Wow this traffic is bad. And I know that traffic in Melbourne is nearly always bad, but this is really, really shit… I haven't moved in about half an hour. Ok, so it probably hasn't been that long. It's probably only been 10 minutes, but with the price of petrol today being what it is, that's still quite a long time to be stuck in a stationary car with the engine running. In fact I'm sure it’s been at least 10 minutes, because 3 Conor Oberst songs have played whilst I've been sitting here.
It really shouldn't be that bad, sitting in a warm chair and listening to your favourite songs. But there’s just something about being stuck in traffic that shits me off more than well, nearly everything really. I think its the fact that I know all cars can accelerate and move so why would there ever be a reason for a traffic jam? Just put your foot on that pedal and we'll all go home and eat our dinners… It seems pretty simple. But unfortunately the world doesn't always work like I think it should.
How the hell could commuters put up with this shit every single working day of their lives? Trips that usually take ten minutes take an hour because for some reason everyone else also wants to get home to their wives and kids. I think I'd go crazy by the end of the first week. I'd want a really, really fat pay check at the end of those commutes. I'd want my bank account to be filled with several 0's… and preferably lots of other numbers too. Oh and an automatic company car would be nice.
I'm in Doncaster and I've had quite a long drive already and the fact that I'm nearly home but not moving is really getting me down. Surely there's got to be something wrong up ahead. Traffic just can't be this bad. Can it? I'm onto the fifth Conor Oberst song before the traffic begins to slowly edge up the hill. Eventually I found myself in front of a side street and for some reason, despite not knowing where it will lead, I spontaneously decide to turn down it. I've been telling myself that I need to be more spur of the moment, and I guess I subconsciously decided to finally put that plan into action. The only problem with spontaneity is you don't know where it will take you. Funny that.
I pull over on the side of the small street in front of a nature strip laden with old white goods. Either they people who live here are renovating or they're the hoarding neighbours from hell. Where’s A Current Affair when you need them? I turn the engine off and then think about what I'm going to do to pass the time until the traffic subsides. If it ever subsides. Oh god what if it doesn't and I'm just putting of the inevitable?
I decide to ring my girlfriend. No answer. Two minutes slowly pass and I decide that it’s been long enough to call her again without looking like I'm in some kind of emergency. Still no answer.
Hmmm… I consider passing the time by playing Street Fighter on my Ipod. But I don't really feel like it. I'm afraid that I'm getting too good at it and then soon I'll realise that I've wasted hours of my life, achieving what is essentially very little.
I suddenly realise that I haven't eaten in a few hours, which is most unlike me. Perhaps I could entertain myself with some delicious food. I know that the Pancake Parlour restaurant is within easy walking distance and decide that eating is a great way to pass the time. You know how when you're bored you just stand in front of the pantry and look at all the food, event though you're not actually that hungry. Then if you can't find anything to eat you give up and then come back five minutes later hoping that something delicious has suddenly materialised from no where… but it rarely does.
I grab my wallet, keys and phone. I put on my jumper and I'm off into the cold night. In fact it's quite a bit colder than I had first imagined. My jumper is only very thin so I walk quickly to try and warm myself up. I smugly walk past the stand still traffic that up until five minutes ago I had been a part of, and chuckle to myself as people honk their horns out of sheer frustration. I see one lady screaming at the car in front of her whilst violently waving her hands and punching the steering wheel. I begin to laugh before realising that this lady is clearly irrational, and she might in fact get out of her already parked car and decide to kick me in the face.
I'm so lost in my own thought that I don't realise that their is a someone on a bicycle right behind me and when they say 'Excuse me' I become startled and leap to my left. Fortunately they are on my right and I narrowly avoid a dangerous situation. I keep walking and I see a man with his car parked on the side of the road with his emergency lights flashing and his bonnet up. I nearly offer him some help before remembering that I know nothing about cars. He starts talking too me and I think 'Oh shit he's gonna ask me for that help.' Look mate I've already gone over it in my mind I can't help you with your engine! But it turns out he just wants to know what street we're on. Unfortunately I still can't help him. I have a terrible sense of direction. I frequently get lost in small shopping centre car parks and some times even shops themselves. I wish him luck and continue walking.
When I get to the traffic lights that are blocking the flow of traffic, it suddenly becomes clear to me. The traffic lights at a huge 16 lane, four way intersection are not working… during peak hour of all times. One lone policeman is doing his best to direct angry drivers but he is really struggling. I start to think I've made the right decision I mean I could have been in that car for ages and instead I'm stretching my legs in the night, ready to eat a feast. I'm nearly at the Pancake Parlour when the smug look is knocked off my face when I realise the side street I parked on continues through to next door to the restaurant and I could have in fact driven right to the door. Oh well, at least this way I can feel like I've earned my meal.
I nearly get to the door and then start to panic. Up until this point I hadn't realised that I have never dined alone before, and that getting a table for one at a restaurant is quite unusual. Not that there’s anything wrong with dining alone, I mean if that’s what you're into, then good for you but usually when I see someone out eating on their own I feel sorry for them.
When I walk through the door what do I say? "How I'd like a table for one?" Or do they expect an explanation for why I'm on my own? Should I put on a foreign accent and pretend that I'm an adventurer travelling the world on my own? No I couldn't do that. I'm not that great at keeping up a consistent accent. I'd end up being the Chinese, Irish-American dining on his own.
Maybe I could pretend that I'm meeting a woman for dinner and when she doesn't show up I decide to eat anyway. But if I did that I'd have to wait a long time before ordering. Then what if the attractive waitress feels sorry for me and offers to go on a pity date? I can hardly say to her "sorry I've got a girlfriend" after pretending to meet another woman. Or "sorry I'm to good for you," I mean as far as she's aware women that don't even bother showing up are good enough for me. No I think I was going to have to give her the boring truth of the situation.
