This is the piece I read last Friday at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. A fuller run-down of last weekend’s madness to come…
Karangahape Road Memories
I am trying to understand why I keep coming back. What it is that draws me here now that here isn’t here anymore and hasn’t been for years.
Perhaps it is because journeys themselves have memories, even one so routine as a Friday evening pilgrimage of a train and a bus and a walk along Karangahape Road.
I will make this journey again, I remember that.
It’s hard to see what the road used to be before the rent went up and the shutters came down. K Road’s been made over so often that she’s sometimes unrecognisable, and only the shape of his snaking curves gives any indication of who they once were.
But then, that’s true of many of us who heed the ghostly call of when here was still here. Perhaps I recognise change better than constant because of the transformation that has happened within me in the time that I have known this road.
The bright colours that once marked this spot used to lighten my feet as I walked towards them.
The weight of carrying the parts of me that my fourteen-year-old self felt compelled to hold inside lifted when I reached this doorway. On one side there were heroes and stories, and on the other there was the equally glittering promise of a few hours to be exactly who I was.
No wonder that this street should call the way it does.
K Road was already in a state of flux when I made my first trip along it’s cracked-paving length, though I could not have known it at the time.
I had nothing to measure it against, and besides, I was too preoccupied with superhero tales and my own teenage angst. But I’ve since learned that the only permanence of this ridge that crowns Queen Street is change.
Genteel boutiques have crept down from Ponsonby, and the glimmering dust is unable to cling to the veneer of white-tiled eateries. There’s a new façade for the 2020s, one that looks like an Instagram filter, or an over-edited tik-tok video that goes viral with a bad reworking of a joke that brought the house down back when a drag queen first told it in a bar down the road.
Those bars were the places, some years after the first time I reached this doorway, that I felt my stereotypes about superheroes fall away. I still returned every week, stayed out past 2am, drinking and dancing until I glittered with sweat. Then the street heaved a breath, and it shrugged, and the doors closed.
They soon reopened with new names and new upholstery, lasted a year and closed again, but every iteration of that cycle felt further away from the magic that I thought I had known.
Kay’s probably going to transition completely five more times in my life. From the nipping and tucking of roadworks, Kay will take their makeup off with cold cream and micellar water and daub it back on while filming a tutorial for the next thing that inevitably comes after Youtube.
Rainbows will spread up and down Kay’s length, then some time around 2032 they will retreat all the way into a solitary sex shop in the basement of a tapas bar. But because the memory will be there, those rainbows will explode outward again, once more turning the street into the brightly coloured mecca that calls to a teenager in 2040, or beyond. There’s the memory of dirt here, of smut, of sex and drugs and dreams and superheroes who wear six-inch size 13 stillettos.
So while there’s art here right now, creativity and culture, I better make the most of it while this version of Karangahape Road lasts, because who knows what will come next, who can predict the shifting moods of fashion and circumstance, and besides, I am getting old.
In the future there’ll be jetpacks and hoverboards or personal helicopters that fold out from bumbags but no matter how we travel, K Road will endure.
And I may not know why, but while this street remains I, and you, and they, and we, will keep returning to this memory and this reality of Karangahape Road.