07 May 2007

Drive-By Sydney

It was a rare day in Sydney when I didn't stop by for a coffee at Gloria Jean's on Oxford Street. Gloria Jean's is a nationwide chain in Australia, sort of like the homegrown alternative to Starbucks (only with better and cheaper coffee and a more pleasant ambiance and color scheme), but the branch on Oxford Street, located near the ass end of the gay ghetto, was one of a kind. It stayed open late, sometimes even all night during special occasions, and the later it got, the more, er, colorful the crowd got.

Sometimes a little too colorful, especially once the club next door opened its doors for the evening. It attracted a rather macho, almost thuggish element, and the patrons would occupy the sidewalk in such a peremptory and confrontational manner that it sometimes made more sense to walk out into the street to get around them. Several points along Oxford Street have seen similar developments, to the point where many of the street's traditional gay patrons no longer like to come up there on weekend nights.

It's not just the sidewalks, either; Oxford Street itself is lined with hoons (what the English might call boy racers, what the Americans might call, I don't know, assholes with muscles cars) revving their engines and squealing their tires in a testosterone-fueled cacophony of bad vibes. The police do nothing; in fact they're seldom even seen along the strip. Australia seems to have adopted the laissez-faire policing tactics that produced so much misery in New York during the 1970s and 80s, and which are now responsible for soaring crime rates in London.

And so it was probably only a matter of time before I'd be scanning the Sydney Morning-Herald, spot a photo of my old hangout, only to see that it accompanied a story of a drive-by shooting that injured three people. As much as I miss the fabulous weather, scenery, beaches, food and atmosphere of Sydney, I can do without the steadily increasing air of menace that seemed to be settling over its streets. Indeed, I feel considerably safer here in New York, and who could have imagined things would ever come to that?

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