Current Issue #488

Post-COVID Adelaide is like a low budget episode of Black Mirror

Food court tables at the Central Market remain bound up like the biohazard they briefly were

As Adelaide edges back to something resembling its pre-COVID self, is anyone else getting the feeling the stage is actually set for some dystopian fiction?

2020 has already been pummelled with grim jokes about being “the darkest timeline”, the idea being that there are multiple alternative dimensions where the world is recognisably similar but Donald Trump expired in a freak golfing accident, or where COVID-19 made the leap from bat to pangolin to marmoset without bothering humans at all, or where authorities all over the world went “Wow, you’re right, there is a racial bias in our law enforcement and we should immediately rectify it, I can’t believe it took so long for us to get onto that”.

It’s a familiar Twilight Zone-ian twist in sci-fi, where the character returns to what they think is their home universe/ dimension/timeline only to discover in the shocking final scene that they’re actually somewhere that’s completely identical except in a single horrific detail, with the protagonist watching in mute horror as their family cheerfully devours the dog over breakfast or something.

The idea that I’ve somehow slipped into an alternate and unsettlingly sinister Adelaide has been in in my mind since recently visiting the city centre for the first time since February.

I thought that the loosening of restrictions would be a blessed relief. I have not remotely enjoyed being on lockdown: as someone who largely works from home anyway it felt like everyone was muscling in on my turf whilst simultaneously robbing me of the perverse pleasure of playing the role of ‘ageing hipster-looking dude tapping on a Macbook in a half-full café’.

However, even as I locked my car and weighed up how likely the Adelaide City Council were to have patrols of parking inspectors on Waymouth Street during this challenging time, I didn’t feel much contentment walking the familiar grid again. Instead, I felt anxious.

Part of it is the fear that what we just experienced was a taster for a second wave to come, especially as footy returns, schoolchildren are ordered back to class and pubs open their doors again (but protesting is declared too gosh-darn dangerous to permit, at least when it’s about something other than the pretend danger of vaccinations or 5G). It’s hard to shake the suspicion that this virulently contagious disease which is still ravaging much of the world isn’t currently in pre-production for a bigger, flashier sequel to release in the coming months, 1918 flu–style. But it’s also that seeing the city start to look like Adelaide again meant all the pandemic-related changes are now starkly obvious.

I thought that I’d find it encouraging to see the city start to come back to life. And I did, sort of, although the streets still seemed stuck at a population setting of ‘Sunday, 3pm’ or a video game from the days when console processors could only handle a dozen on-screen characters at a time.

“In short, it was like Adelaide but without all the bits that make it Adelaide.”

But precisely because the place is so familiar, the changes were especially jarring. Like popping into the Central Market food court and seeing half a dozen vendors open, but all the chairs and tables piled up and roped off in the centre of the room and looking for all the world like a desperate and insufficient barricade against a zombie horde from a George Romero film.

The blank walls in coffeeshops and the Central Market look eerily naked, since there are no posters advertising gigs and coming events. I found myself wondering how the hell the small bars around Leigh Street could manage four metre social distancing and simultaneously contain patrons without suspending them from the rafters. In short, it was like Adelaide but without all the bits that make it Adelaide.

And I’m sure that everyone is feeling that way about their cities and towns, and wondering if the quirky things that made their place unique and special will ever open their doors again as dozens of boutiques and venues and galleries affix FOR LEASE signs to their exteriors.

It’s not helped by that hard to shake feeling that I’m in a Black Mirror episode about somehow waking up in a Black Mirror episode, with the ironic twist being that there’s no ironic twist. That said, I’m sure that as things gently creak back to something approaching normal this paranoia will gradually lift along with it. Maybe by summer I’ll be watching a band somewhere again, not freaking out about what surfaces I’m brushing up against or whether someone was coughing in the beer garden, and only vaguely feeling like I’ve been plopped into some sort of diabolical test where I’m the only human moving through a city of almost-convincing facsimiles.

Maybe. But until then, I’ll be watching you and your suspiciously tasty-looking dogs very, very closely.

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

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Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

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