Night falls over this heaving cosmopolitan metropolis and a bead of sweat trickles from my forehead. The lights of Southbank are shining brightly, and the Crown flame throwers hard at work wasting natural resources under the guise of wonder and entertainment, as I pedal briskly to keep pace with my travelling partners. I had only landed from Radelaide an hour ago but we had already wound our way through the streets of Port Melbourne on our budget bicycles, and now we were tracking that great north-south cultural divide, the Yarra River, toward the sporting Mecca that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. There is nothing quite like Friday night footy at a packed MCG.
Now I am no Lance Armstr….wait, um, I mean I’m no Chris Froom. I prefer to set a leisurely tempo and enjoy the sights and sounds of this great city, maybe even testing the old lung capacity with a sneaky dart or two along the way. But for some reason my mates prefer to risk life and limb. They race each other as if they were on the final stretch of the Champs Elysse, bumping elbows as they jockey for position and the prime racing line which grows ever narrower as it clogs with anxious supporters. I struggle on behind them, hoping to stay in their wake and thereby make my passage easier, but it is coming at a cost. My lungs heave and the beads of sweat are no longer trickles, but raging rivers flowing down the contours of my face. There is even a mountain top finish at the zenith of the footbridge, before descending to the entrance of the MCC Members Reserve.
It doesn’t really matter who is playing. If the crowd has built up sufficiently the atmosphere crackles with electricity. Grab a pie and a beer, sit directly behind the interchange dugouts and really drink in the sights and sounds of a rabid congregation worshipping at the feet of Victoria’s one true religion. If you are really lucky you get to ride a last quarter rollercoaster, as the faithful of both tribes seem to vibrate in their seats in nervous anticipation, each goal greeted with a deafening roar, until that final siren heaps out both ecstasy and agony in generous portions.
Drunk on the sheer spectacle (and maybe the half a dozen beers and a few cheeky bourbons) we wash out into the night with the rest of the congregation and suddenly the bikes are unchained and the race is on again. But where are we rushing off to? We can drop off the bikes and hop a tram to St Kilda. Things can get pretty messy down there at the Espy, getting on the jugs and dancing around like a sex machine to some good live music – something most self-respecting Melburnians have done, and all visitors should experience. We could get our underbelly on and fling disco biscuits around down in the Dungeon of Tramp on King Street. Conversing with rich and interesting characters till sunrise. We could do the same thing but without the erotic dancers if we find the ammunition for Revolver on Chapel St.
Head north to Brunswick St and we might meet my good mate Seth Sentry at Bar Open (picture below, shame it’s fuzzy – so was I) or hang out on Smith playing indoor, old-time bowling at that place where it always seems to be lesbian night. If I get my way we could comb the streets of the CBD to find the right karaoke bar and live out all my vivid rock star fantasies, groupies included if you come across the right pack of backpacking lasses. Too often though it is those roaring flames which draw us back to Southbank, like hypnotised moths to drink imperial pints and abuse blackjack dealers till our wallets are empty.
When morning comes the only cure for whatever it was that happened the night before is a healthy dose of dumplings. Yum Cha is a serious business in Melbourne and whether we pin point something swanky in the suburbs or just follow our nose to Chinatown we aren’t often disappointed. Then it’s back on the bikes because the Eagles are playing at Etihad. I love a good fly-in-fly-out mission to Melbourne, but I love it even more when my boys do the business for me. That’s when I jump on that bike with a smile and I truly am an Easy Rider.