digger you humbled me and reminded me of key life-lesson, “forget political correctness, offer to help.”