The man who ate Lincoln Rd took his daughter Minka and her friend Zahra to Subway this week for an after-school snack. The girls are nine years old, and have been very eager to take part in a Lincoln Rd expedition. "I am available," said Zahra, "on Tuesdays." Very well; and so we caught the 049 bus from Te Atatu to Henderson, then the connecting 090 to Lincoln Rd, arriving in heavy, crashing rain.
We waded past Burger King and the Carpet Store, past Sal's and Nando's, then cut behind McDonald's and stepped inside Subway's little glass shed which is sort of in the middle of the carpark outside the A & E White Cross. What do country kids do for fun?
Another question: who can imagine modern life without a Subway in it? The franchise was founded in 1965, in Connecticut, when a genius came up with the idea of the submarine sandwich. The sub is now in harbour in over 100 countries. Subway came here in 1994, opening in Parnell, and now has the most stores of any fastfood franchise in New Zealand. Yes, more than McDonald's, more than KFC - strange that quiet, boring Subway is the king, but such is the craving in the national appetite for a filled roll.
There are over 250 stores in New Zealand. Wanting a piece of the action, like the most famous franchise holder in Subway history, nice Mary Lambie? You have to go to school - Brisbane has a Subway University! - and you need money. But investment and royalty fees are less than many other fastfood chains.
It costs about $260,000 to invest, and headquarters in Brisbane rakes off an 8 per cent royalty fee, or tithe, from the week's takings. After that, returns are more or less guaranteed.
Hoorah for the boss. What about the staff? In November last year, Unite Union singled out Subway for its "sub-standard" approach to zero hour contracts. The union accused Subway of not caring about wages and conditions.
Can this be true? It casts a dark shadow over an otherwise cheerful little operation, with its affordable $4.90 sub of the day, its range of cookies, and its occasional excellent promotions (a family won an Isuzu SUV in February).
The Lincoln Rd store has a couple of tables. It's small and clean. A supremely efficient Tongan woman called Zoya made our three Subway orders in seconds flat. Minka got the chicken teriyaki toasted sub, and Zahra ordered the ham toasted sub. Both of them added things like cucumber and tomato.
I asked them what the gossip was at school. Zahra talked about a boy who used to chase her around the classroom, wanting to hug her. "Disgusting," she announced.
I asked what they thought about their Subways. "Warm and soft and tender," said Minka.
But they were less interested in conversation than stuffing their faces. Fair call. I ordered the meatball sub on garlic bread, with things like red onion and green pepper, and the three of us sat together at the window, stuffing our faces, looking at the dark rain clouds approaching in the dusk of a cold Tuesday. Two of us had the rest of their lives to look forward to, one was spending the winter of his life on Lincoln Rd.
A woman rushed in and said, "My life is chaos! Please can you make a ham sub super-quick?" Zoya made it in split-seconds. Another woman, a stroke victim, eventually managed to place her order. Zoya was very attentive, and talked with her the whole time. She's surely the best manager in all of Subway's 250 stores.
We had a cookie each, and shared a bottle of Pump. The bill: $24.30. Great value for money. The ratings? Well, Zoya was amazing and the place was nice but after all it was just a Subway - quiet, boring Subway, makers of filled rolls. Maybe I should have ordered the pork riblet but I don't know if it would have made any difference to my score: 7 out of 10.
Still, what do I know? The girls, those gluttons, screeched: "10 out of 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
• Episode 11: Mr Burger
•All views expressed are the author's.