My Morning Walk to Work

I slide into my white topsiders while I unlatch the door, swing it open, step through and close it behind me. The summer heat draws water to my skin like a pumps pulls water from an aquifer. I lock the wooden door behind me. Three steps later I turn left out the stubby driveway, travel uphill just briefly, and the magnificent old Queenslander home to my right catches my gaze as usual. Today, a pair of birds with mohawk plumage and iridescent design on their wings strut and fret when my approach scatters them from scavenging garbage scraps.

It’s just twenty paces to the hilltop — the return home is the sweatier walk — then a plodding decent down the street, passing the house on the left that always smells like musty vegetation, the scent of Grandma Dee’s greenhouse from my childhood. Houses on the right appear shy, casting furtive glances down on the street below through dense trees that shade them from the hot northern sun. I pass the white shotgun house that hosted my first two weeks, odd smattering of bicycles rest in the patio. I wonder if the chickens that greeted me curiously as I sat drinking coffee and recording events still wander by in the mornings. It’s garbage collection day and the ripe scents blooming with the warming day escape the bins to assault my nostrils. A light breeze rescues me, dispelling the fetid spirits.

At the intersection with Prospect Terrace, I notice a woman in a sundress and wide brimmed straw hat painting a bright new mural on a garage. I slouch under vegetation hanging low over the sidewalk, past the house that occasionally bangs out anti-rhythmic drum patterns. Someone buy that kid a metronome. That said, I know I’m no better on a kit.

At Stephens Avenue, I look right, checking for oncoming traffic. Luckily, a traffic circle is just uphill, so cars are rarely going fast and even more infrequently coming the other direction. With barely a break in stride, I cross the street, now staring out at a palate of concrete swaying fifty meters high between two buildings, crane raising it to the roof of the new South Bank complex. I’ll be surprised if they finish before I’m gone, and from what I hear, they’ve been working for at least a year.

As I pass a neighborhood pool, shouts of young swimmers mixed with splashing water echo out to the street with that tinny, blurred quality only a pool building creates. I reach the bridge over the train tracks, the same tracks that have bought me south to Currumbin and surfing, and follow the pedestrian walkway underneath Jones Street The walls are painted: bright, psychedelic landscapes, spirals and swirls, giant turquoise waves, footprints, a fiery geometric sunset, jellyfish daylighting as neurons, an abstract crystalline checkerboard.  Compliments to you, Brisbane, for including art throughout the city, offering serendipitous moments of beauty and appreciation of creativity in daily life.

My legs, working without any special attention, carry me along past the base of the new South Bank building, where, on my evening return, I’ll veer off a direct backtrack, and hit up Woolworths one floor down for my groceries. At the intersection, I press the button to cross, and hear the tick tick tic until the ampleman turns green and the collected mass disperses in five directions as people resume their individual journeys. 

I walk the steep path down to the base of Goodwill Bridge, red cobble under foot, giant decorative aloe plants to my right; straight ahead, bougainvilleas hang three meters in the air, blossoming in a fuchsia crown along cables that run the full length of the South Bank pedestrian walkway. Without fail, the intersection underneath the bright flowers is mayhem: cars access the world’s best hidden car park, bicyclists zoom through on their daily high-performance carbon fiber commute, other bicyclists teeter along on yellow clunker City Cycles, and pedestrians navigate a “choose your own adventure” of six possible paths to and from the confluence. And today there’s also a unicyclist nearly mown down by a gentleman on a boosted board. Why the madness? A primary bike pedestrian path paralleling Brisbane River passes here. For those travelers headed to the city, Goodwill Bridge, directly in front of me, is the nearest crossing in at least a kilometer: they are like a timid and slowly dripping upstream watershed converging on a mountain pass, cutting a deep, quick river, only to open into a marshy expanse and slowly meander through the forest again. Except in the case of people over the bridge, the ‘water’ flows uphill on the way home.

Managing the traffic, I swing my head back and forth like I’m doing morning aerobics, watching the Australian Open, or desperately searching for a lost phone. After safely navigating my entry to the bridge, I move to the left, nearly brushing the chrome handrail with my forearm; cyclists continue their steady ticking past. To my right, the Australian flag hangs above the old ships of the Maritime Museum. I really need to wander around in there sometime, I think.  

Tinted blue and grayed out, my reflection follows on my left in the polished steel sunshade of the bridge, but falls suddenly into the sky at a window interwoven between metal panels, and I glimpse the River Quay Green before I’m staring at myself again: new khaki shorts bought in a Currumbin surf shop last week and a heather green shirt from college years.

Finally, topping the bridge, I see the skyline of the central business district, a panoply of buildings rising like basalt columns, each a slightly different height, color, tone, like embodied musical notes pulsing skyward. My shifting perspective as I walk over the bridge slowly reveals the layers, three, four, five blocks deep, silhouettes like blocky mountain ranges.

The RiverCat zooms from underneath the bridge, surprising me as it heads for QUT station, out one hundred meters on my left. It’s one of the new stations that replaced flood-damaged ones in the past few years, a major infrastructure improvement. An assembly of charcoal-grey steel, vibrant orange trusses, and dark stained wood juts out from the north river bank, with jaunty angles and a sign legible from where I stand. The care and craftsmanship of the design reveals a desire for these stations to become part of the aesthetic identity of the river, and by extension, the city itself.

I pass the bridge-top coffee shop, a permanent pop-up Merlo’s, and the wafting scent of espresso flares my nostrils. Customers sit in the shade of large blue umbrellas, resting briefly  after a morning cycle, or meeting for a quick work discussion, or enjoying a snack midway through a morning stroll. Berry scones topped with buttercream frosting make my mouth water for the sweet cake texture punctuated by the burst of tangy juice. Sometime soon, I will stop here and get a coffee and a pastry. But not today, I’ve already had my morning dose of caffeine and any more will ruin my ability to solder electronics.

Gravity pulls my relaxed step towards a trot as I descend the bridge. Bicycles whiz by, accelerating. I chuckle at the appearance of helmets crowned with zip ties, looking like weird multi-antennaed insects, though the accessory is practical. In breeding season, magpies swoop in defense of their territory, scratching heads and gouging eyes, but the zip ties serve to distract the angry birds from sensitive human parts. Suspended over the walkway just ahead, the roadway, projects the honking, screeching, hissing, purring, roaring morning traffic, noises growing louder, louder, louder. As I walk underneath, a sudden quiet and cool shade embrace me.

The final few steps down the bridge bring me under the gateway of two massive banyan trees, and the QUT campus reveals itself. I take a deep breath of sweet, humid air. Time to work!

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *