Yellow Brick Road by Trevor Plumbly

Paved with good intentions

Time was; every major city had a seedy side. I remember Soho in the late 1950s, awash with hints of vice and criminal activity, yet oddly appealing and relatively safe for gawking visitors: sadly the place traded its character for gentrification.

However, here in Auckland our fringe citizens are made of sterner stuff and Karangahapi Road (‘K’ Road to locals) continues to thrive amidst ethnic cuisine, sexual scrabble and good old-fashioned character. The ladies and gents of the night, as well as most known gender variations in between, offer a 24 hour service and whilst the dress standard hovers between brazen and bizarre these characters seem to be an essential part of the daily street life, rather than misplaced exotic creatures.

It takes all sorts

From the Ponsonby Road end you encounter the Stark White Gallery, owner operated, selective, cutting edge and every other cliché you can chuck at it, this artistic enclave almost acts as a gateway to the goodies down the street. Cross over and you’ll find ‘The Thirsty Dog’; unlike the plastic parlours in nearby Ponsonby Road, this is a real pub, the street’s ‘local’, strictly for those allergic to high pitched inanities and tortured music. Just outside there’s a beautiful bench of multi-coloured ceramic tiles created by Peter Lange: there doesn’t appear to be any special reason for it being there, it just is and practically begs you to sit and watch the passing parade. Then there’s a barber! Not a stylist or hairdresser, a real one! With proper chairs, magazines and an inexhaustible line of patter. Further down, cafes and bistros wrestle with dodgy bars, tattoo parlours and on to an enormous Chinese market.

Clothes maketh the man

Just over halfway down is one of K. Road’s real treasures: Leo O’Malley’s Gents Outfitters sits on the Pitt St Corner, looking as solid as its 83 year history. My visit brought back memories of the social side of shopping; the greeting was a cheery ‘hello!’ rather than the revoltingly mechanical ‘how’s your day?’. Carol manages, somewhat uniquely, to be helpful and informative without being attached to an electrical device; purchases completed, we left feeling more like friends dropping in rather than casual customers. Mr O’Malley would, I feel, be justifiably proud of today’s version of his emporium. Technology has given us an ‘on line’ desert to shop in, with little in the way of human contact or healthy growth. But as with most things, there are always bright spots; thanks, O’Malley’s.

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