It is a burger, as usual, lettuce, tomatoes, catsup, mustard and a…
Please notice that this is not a beet, but a beetroot, pronounced bee-troot. It was good but I don’t think I will be repeating the experience. And it wasn’t nearly as good as my first Aussie burger experience…
Lost in the Land of Oz
Driving down the wash-board highway surface, the little yellow Mazda pop-top van juddered and shook us unmercifully. John’s white-knuckled hands clenched the steering wheel; I sat in the middle, my hands locked over the front edge of the seat. The third of our little traveling troupe, Ted, clung silently to the passenger door in a vain attempt to lessen the bone shaking vibrations from the corrugated surface of the dirt track. He had earlier been asleep on the pull out bed in the back of the van, but a particularly rough bump had sent him skyward. An almighty “Ooof” announced his belly-flop of a landing on the not overly soft mattress. We decided that the back part of the van was dangerous territory while in motion. No neatly paved Yellow Brick Road here in the outback of Australia.
Somehow we had wondered away from the coast road on our way back to Sydney from northern Queensland. It was a sweltering and black night as we found ourselves in this desolated and deserted area . What we could see of the landscape illuminated in the headlights looked surreal and ghostly and occasionally the bright eyes of nocturnal creatures reflected eerily in the distance. Lions, tigers and bears? Oh, my.
Well, kangaroos, actually, and big ones. John swerved as one of them bounded out of the darkness, almost into the path of the van. Hearts pounding, we fishtailed, but John regained control of the vehicle. It was a Big Red, at least 6 feet tall. We all watched as the ‘roo, leaping easily on huge back paws hopped alongside us for a few paces before bounding back into the bush and out of our sight.
We came around a bend in the road and ahead was a neon sign, brilliant turquoise and red emblazoning the night sky. End of the World Café, it read. Hamburgers. Chips. Ice cold pop. We decided we needed a break from driving. Maybe we could find out where we were.
There were no other cars in the bare space in front of the café that passed for the parking lot, but, tired and hungry, we decided to chance the food. An ice cold pop would give us a bit of relief from the heat. We opened the creaking screen door and entered.
Ceiling fans churning lazily hardly disturbed the oven like air. A small group of flies, otherwise known as Australian National Birds, lazily whirled beneath them. The floor of the café was dotted with tables, each surrounded by a few metal folding chairs. Stretched across two of the chairs nearest the door was a huge grey long haired cat. Lying on her back, legs stuck in the air at lackadaisical angles, her front paws bent at the wrists. As we walked in, she opened her eyes and two pumpkin colored orbs peered at us. One paw was raised in a half hearted welcoming gesture, her version of “’Ow ya goin’, mate?” But the effort was too much in the heat, and she closed her eyes, her paw floating back down.
A scraggly stringy haired woman behind the counter looked up from her racing form and greeted us with a cheery, “Hello, lovies. What’ll it be?” Her speech was hardly hampered by the dangling cigarette, its ash precariously long and threatening at any moment to fall into the condiments on the counter in front of her. Nut brown weathered skin covered broomstick sized arms sticking out of an ancient tank top. Her only concession to cosmetics was a smear of ruby red lipstick that looked incongruous below her faded blue eyebrow-less eyes. We looked up at the menu: the usual greasy spoon fare was listed. John and Ted ordered hamburgers. I ordered a cheese burger. We all ordered ice cold pops.
Retreating to a table, we sat and soon the unmistakable aroma of charred beef wafted over. She was an efficient cook and waitress, and presently our food and drink was brought over. The ash column had grown longer; good news, none of it had made it into the food. The sandwiches looked and smelled appetizing and, after a big swig of pop served in bottles almost too cold to grasp, we dug in.
Ted and John ate enthusiastically, but my cheese burger was unlike any I had ever tasted. I set it back on the plate and lifted off the top bun to investigate. Stuck to the bread was melted yellow cheese. So far so good. However, below that was a fried egg covering beetroot, shredded lettuce, onions and pickles. Even Ted and John stopped eating to look. I addressed Ash Lady.
“Excuse me…sorry, but, there doesn’t seem to be any meat on my cheeseburger.”
“Oh, meat is extra, Lovie.”
The meat is extra. I turned back to my companions and we exchanged incredulous looks. Somehow whoever had made the menu at this establishment had missed the fact that burger generally implies meat. Not wishing to press my luck with the ash column, I ate the sandwich as it was. Not bad, but in future I’ll make sure “cheeseburger” includes the burger part before I order.