March Madness has hit New Zealand. Advertisements for March Madness sales, began appearing toward the end of February. Frankly, I’m not at all sure, what the connection is between deeply discounted mattress sets and collegiate basketball; yet it feels normal to me, because mattress sales herald events in America, as well. Upon viewing the March Madness commercials, I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Bill, that (hopefully) he would soon be able to watch his beloved Providence College Friars, right here in Aotearoa. Rugby is King but with Kiwi superstar, Steven Adams, playing in the NBA, basketball has developed a devoted following. Still, the promotion of the American NCAA College Basketball Tournament was exciting and surprising. I envisioned how happy Mr. Bill would be, watching all the games. There would be hours and hours of TV coverage, from “Sweet Sixteen”, to the “Elite Eight”, followed by the “Final Four” before the tournament’s end, with the broadcast of the championship game.
Excitement mixed with anxious anticipation, was building with daily advertisements touting March Madness. Back in the States, Selection Sunday,the day when the 68 teams that have made the field are announced, was scheduled for March 11. However on March first, New Zealand jumped the gun on the big reveal. It was proclaimed with great fanfare on the news and in the papers, that March Madness had begun! As it turns out, March Madness in New Zealand, is not about basketball after all- it is about traffic. Not just any traffic but the type that sucks all the joy out of life and induces road rage. March is the peak month for highway congestion in Auckland, when 100,000 returning university students, swell the ranks of the city’s commuters creating gridlock and misery on the motorways. Poor Mr. Bill, his hoop dreams were dashed but at least he’s not stuck in Auckland traffic.
Mr. Bill loves his commute from Ohope Beach to Whakatane Hospital. It’s fair to say, the trip soothes his soul. Driving to work along the ocean, up the hill, down through the gorge, around the round-abouts and through the city’s tree lined streets, with nary a red light to stop him, is a daily pleasure, not a daily grind. Reversing his route at day’s end, means that the best view comes last, when he reaches the crest of West End Escarpment and The Bay of Plenty is revealed, stretching as far as the eye can see, with White Island, the Jewel in the Crown, puffing serenely on the horizon. What a homecoming at day’s end but “Wait there’s more!” as they say in the infomercials – dinner’s waiting!
Mr. Bill did not always have such a sweet ride. As a student at Georgetown Medical School, he had to navigate the maze of Washington, D.C.. By trial and error he learned that many one way streets, illogically reverse direction, when bi-sected by parks and there are a LOT of parks in The District. While a Surgical Resident at Brown University in Rhode Island, Mr. Bill was caught out in the Great Blizzard of ’78. The state was paralyzed by a massive snow storm and thousands were stranded in their cars, when the roads and highways became impassable. When Mr. Bill headed home that fateful Monday evening to his heavily pregnant wife, after finishing his weekend shift, it was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7.2 Celsius), the snow measured 27.6 inches (70cm), with drifts up to 27 feet and there were gale force winds. He made it through the deserted city streets, onto the highway entrance ramp, only to discover Route 95, the great artery of the eastern seaboard, was at a standstill. Abandoned trucks and cars buried under snow, blocked all the lanes. Unable to go forward and soon boxed in from behind, Mr. Bill followed suit and tramped the mile back to Rhode Island Hospital. He remained there for 5 days, until the roads were finally cleared. There are no snow days in medicine, nor is there overtime pay in America for doctors but Mr. Bill was one of the lucky ones. He had a bed in the residents’ hall to lay his head for a few hours each night and after 3 days, the cafeteria stopped charging the staff for meals. I think that was one of the weeks he worked 120 hours- still it could have been worse, he could have been stuck in his car.
With a blizzard as a benchmark, it was hardly a spot of bother when Mr. Bill experienced a taste of March Madness in Tauranga. When needed, Mr. Bill travels the 95 kilometers (59 miles) to Tauranga to hold clinics and operate. It’s a gorgeous drive along the coast, past cows grazing in green pastures and kiwi fruit orchards but once inside the city limits, it’s every commuter’s nightmare- congestion, lengthy delays at red lights and merging mayhem at the roundabouts. Mr. Bill goes with the flow, taking the good with the bad.
March Madness has also hit the gentle streets of Ohope Beach. There are now traffic queues (Now there’s an interesting word- only the first letter speaks while the next four remain silent.) on Pohutukawa Avenue. A major culvert repair is underway. The one and only road through town, was reduced to one lane of alternating traffic. The asphalt was dug up and then replaced one section at a time, as crews removed the old culvert and installed the new pipe under the road, centimeter by centimeter. The Stop and Go men, brought Ohope to a standstill the first week , as everyone became used to the new traffic pattern. I’m sure I was the envy of all the waiting drivers, when I cheekily rode my push bike to the front of the line and stopped in front of the man, spinning the Stop & Go sign. That’s when I had an, “Only in Ohope Moment”. The construction worker beckoned me forward with the crook of his index finger. Startled, I pantomimed back “me”? with my index finger pointing to my chest. He nodded. I warily advanced. Was I in trouble for cutting the line? No. He was smiling and was motioning me onwards, wanting me to squeeze through the gap, instead of waiting for the all clear. Then he cheerily said, “they’re not digging now, you should be alright to bike past”. Gulp! I went for it and got a big thumbs up from the sign holder on the other end. We all became great friends as I cycled passed the construction site twice daily. It was mighty disappointing the following week, when temporary red lights replaced the Stop and Go crew. I could still zip to the front of the queue when the light was red but without my mates, I became the caboose when the light turned green and the cars passed me by.
Construction is ongoing but Pohutukawa Avenue is now back to two lanes, the red lights are gone and orange cones guide the traffic, through the work site. The footpath has been dug up and a temporary sidewalk has been created on the road. When that is open, I have my very own travel lane, which is much safer. Sometimes though, the entrance is open but the egress is blocked when there is a hole too wide to jump and I have to reverse out and find another route. My friend Mark, has emailed his concern about my biking, writing,”I must admit that I am troubled by a nice girl like you peddling her ass all over New Zealand”. Please rest assured, there’s no Hanky Panky in New Zealand but there is Hokey Pokey.
Happily for Mr. Bill, the construction zone lies beyond where we live and he is spared this bit of March Madness. Sadly, his beloved PC Friars lost their tournament bid and he has March Sadness. Poor Mr. Bill.