It was cold and the wind whipped and people on the street were bent over almost double just to make any headway.
I struggled on. Lunchtime is like that. It makes you persevere, otherwise you would fall by the wayside and starve.
I was back in St Kilda Road for a few nostalgic days, and it was lunchtime.
Bleak? St Kilda Road is always bleak. Always was. That gentle, gracious curve past the gardens and the Shrine and Domain Road and Toorak Road is the perfect wind tunnel. Whichever way it's blowing from.
Today it was blowing from the north-west. I struggled past the Willows (the Willows has been there forever but I have never known anyone to have eaten there - why?), made Leopold Street and stopped at the red light. Two haggard, bent men clutching coats to their bony frames had just finished crossing Leopold Street the other way and saw me, and a thin hand reached up from one of them and a quavery voice called out to me. Apart from the gauntness, they were just the same two I used to work with in the city.
We were out for lunch, they said. But there was nowhere to eat, they said.
It's your own fault, I told them. It was your choice to leave the CBD and take up a job in the vast frozen wilderness of St Kilda Road, I went on. You may as well be in the Tarkine, I added, just to be nasty. It was a nasty day.
It's not as if they didn't know. The last thing one of them very quietly confided to me before the two of them left the company was nothing to do with career matters; it was that he had a nagging sense that the few extra dollars in his pocket would not be enough to make up for missing lunch in the city.
Miss it? This pair had made an artform of city lunching. Each weekday saw them at not one, but at least two cafes. Sashi Don at Don Don followed by coffee and chocolate at Koko Black. Something at Vue de Monde cafe followed by short blacks at Nick's in Queen Street. Yum Cha off Little Bourke Street, then sacher biscuits and machiatos at Brunetti City Square. Something different every day followed by something different to follow. They were back into the office by 2.30 most days with a smirk on their faces.
What now? Ribs at Barbarino's? Something from 1983 at the Willows?
No. We had lunch together, just to catch up, at a windblown vestibule cafe at the base of a towering office block halfway down St Kilda Road. The wind picked up the leaves of our stock standard Caesar salads and threw them at passers-by.