A bad day for all of us

By Rhonda Dredge

Values are changing swiftly in the laneways of the CBD as the second lockdown brings out a tougher streak in retailers and hospo workers forced to deal with the worsening health situation. 

One café in the Treasury Gardens is offering an Over COVID Combo of banana bread and coffee to walkers still out and about.

But in the neighbourhood around Crossley St, baristas, booksellers and fashionistas are setting up a tougher click and collect aesthetic. 

Gone are the days of long rants about novels in doorways or trying on vintage items at cool stores or even standing around beneath coffee windows to exchange ideas. 

On July 16, Victoria reported 317 new cases and the tougher stance on browsers may never be reversed as workers become more cautious about protecting their livelihoods. 

The only real inspiration to be had on this historically bad day was from a mannequin called Madam Virtue, who was standing in the middle of Crossley St in a pre-loved vintage outfit put together for the times.

In a look that owes more to Florence Nightingale than hip hop, she was wearing a chocolate brown Moschino leather skirt and Yves Saint-Laurent mini-trench coat, with a Chanel ruffle blouse, Gucci handbag and Chanel silk scarf, all for a price tag of less than $3000.

Dresser and store manager Indigo Keane was busy taking a pic and uploading it on Instagram before rushing off home but she did have a few words to say about the new chic. 

“It’s for bloody Coles or at home. Where else can you wear it? I think we should get dressed up wherever we are.” 

Workers in the CBD are handling the crisis with their usual wit and flair, even though street life had waned to just one and Madam Virtue was the only humanoid around. 

Crossley St baristas have been on the job all week, working from a small window in the wall, and they’re playing it cool about the crisis.

Barista Erin Doidge drives into the CBD from Riddells Creek, which is not under lockdown. She got the break before the second lockdown and is secretly pleased about the move to her rural hideaway. 

“I’m pretty lucky,” she said. “I can come to work. JobKeeper is keeping me working.”

The down-to-earth New Zealander said she hadn’t had any more or less chatting than normal but she does like listening to people’s stories. “They’re good to hear. Everyone gives you ideas.”

Another barista Trei lives alone. Recently he had symptoms and got tested so he ordered $100 worth of food from Coles to be delivered during his isolation. He was shocked to find that even individual pieces of fruit came packaged in plastic.

“I guess I’ll have to forget about the environment until after the pandemic,” he reluctantly acknowledged.

Earlier during the week baristas were more sympathetic, particular with those from East Melbourne looking for consolation, but it’s not an easy task for those in retail to keep up the morale of customers. 

“Some people are wandering around the city in a pandemic, asking vague questions,” said a woman at one of the doorways. “I don’t like it.”

Sales have traditionally been about making people feel welcome but now a level of impatience has entered the zeitgeist. The latest radical novels such as Contagion are displayed in shop windows and can be ordered without human contact. 

The talk everywhere is of a tougher lockdown and of the surplus of apartments for rent in the CBD. One resident of Spring St said an apartment on his floor was available at $150 a week less than adjacent ones. 

Has the allure gone out of Melbourne’s laneway culture? One Sydneysider, who did not want to be named, found a good deal on an apartment in Flinders Lane during the first lockdown and moved in from Port Melbourne where she was sharing a house overlooking the sea. 

Then she got a cold and had to be tested and the city went back into lockdown, leaving her living in the shadows. Like almost 40 per cent of residents in the CBD, she lives alone plus she’s in exile from her home town.

Erin, who is from New Zealand, said she thought about home. “I’m pretty jealous of my friends. Life’s got back to normal over there.” •

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