I was sitting in my activewear last Sunday, eating an overpriced brunch in a crowded Eastern Bays cafe, when I was struck by a moment of alarming clarity. It was reinforced on Tuesday, when I found myself planning a very painful punishment for a fellow road user, who inexplicably insisted on driving at 30km/h.
Finally, on Wednesday, when I paid $12 to park for an hour and thought, "That's much cheaper than I expected", I couldn't deny it any longer. If it looks like a Jafa, talks like a Jafa and spends inordinate amounts of money on parking ... Horrifying though it may be, I've become an Aucklander.
While Rotorua will always be home, it's been 10 years since I moved to Auckland as a wide-eyed teenager on a scholarship at King's College. I may as well have moved to the moon. The first years of my Auckland existence were confined largely to the privileged bubble behind closed gates in the heart of Otahuhu, but when I ventured out as a newly minted sort-of-adult, I was in for a surprise.
There are many things they don't tell you about becoming an Aucklander. Like the fact that traffic prediction is an entirely futile dark art that we all dabble in, only for our intensive forward planning to be scuppered by an accident, road works or that little thing that robs Auckland drivers of both skills and common sense: the rain.
Or the resentment we feel towards anyone who suggests meeting them at 5.30pm, particularly if the venue is over the bridge or down the Southern Motorway. These people are almost certainly from Wellington.
Or that in some suburbs there appear to be more dogs than humans and each cafe must have obligatory dog bowls outside to cater for the needs of its furrier patrons, 80 per cent of whom would fit quite comfortably inside their owners' handbags.
Or, speaking of fur, that its presence is mandatory for two-legged Auckland males of a certain age. Though it must grow down one's jaw like scraggy gorse rather than on the sides of one's head. Like the citizens of the Capitol in the Hunger Games, Aucklanders must uphold certain standards. A bare neck, like a pub that doesn't serve craft beer, simply will not do.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation of all in my initiation as an Aucklander, however, had nothing to do with dogs, beards or traffic. I was forewarned about Auckland's congestion, the sheer size of the sprawl and the tendency of its inhabitants to forget about anything south of the Bombay Hills (and if I'm honest, sometimes it seems that the forgetfulness starts several off-ramps earlier), but I simply wasn't prepared for how much I'd come to love this city.
No one tells you that Auckland is really a mish-mash of neighbourhoods all crammed next to each other, each with its own character and charm. We hardly talk about Polyfest in Manukau, or the farmers' market in Clevedon, or the many community spaces around the city where people gather to learn circus skills (Victoria Park) or rehearse for amateur theatre productions (Western Springs).
The true face of our city seems to be lost in the crowds thronging down Queen St during rush hour. Underneath the constant bustle, however, is a city that is home to the most diverse population in the country. It is actually the fourth most diverse city in the world, ahead of cosmopolitan centres like Sydney, London, Los Angeles and New York.
While there's a tendency to think of Aucklanders as snobby city-slickers (a stereotype I enforce sitting in my Nikes enjoying eggs benedict), statistically, the majority look nothing like that caricature. Our city is infinitely richer for the colourful cultural tapestry of our interwoven citizenry.
Sure, we have our issues. One being that unless you're a baby-boomer or someone with wealthy baby-boomer parents in this town, you're up a certain creek without a paddle in our property market.
An unpleasant and unfair reality exacerbated by a parochial group of homeowners who climbed the property ladder and pulled it up behind them, digging their heels in against intensification and refusing to throw young people a bone. But that's another column entirely.
We have concentrated wealth in the centre, struggling neighbourhoods clustered around the outer suburbs, traffic becoming more nightmarish by the day and a list of other things we like to rant about - but we also have many reasons to count our blessings.
Like the Domain, the Waitakere Ranges, Bastion Pt, North Shore beaches, Waiheke Island, our thriving arts scene, award-winning bars and restaurants, job opportunities, and glorious autumn days.
While outsiders may claim Auckland has no heart, this Bay of Plenty import would vehemently disagree. We have many beating hearts, spread far and wide. It's our arteries that are the problem.
But on this long weekend, when our streets are mercifully clear and our population likely halved as a plague of Jafas descends upon the nation, I'm celebrating becoming an Aucklander. My brunch will cost me almost as much as my dinner, but at least there'll be plenty of furry friends to pat - the canine ones, I mean.
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