The man who ate Lincoln Rd has seen the changing of the seasons on a full stomach. I began this quest light of heart and short of sleeve, in early summer, the sun high above the 55 food joints sparkling like sugar. But the shadows have shortened, and I was up on Lincoln Rd the other day in rain and thunder, on a chill autumnal morning; and my temper, too, had darkened.
I wasn't thinking about food. I was thinking about homelessness. Like everyone in New Zealand except John Key, Nick Smith, and their vile ilk, the housing crisis has been on my mind a lot these past few weeks. Something's plainly not right. Things are falling apart. And when I got off at my bus stop on Lincoln Rd, a woman in the bus shelter said, "Got any change?"
The beggars have moved in. Fair enough. They go where money's being spent.
I walked in low spirits to the last food joint before the motorway, the seemingly obscure Coffee Club. It's sort of beneath an ASB and beside a Toyota dealer, really very out of the way, but always popular. It was more than half-full when I moped in and ordered a pot of tea and a slice of banana loaf.
There are tables around the back, and an elegant row of booth seating at the front. I was nibbling on the loaf when the manager stopped by, and said, "Excuse me, but you look familiar. Have we met?"
"Steve," I said, rising to shake his hand, "but you may know me as The Man Who Ate Lincoln Rd."
"Oh my God! It's you!", screeched Saten Sharma, 48, who has been wondering when this day would arrive.
Interesting guy. He was very open about running a franchise; he paid in over $400,000 for the Lincoln Rd premises, known as Store Number 942 in the Brisbane-run business, and is subject to a weekly tithe of 6 per cent of the takings, and another 3 per cent for marketing. He opened four years ago and expects to own it freehold before the end of the year.
I had gone from moping about homelessness to being swept up by this likeable
entrepreneur's enthusiasm and passion. He said the store was rated the second best Coffee Club in New Zealand in 2015, after the one in Ellerslie; he said things like, "You need to somehow make your customers your cheerleaders", and "You can get coffee and food anywhere you want, but service defines who you are", and "See you, Mum!"
This last remark was to an elderly Chinese lady, one of his regular customers. He farewelled everyone - a very large man from the Waipareira Trust who wore expressive ear-rings, an even larger man in a wheelchair who can no longer talk, lawyers and pharmaceutical salesmen and nanas. It was so cosy in there. He'd made it welcoming and nice.
And then we got to talking about crude oil. Saten has a sideline interest in day trading - "People call it gambling, but it's analysis." He said he'd made $US6500 in the past 10 days. I said I fancied a bit of that action and he said I should contact Ace Trades ("How to Trade The Markets With Up to 90 per cent Accuracy").
I saw barrels of oil, I pictured instant wealth, I imagined family holidays in Dubai - when I left, I saw the begging woman in another bus stop. She took out a letter from Housing NZ. They estimated she'd have to wait 18 months for a flat.
The rain had stopped but then it really bucketed down. I'd left my umbrella at The Coffee Club. I thought back to the stylish pot of tea and the average banana loaf, and felt disappointed that it cost as much as $8.50. I'd given the beggar the change from a $10 note. It wasn't much and it wasn't enough. I liked The Coffee Club, and I really liked Saten, but $8.50 for a light morning tea? Rating: 7.5/10.
STEVE'S EARLIER ADVENTURES ON LINCOLN ROAD:
• Episode 1: Entering heart attack alley
• Episode 2: Moto sushi
• Episode 3: Sierra
• Episode 4: Sal's Pizza
• Episode 5: Langtons On Lincoln
• Episode 6: Nando's Chicken
• Episode 7: The man who ate Lincoln Rd's doughnut dilemma
• Episode 8: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Eves Pantry
• Episode 9: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Burger King
• Episode 10: Bad times at Burger Fuel
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•All views expressed are the author's.