May 15

South Canterbury

April went by the way some—a lot—of months do: going to work, going to the gym, going to dinner, going to movie night, going to the Bait House. First it’s the first and then it’s the fifteenth and every Thursday is recycle day and Sunday morning is the veggie market and on and on. There was some…interesting politics. Easter came and went, and the hundredth anniversary of Gallipoli came and went. April: all good.

Things have got very busy at work for me again, travel-wise, which I appreciate because I like getting out of the office. Often I just go to Auckland, which is okay, but this week I went down to Christchurch, the city in the South Island that is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake, and also to Timaru, which is a little city two hours south. I wasn’t in either city for very long. In Christchurch, where I hadn’t spent much time in since about 2008 or so, I was able to walk to most of my meetings from my hotel, and I went to a sort of shipping-container mall for dumplings between them. Then I drove down State Highway 1 for a couple of hours, went to the hotel, and went to the meeting the next morning before I had to get back to Christchurch airport and the plane back to Wellington.

That was all fine, all very business as usual. Work is fine. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the drive back up to the airport. I haven’t driven a car with any regularity since 2006 (and even then my car was from 1997) so I am always a little surprised when there are, like, USB ports and cameras and the like. The simplest mod cons make me feel like I’m driving the Starship Enterprise. I hit shuffle as I came up through the pastures and trees, through the little towns. It’s basically a straight shot, a steady hundred kph almost the whole way unless you’re driving through Temuka or Ashburton or something. Harrier hawks along the roads, everything warm and golden and sunny but definitely not summer anymore, definitely dark by 6:30.

G introduces me to most of my new music; we don’t have a lot of bands in common but there are a few, and he’ll alert me to anything he thinks I’ll like. I don’t know the algorithms my phone uses to select random songs but I can report it gave me a bit of Blur. A Laura Veirs song off an album I listened to a lot my last year in Seattle. Tracy Bonham. An old song by the Pogues that I loved in high school and still know all the words to. New Pornographers, Speedy Ortiz, Mirah, M.I.A. Janelle Monaé? Lots of others I don’t remember now, as I’m writing this. Everything at least a couple of years old but who cares, not this forty-year-old.

A hundred kilometres an hour, driving steadily north. I sang along, as I’m pretty sure is required by law, to Careless Whisper when it came up, and I once again decided that I probably would not attempt to sing that the next time I do karaoke. I also tried the thing where I just sat through every song that came up, because, like, it’s your iTunes and you should accept responsibility, but I admit I did skip a couple of times. I also took the opportunity to pretend I was in a music video at least once.

How often do I listen to music that way, anymore? I don’t miss having a car at all but if I were going to miss something about it, this would be it. My horrible bus commute days are over; my walk to work is twenty minutes at most, sometimes not even enough for a podcast. Sometimes we play music at home but it’s hardly ever from my collection, it’s more social, companionate music, if that makes sense: something that cohabitators with differing tastes can both enjoy.

It was just me, though, the other day. I drove up through the unfamiliar South Canterbury landscape (where were the pukekos?) and it just all unfurled, unhurriedly: sing-alongable or otherwise, a madeleine or a complete surprise.