Breakfast viewers were plunged straight into what appeared to be a hostage situation this morning. The victims? Dunedin’s road cones.
Breakfast had a lot on its plate this morning. Not only were there interviews with a woman camping outside Buckingham Palace and the royal florist (he’s flat out this week), TVNZ’s morning news show also spoke to one of Dunedin’s most notorious road cone thieves.
This week Critic Te Ārohi, the University of Otago student magazine, revealed Dunedin city council spends $40,000 every year replacing stolen road cones. Breakfast managed to track down one of the city’s biggest road cone kleptos, and immediately after the eight o’clock news the morning show gave viewers an unexpected yet astonishing insight into the mind and soul of a remorseless criminal.
It began, as all interviews about Dunedin should, with a comment on the weather. “Not bad in Ōtepoti Dunedin,” Breakfast presenter Matty McLean remarked, before pointing the finger of blame for the city’s cone crime at naughty university students. Photos showed a man standing near road cones in an intersection, and a car covered in road cones. The evidence was clear.
Those cones couldn’t speak their truth, but Breakfast had found someone who could, and McLean seemed incredibly relaxed given what was about to flash before the nation’s eyes.
It was an alarming scene: an upcycled vinyl record artwork hung from the wall, as well as a large framed map, the type you might see in a World War II bunker. It was bleak. It was bare. It was a room that could do with some brightening up, perhaps with something orange and conical.
In the centre of the screen sat the thief, shrouded in darkness. On his head, a balaclava. On his face, sunglasses. Dunedin’s weather couldn’t explain away this get-up – Breakfast’s Chris Chang had just forecast a high of 23 degrees (low of 16) for the city. This brazen criminal must have been sweating, and not just from the unseasonably warm northerly winds.
“There’s a myriad of reasons why I’ve been stealing road cones,” the shadowy figure began to explain in what was a pre-recorded interview. His voice was altered so we wouldn’t recognise it. His head bobbed from side to side. All we could see was a pair of barely moving lips, explaining how he first stole a road cone years ago so he’d have something to chug his drinks out of.
That first cone was merely a gateway cone, and his initial yearning for a drinking vessel quickly snowballed into a desire to manipulate an entire city. “Recently I’ve taken to rearranging the streets around Dunedin, you know, just changing the flow of traffic from crowded areas,” this budget Zorro continued. “Most recently, it’s come to my attention that I can put road cones out on my favourite car park, and have my own VIP section,” he said. “So that’s really, really cool, you know?”
Dunedin’s road-cone problem is bigger than one man in a balaclava, and while local government probably sees theft as a crime, this cloaked coneman seemed to believe he was performing a public service. “To be honest, we’re probably doing the council a favour,” he argued. “There’s so many cones on the road at the moment, trucks knocking them over, it’s actually a danger to people.” Breakfast showed us footage of Dunedin people walking along George Street, clearly in peril.
“You go out there and you pass by a cone and it’s an unsung rule,” he continued from his canopy of darkness. “I might as well just grab one, or ‘that’s a really high tree, I wonder if I can get it up there’, you know?”
We did know, but then, things took a turn. This was a journey, signposted by a thousand stolen road cones, and it seemed the dark knight had suddenly seen the light. “Looking back on everything I’ve done, the cones I’ve taken and rearranged, I think it probably isn’t my best moment,” he admitted, dropping his head slightly. Off screen, someone from Breakfast laughed, and the cone crook chuckled too. It would have been a crucial moment of self-reflection, if only he could have seen out of his sunglasses.
“But you know, it is what it is,” he said finally, shrugging his shoulders. “Yeah. Yeah.”
“It is what it is,” McLean echoed. A moment of enlightenment in a dark, dark world.