As I travel around the city and the suburbs there are particular details that I make a habit of looking for. They tend to fall into categories that will be familiar to regular Mirror Sydney readers, like ghost signs, interesting trees, architectural oddities, shops with cluttered interiors, and vacant lots. In this way I navigate, from detail to detail, checking on what’s changed in between now and the last time I passed by. Another level of detail occurs with seasonal changes – it’s late February now, so the crepe myrtles are out, with their blossoms of various pinks, and then as the cooler weather starts, the purple tibouchinas will bloom.
There’s another layer of detail in the daily movements that occur, sometimes regularly, sometimes not, like the flocks of cockatoos or corellas that sweep overhead or gather to roost on the powerlines, or the mournful song of the icecream truck that trundles up my street in the afternoons. It has a faded painting of a knight on the side and when I see it elsewhere in the city it’s with a feeling of recognition like spotting a friend in a crowd. There are a few other distinctive trucks I see around that I feel a similar kinship to – Extreme Piano Removals is one, and the plumber’s van with the painting of the dolphin leaping out of a toilet on the side is another.
My favourite trucks to spot, though, are tofu trucks. There are two in particular that I often see around. The Evergreen truck is pale green and has pictures of the tofu products it delivers on the sides, a lineup of bottles of soy milk and blocks of firm or silken tofu. Fortune has illustrations of the tofu making process on the back door of the truck, and on the side, an advertisement for the Triangular Tofu Puff.
As is generally the case with noticing any detail, once I started paying attention to the tofu trucks, I began to see them quite often, although never often enough for me to predict when I would cross paths with one. I particularly like seeing Fortune; it seems a lucky sign.
The reason for my particular attraction to the tofu trucks dawned on me one day when I was driving along behind the Evergreen truck. It had turned out in front of me on the Campsie bypass and as I followed it, considering the tofu dishes pictured on the back, I I recognised a similarity between a block of tofu and the blocky, square shape of the truck. Surely this was unintentional: a small refrigerated truck has a high, square shape, and there are plenty of such trucks on the roads, used to convey all manner of goods. Now though, every time a tofu truck crosses my path, there is something freshly pleasing about registering this coincidence.
The Brown Street Bridge is an overpass which crosses Parramatta Road at Lewisham. It’s a thin strip of road that looks as if some giant hand has picked up a suburban street and moved it, Minecraft-like, to connect the back streets. The view from the bridge is such that you can see little on the horizon but trees and the large orange self storage place on the crest of nearby Taverner’s Hill. It feels enclosed, a pocket of space and time, alive with the endless motion of traffic and the light rail trains gliding past.
Although there’s a pedestrian pathway alongside the overpass bridge few people walk here. It’s noisy and the cavern of Parramatta Road is choked with traffic underneath it. This section of Parramatta Road continues with the usual miscellaneous collection of businesses. At the top of the hill there’s the Lewisham Hotel, still called The Haunted Castle by some after its days as a heavy metal venue in the 1990s. It may no longer be the venue for Sadistik Execution gigs but it is still the only pub in Lewisham. In the late 19th century staunch temperance advocate George Crothers bought up every vacant corner block in Lewisham that he thought might be a likely pub location, leaving it with only the Lewisham Hotel compared to the dozens of pubs in surrounding suburbs.
The Lewisham Hotel still has a rather haunted atmosphere, with its grey facade and blinds drawn across the windows. Mostly this stretch of the road is an assortment of warehouses: mechanics’ workshops, a tile place, a stonemason with a concrete David by the entrance. To one side of the overpass there used to be a lot full of garden ornaments, the storage yard for a store called Architectural Decor. There were gazebos and birdbaths, planters and trellises. For a while there was a giant concrete chicken which I looked for every time I went past.
The chicken and the gazebos are gone now, replaced by piles of real estate signs, dozens of sold properties neatly stacked in tall piles. I walk down off the bridge and onto the path beside them. It’s Saturday morning and the road is choked with cars. Drivers sit grimacing or straining to look for any possible movement ahead. Others are slumped, resigned to the wait. All across town in the last few weeks have been ads picturing gridlock scenes just like this, with the warning that there will be 1 million more people in Sydney in 10 years. Between the stalled traffic and the piles of real estate signs, I walk the thin, concrete path like a tightrope.
The path curves around the back of the lot, following the bend of the road. Directly beside it is a patch of plants growing lushly after the recent rain: fennel, asparagus fern, athsma weed, grass weeds. Twisted into it is the usual roadside trash, packets and scraps of plastic and paper, and a twisted canvas banner advertising a banner printing service with a woman’s face with red lips and big sunglasses, dirty water pooled in its folds.
In this unlovely place, growing across the fence, are hundreds of pink roses. They drift across the wire panels, buds and blooms pale clusters against the green thicket. The roses nod on long stems as bees hover about them and their scent fades in and out over the smell of car exhaust. They bloom despite their rubbishy surroundings and their lack of a gardener’s attention. Their wildness makes them even more lovely.
I duck under the railing, fighting the self consciousness of having a line of idling cars behind me. Carefully I step down through the weeds towards the roses. Thorns snag my sleeve as I reach in to pick one. A car horn honks and I turn around to catch the eye of a man in a ute, his eyebrows raised. He’s about to yell something but the traffic starts to move and he has to drive onwards.
The sign at the end of the bridge says all traffic must turn left but I can walk in any direction I choose with my bouquet of roses. I cross through the cars and head into the pocket of houses hemmed in by the roads, the canal and the railway line. At the edge of the grid of houses a billboard for Lynx deoderant is framed by the kudzu vines which cover the nearby fence and trees. BRING THE QUIET says the billboard, an alien message in this busy place, fooling no-one.