On a cold empty street in Melbourne's inner south-eastern suburb of Richmond sits a 24-hour florist. I've driven past it a few times and each time I find myself wondering why a florist would need to be open 24 hours a day. I mean, who's actually buying flowers at 3AM on a Tuesday? To quote Marge Simpson upon seeing Bart flying a kite at night, "it's so unwholesome."
Melbourne has a population of just over four million people, but I can't imagine too many of them needing or even wanting flowers in the dead quiet on a winter night. So how do these establishments survive? I've heard claims from people with absolutely no authority on the subject that 24-hour florists in Melbourne serve as fronts for illegal drug dealing. And while these claims are not surprisingly unsubstantiated, "drug front" is literally the first two words anyone says when you mention one of these places. So on a cold damp Tuesday night I decided to investigate.
9PM: I arrive, look at some flowers, and try not to arouse suspicion. The eagle has landed.
9:20PM: I leave the store having gained some crucial intel. I now stand across the road, watching. I observe quietly, from a distance, trying to pick out the potential drug/flower buyers. I am a cheetah, the store a hopeless injured gazelle.
10:30PM: A 20-something guy walks in looking shady as hell. This guy is definitely buying some dodgy shit. He isn't. He walks out holding a bouquet and smiling. Either in anticipation of giving his gift or because he just got high in the store.
11PM: After enough external evidence gathering I decide to walk back into the store. I imagine myself being caught in the crossfire of some yakuza drug florist turf war. Does Melbourne even have yakuza? I should look that up.
11:05PM: There's a single clerk working and she has noticed my unusual behavior. I decide to come clean and tell her I'm a journalist. I don't mention drugs and neither does she.
11:15PM: I have gained the florist's trust. Her name is Kim; she's 49 and exudes a friendly and distinctly motherly vibe. She tells me not many customers come in during the overnight shift. So why stay open? I inquire. "it's so busy during the day here so this is the perfect time to restock and just get everything organized for the coming day," she tells me. This is obviously a cover for all the drugs she is selling.
11:47PM: It's quiet. Too quiet. The clerk has gone to the toilet, I peak behind the counter. No sign of drugs.
11:54PM: Alyce, 25, enters the store looking to get flowers for her secretary's birthday. We strike up a conversation and for some reason we begin to discuss what a hypothetical world without flowers would look like. "I think it would be a lot duller," she says, seriously contemplating the notion. "They're just such a simple and nice way to spread a little bit of happiness and they give people a nice happy feeling. So I think it would be a sad place to live in—much less colorful," she adds.
1:15AM: Deep house DJ Ken, 54, has just finished a gig down the road and has stopped by to pick up some "fresh flowers for the girlfriend." His favorite flowers are oriental lilies although he has a deep love for all flowers. "I'm Scottish, and when I was about six-years-old I remember my auntie took myself, my brother, and my two sisters for a ride up into the Scottish highlands and I can still remember the wild flowers growing in the fields," he says with a nostalgic grin. "They're just so full of positive energy," he adds. I decide to ask him too what a world without flowers would be like. "It would be a sad place indeed. And the bees wouldn't be too happy either."
2:08AM: I stare at the flowers long enough to induce a semi hypnotic state. The flowers and I are one. I urge them to bestow upon me the knowledge they hold. WHERE ARE THE DRUGS DAMMIT? Silence.
2:55AM: I'm standing outside the store. It's cold. Damn cold. A guy runs past me wearing a small backpack and shorts. How the hell is he wearing shorts? I take a sip of my coffee, this guy was nuts, though at this point who was I to pass judgement on the mental stability of others.
3:11AM: Boredom is getting the better of me so I sit on the floor at the front of the store and open a book. It's so fucking cold and it's just started to rain lightly. I glance up and notice a middle aged guy stumbling my way. His pupils are dilated and he mumbles something about the weather as he swats at an object I cannot see just above his shoulder. He's drinking a takeaway coffee from McDonald's but the majority of the liquid is missing his mouth and running down his old grey hoodie. We both pretend this isn't happening. He sticks around for a few minutes blurting out random facts about football and McDonald's before heading off into the night.
3:28AM: "Tom," 27, walks in needing flowers for his girlfriend. Apparently he "fucked up real bad." He leaves the store with a bunch of roses in tow, but no drugs. Godspeed Tom, Godspeed.
4:12AM: I'm pacing back and forth outside the store. I'm about 10 meters from the actual entrance so the clerk can't tell I'm losing my mind. I light a cigarette. I don't particularly want one but I'm bored and sleep deprived and for the next five minutes at least I'll have something to do. I'll have a purpose. My life will have meaning.
4:15AM: Someone's approaching from a distance. They're running. It's shorts guy. He has spent this whole time at the 24-hour gym down the road. He kind of double takes and stops in front of me. He asks for a cigarette, I oblige and he asks me if I regularly spend my nights hanging out in front of all night florists. I tell him that I try to at least twice a month, citing a deeper connection with nature as my main reason. Smoke follows my words as I speak whilst the heat from shorts guy's breath creates a similar effect as it meets the frosty early morning air.
5:15AM: The trams start going and the first few cars begin to fill the road once more. I buy some flowers for my mom and put them in the car. I don't buy any drugs.
7AM: I guess this is the part where I write some deep insight or profound revelation experienced during my ordeal. I stand in the cold morning air watching the slowly increasing density of traffic slowly drip down Richmond's Bridge road and look back one more time at the varying arrays of color. The flower is born, it lives, then it dies. The flower, like all things, is finite. A fleeting entity that will eventually perish, and therein lays the beauty. The flower is a reflection of life, for although we know it will not last, we appreciate the existence of such splendour just the same.
Or perhaps I'm just sleep deprived. Bed is calling. I'll leave the deep philosophical musings for another time.
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