This story is from the change of millennium when old mate Bob and I used to run early mornings along the Glenelg South esplanade. There’s surprising stuff happening by the beach at dawn.
It is like facing up to an appointment with the dentist. You know that it is going to hurt, that you will make some alarming gurgling sounds and that when it is finished, you will try, with ample humiliation, to spit.
Friday. Dawn. Moseley Square. I twist and fold in a feeble attempt to prepare. Peering into the dark space of the Grand’s Pier and Pines bar, I see a lone cleaner vacuuming away the last scraps of yesterday’s conversation. “Let’s do this,” urges Bob- my accomplice.
With a beep my stopwatch is blinking and running and so are we!
At 6am the Esplanade is two babbling streams of people and dogs: one flowing toward Brighton and the other; lazily at the Patawalonga. We surge southward and a dribbling hound lumbers into my lane and then across to a yawning pine. He autographs it with the shamelessness of a footballer on an end-of-season trip.
On the horizon a tanker drags itself noiselessly toward the refinery. The breeze is crisp. A lanky teenager shuffles plastic tables outside the Broadway café, his black beanie pulled so low that some could suspect him of arranging a bank robbery for mid-morning. I spot a Chupa-chup poking jauntily from his jaw and relax, pleased that he is unlikely to feature on tonight’s TV news. He nods, “G’day boys.” We nod back.
Knots of chatty walkers drink up the seaside zest and provide welcome entertainment. It’s like spinning a radio dial across endless talkback stations- and not without intrigue. A Reality-TV producer (still in plague numbers) could comfortably fashion a dozen gripping episodes from the random snippets we steal each morning. Ambling into Somerton Park I catch:
“…but you’ll never guess,” (an elderly gent to his grandson) “he made the putt!”
“I told Doreen that there-is-NO-WAY-I’m-going.”
“So, do you think his wife knows?”
And a boisterous woman in a pink tracksuit gives her arteries some extra traffic by broadcasting, “and that bloody plumber still wanted to charge me!”
My stopwatch offers no quirky grabs. It only rudely demands acceleration. The yacht club sails toward us. Finally halfway, we anchor and embrace our minute’s rest. “A visit to the dentist’s is less painful,” I splutter, hands on hips- hungry for air.
Bob wheezes, “At least you get plenty of oxygen in the chair.” His hair is stuck firm to his head. We devour the sixty seconds, then turn, resolved, homeward bound. The wind, previously an ally, is now aggressive. I immediately feel I’m towing an old wooden bar fridge. An old wooden bar fridge bulging with brown rows of Coopers Stout.
The Esplanade’s skyline changes constantly. Majestic villas bravely protest the spread of Tuscan packing crates. A developer’s billboard stands loud among the concrete and the mesh of a building site. “Hurry! Only ONE left,” it screams impatiently.
“Now that’s optimism,” snorts Bob. This anorexic block is apparently destined to feature all of two yellow townhouses.
A cheery clot of ruddy sixty-somethings is caught by their chain of cars on a rise. T-shirts cling and drip and they chat brightly in the golden light of the sunrise as only the retired can. A champagne cork, sorry- Australian Sparkling Wine cork cuts an arc across the footpath like a failed firework. Each gent tips a crystal flute into which the hissing fizz is energetically spilled. “What’s the occasion boys?” I ask.
“Friday,” celebrates one of this chirpy clan as he hoists his breakfast drink. A gesture of sweaty fellowship.
“Amen,” I return.
“That will be us in thirty years Mickey,” puffs Bob.
“The cheapest champagne will be a hundred bucks a bottle by then.”
“Plus twenty five per cent GST.” But Bob is given to political alarm.
Pushing on towards the Broadway, we abandon our role models to their refreshments and their broad, leisurely days.
The stopwatch sternly announces that a scant two minutes stand between us and our best time of the summer. The Grand’s sandcastle shapes loom and I try to push myself quicker. “No,” my legs scream. I know deep in my soul that a root canal treatment is better than this.
“Listen legs,” I assert, “do as you are told. And stop talking. You can’t speak. This is not a Douglas Adams’ novel!”
Our finishing line (in many senses of the phrase) swims into happy view. I glance at my now completely despised watch. The Town Hall clock frowns down at us like a disappointed Senior Colts football coach. Again I spy the wandering hound, eagerly leaving his name on a sullen lamppost.
Swerving around some swaying walkers gobbles critical seconds.
“Eleven dollars for O-Rings! What’s the hell is an O-Ring?”
It’s the pink tracksuit, still expounding on the Secret Horrors of Dishwasher Repairs.
We make a desperate, final lunge- and are outside our target time. It was, however, another vigorous run and my pounding pulse is electric and exhilarating. We savour our slow cool down on the bumpy lawn that separates the Norfolk Island Pines from the sloping sands. After, easing along the veranda of the Grand, Bob inquires, “See you and Kerry in here for a beer tonight?”
“Magnificent idea,” I agree.
Yes, it is the weekend. The glorious escape. Promise and anticipation.
Our next dental appointment is not until Monday.