The Big Smoke
by GringoKev

Caesar crossed the Rubicon for one, Dickens wrote endlessly about one, the Greeks left a giant horse outside of one, Japan has the biggest one and you are probably in or around one at this very moment.

But why have cities so captured the human imagination?

If you look at them from an outsider’s point of view, from a rational and objective perspective, the whole thing seems pretty absurd. Imagine trying to describe the whole city situation to a complete foreigner. And I mean a real foreigner – like aliens, or this guy - someone who is pretty much unaware of human civilisation.

“So, like, you put yourself in a small box. You might have some grass if you’re lucky but it’s pretty likely that your box will be stacked onto some other boxes. It will definitely be next to lots and lots of other boxes. Uh, and like some of these boxes will be labelled different names like ‘shops’ or ‘office’ or ‘restaurant’. And yeah, so you just like spend your life commuting between these boxes. Oh yeah and to get from box to box, you get into another box, that farts out smoke”.

Catch my drift?

This is not to say that I detest cities and wish to move into a rural hippy commune with no electricity or paved roads. Gosh no. I mean, where on earth would I get my vegetables? Peas come out of a freezer, right?

Still, there is something strangely alluring about the country and open road that appeals to us big bad city folk. I’m going to hypothesise that it has something to do with the warm feelings that come from a combination of nature, freedom and the successful splitting of a block of firewood. And besides that, non-city people are just relaxed.

I went down to the Victorian coast with a few friends a couple of weeks ago and at some point on the long and undulating curves of the Great Ocean Road we were graced with a roadblock. We were also told by the cheery looking sign-holder that the delay would be around 20 minutes.

Now I want you to think now how drivers in a city would react to such an obstacle. A cacophony of angry horns, cursing and abusive questioning is what springs to my mind. But perhaps I’m just a biased cyclist.

I think that what followed encapsulates perfectly what is wrong with our modern city life and what is right about the country. Firstly, the 20-year-old sign-boy squatted near our car and happily chatted to us for a few minutes. He also seemed genuinely interested - the presence of two pretty girls in the car notwithstanding - in my backseat guitar playing. We then got out of the car to have a look at a whale that had been spotted quite far offshore. Now cities may have cool cafés and galleries but a whale. ‘Nuff said.

We all gathered excitedly on the side of the road – twenty or so people, including the construction workers and sign-boy – and did a bit of communal whale spotting. We had a bit of a chat, a bit of a laugh and drove off twenty minutes later. There was not a word of discontent, not an unfriendly face, nor a shimmer of impatience or anger from anyone who was forced to stop.

Perhaps it says more about human nature than cities themselves that I was genuinely surprised by this warm and spontaneous community experience.

Now I’ve just got to get hold of a dolphin costume and we can start making Melbourne a happier place.

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