Ordinary New Zealanders

Intro note: As expected, I pretty much abandoned this blog after only a few weeks back in 2010. I'm posting this here now because I want to link to it outside facebook and this is the easiest way to do it. I think it would be hopeful to the point of stupidity to think this means I'm going to pull finger and start posting here regularly.

Just now I was at McDonalds eating my food and two very interesting things happened.

The first was that a homeless guy sat down opposite me listening to a radio. He was probably about 50, shabby, white. He was waiting for his friend who was in the line. There were no spare tables. He held his radio up close to his ear, but he had it turned up so loud I could hear he was listening to the news. The newsreader had a British accent. It was probably Radio New Zealand.

His friend finished at the counter and came back with a hot drink and a sugar sachet. The friend was younger, probably about 30, and Indian. He passed the sugar sachet to the first guy, who pocketed it without looking up.

The friend stood there for a minute waiting for the first guy to get up. When he didn't the friend sat down, looking around at the other people. The first guy kept his eyes down, listening to his radio. After thirty seconds or so the friend suggested they leave, to which the first guy simply barked what I think must have been "wait". He didn't look up.

Another minute or so passed and the news finished. The first guy abruptly turned off the radio, stood up and barked "let's go". The friend hadn't even noticed the radio stop, but got up quickly and they left.

I didn't really think about this until after the second thing had happened and I left to catch my bus, which is where I am now typing this.

Within a minute of the two homeless guys leaving the students who had been sitting at the table beside me left, and were immediately replaced by an old pensioner couple (tables were still in high demand). He had a soft-serve. She had a strawberry sundae. He was reading a broadsheet newspaper and she had what must have been a page taken from it; folded so only the story she was reading showed. She must have been carrying it for a while; it was bit rough on the edges.

She was reading about something to do with Israel. I think he might have been reading something in the sports section.

I know what she was reading because she was talking about it. She was asking him questions and offering her opinion. She was using phrases like "the real issue" and words like "change" and "fair". He responded sometimes with simple agreement, sometimes with a proposition of his own.

They didn't agree on everything. It was clear that they didn't have any specialist knowledge of the issue. But what was most amazing was that they had opinions that they were talking about, considering, dismissing, challenging, supporting. They were interested not in what was right or wrong, but in the discursive process itself.

It was obvious that they didn't have much money. The way the woman held her page of the newspaper and the very fact that they shared it I think demonstrates the value that they placed on it. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have a TV. Stretching implication perhaps to breaking point, they might have picked up the paper for free somewhere. Most people don't read the paper at five in the afternoon.

If I'm right about them not having a TV then this story might say something about the benefits of old media. There was something beautiful in the tactile form of the carefully folded paper in the woman's hand. They sat across from each other at the table. Facing each other, with the papers between them so they could see both the subject and participant in the conversation. You can't do that with TV.

Even if I'm wrong about the TV thing and am just overly romanticising a simple event, it was still a powerful thing to see. Here, in the middle of McDonalds Queen Street, was real meaningful life playing out.

I often arrogantly despair about the apathy of people. I subconsciously think that most people don't know or care what's going on around them, much less have an opinion on it. Yet here in McDonalds, in the space of about twenty minutes on a Tuesday afternoon, I had just witnessed two events to prove me wrong. I don't think it's hyperbole to say the experience was quite amazing.


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