I walk in to the familiar restaurant and up to the 'please wait to be seated sign.' An attractive waitress appears and asks if she can help me and I smile and ask for "a table for one." She tells me she has to see what they have and after swanning off into another room she comes back and says she'll have to clean a table for me. I'm sort of surprised I mean if they're struggling to fit in a table for one, how’s the family waiting to be seated behind me going to fair? The waitress waves me over and god bless her she's put me in a secluded circular booth in the corner of a room. Now I don't have to stare at people speculating why I'm on my own. I tell the lady that the traffic was so bad I decided to pull over for a drink and she responds with an over enthusiastic "good for you." Which I think we can all agree is code for "Wow you're a weirdo."
This room holds many memories for me. Up until I was about ten my entire family often came to this restaurant when celebrating peoples birthdays. This very room used to be dedicated solely to a giant red and black chessboard, that despite not actually knowing how to play chess, I insisted on playing with. You see the Pancake Parlour has this whole 'Alice In Wonderland' thing going on. I once heard that the Pancake Parlour was owned by Scientologists, so perhaps that explains it? But then again I also once heard that the writer of 'Alice In Wonderland' Lewis Carrol, was a suspected pedophile. So there you go.
I pretend to look at the menu but I already know exactly what I want; Cottage Fries and a Lime Swiss Mountain Malt. Cottage Fries is a fancy name for fried pieces of potato and Lime Swiss Mountain Malt is a fancy name for a green milkshake served in a mug. They're more expensive that I expected but I know I'll enjoy them, and besides, I'd look even stranger if I just got up and left now. An Indian looking waiter with a heavy accent comes over to me and asks if I'm ok. I look down at my watch and pretend to look around, sigh and say "I guess I better order then." I hope that my acting skills are enough to imply to him that I've been stood up and not just eating alone out of choice… It's not. He smiles to himself like I'm an absolute loner, but I confidently tell him what I want and he rushes off to the kitchen.
I call my lady friend again and on the absolute last ring just as I'm about to give up she answers. Thank god. The whole waiting for food on your own thing is a lot more boring than I expected. She seems surprised that I'm eating alone and I make her stay on the line ten minutes until my food arrives. It’s the same Indian waiter who smiles again when he sees me on the phone. Yeah that’s right you bastard, I'm talking to a friend on the phone! Not such a loner after all!
I try and talk and eat on the phone at the same time to see if it will feel like I'm on a regular dinner date but quickly realise that operating a knife and fork, holding the phone, talking and eating all at the same time is way beyond my capabilities; I am a guy after all.
I hang up the phone and begin to really enjoy my meal. No ones around to judge me so I heavily salt my food. Clogged up arteries here I come! Whilst I'm eating I eavesdrop on the conversation that the family next door to me are having. They're discussing my two favourite family gathering subjects: 'how old are you now?' and 'how about Collingwood's performance last weekend?' I zone them out and finish my food. It's a struggle but I finish nearly everything on my plate. One thing I'm surprised about is how quickly I'm able to eat when not being distracted with conversation. I'm usually the slowest eater in the entire world, but without talking I can eat at an almost reasonable pace. From now on when I have a fork in my hand I Dave Warneke will go mute… an impossible challenge I know...
The challenge I was facing right then and there in the restaurant was how I was going to sneak some of my left over potato skins into a serviette so I could take them home and feed them to my dog Pete. I know it sounds strange and I secretly hope that other people also do this for their canine companions. Pete is quite an old and spoilt dog who expects his fair share of human food. When dining out my mum usually grabs something left over from a someone’s meal, puts it into a serviette and stuffs it into her handbag. I often protest this, citing the potential embarrassment if she were to be caught, especially at an expensive restaurant with linen napkins. But tonight I was feeling generous and I wanted to share with my dog. The only problem being that unlike my mother I don't carry a handbag with me. I had to somehow conceal the serviette into one of the pockets of my tight bright blue women’s jeans, that already housed my keys, ipod, phone and wallet. I try several different pocket combinations and to the other people in the room it probably would have looked like I was trying to get off in the booth, but nothing seemed to work. So I give up on the idea and leave the napkin on the table. Sorry Pete dog.
I pay for my meal at the front counter and when offered some free mints I answer a little too enthusiastically and the girl serving gives me a strange look. Oh well I'm happy; I got my two free mints. I don't even really like mints but they were free. Free is free, and free tastes better.
I begin walking back to my car and when I came to the other side of Rose Street, the street I had parked my car on, I decide to walk the long way round rather than take the cut though . Just in case there are two different Rose Streets in the same area of the same suburb leading me to get lost. That’s how rational I am when I'm out on my own. But I don’t mind walking… well that’s what I thought until I started having what felt like a heart attack in the left side of my gut. I’m so fit that eating and then walking slowly had combined in the form of an agonising stitch. I walked 100 metres and I now knew what marathon runners meant when they 'hit the wall.' But being the tough guy that I am I persevere. I'm also bit worried that if I stop at the side of the road holding my stomach someone might stop and ask if I need any help. Then I'd have to explain to them that I'm just a really unfit guy who can't handle combining a milk shake with a small walk.
By the time I reach the intersection that had started this whole adventure the traffic lights are working again and the police man has disappeared, probably to have a well deserved beer. The guy with the broken down car is still there and he looks away from my eyes just as I waved, making me look like an idiot. At least my car worked. I got back to that working car and realised that I can see the street of the Pancake Parlour from where I parked. I decided next time I will be more observant of my surroundings. I turn the engine on and drive home.