The man who will eat Lincoln Rd has so far eaten chicken tenderloin, chicken breast, chicken udon, chicken fries, potato rosti, potato salad, potato and gravy, corned beef hash, hash bites, spinach quiche, onion rings, spicy rice, pepperoni pizza, an Anzac biscuit, an apple slice, three doughnuts, four cups of tea, Sprite, beer, and fries with that " I wish I was eating on Lincoln Rd right now. I love everything about that silk road of the west.
Earlier this year I made it my mission to eat at every single one of the 55 food joints on Lincoln Rd's 3km stretch in West Auckland. I want to accomplish it before Christmas. Ten down, 45 to go; I'm going to have to get cracking, start visiting two or three in a week. I don't live too far away and it's all downhill so I could just roll home, round as a doughnut.
The point of the exercise is to document Auckland life. I write about the odyssey every Thursday and the Herald publishes it online. It's journalism, it's sociology, it's chicken.
Lincoln Rd and its end-to-end strip mall of franchise operations Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Sierra, Columbus, Dunkin Donuts etc is the way we eat now, and I want to take note of what it is we're eating, and who's eating it.
I've spoken to numerous diners these past few weeks on Lincoln Rd. They've made very intelligent, very considered appraisals of what they're shoving into their mouths.
Nutritionists - a pox on that species - think of Lincoln Rd as heart attack alley but in fact the punters are making informed choices. Aucklanders aren't stupid and neither are they hogs.
Mind you I picked a bad time to go on a diet. I started the 5-2 diet on Boxing Day. I've enjoyed the discipline and haven't minded the constant dreadful hunger all that much. What I'm saying is that I recently fell off the wagon, and it was around the time I had morning tea at KK Bakery, lunch at Nando's Chicken, and afternoon tea at Dunkin Donuts. Mmm Munchkins.
Lincoln Rd is on a kind of ridge. There are clear views out to the Waitakere Ranges. It's high and handsome, and every step of the way is a walk through history.
The gum barons chopped down Henderson in the 1840s. Peat from drained raupo swamps was later spread over the land with horse manure, shell lime, and bonedust; by the early 20th century, much of Henderson " and the entire length of Lincoln Rd " was a garden of Eden, fecund with orchards and vineyards.
In 1923, visiting French consul Paul Serne wrote lyrically, perhaps also light-headedly, "I have come to Henderson, I have drunk red wine, then white, eaten pears, then grapes. It is a promised land."
Promises are made to be broken. A few weeks ago I called in for a Black Sands beer at Langtons On Lincoln, a lovely, grassy wedding and conference venue with a bottle shop, Blanc, out front. I smuggled in a packet of left-over Nando's Chicken. They didn't mind; they were days away from closing the business.
I wrote at the time, "The closure of Langtons signals a dying of the light. It's the last glimpse or hint we'll ever have of Lincoln Rd as it once was, when the entire street was a verdant and beautiful Eden".
Langtons was originally a vineyard, set up by the Fredatovich family in 1937. The family have sold their 14ha holding to a developer.
All the original Dalmatian wine makers have sold. Lincoln Rd grower Lionel Collard once told Peter Buffett of the Henderson historical society that he issued a warning at a local government conference in 1954: "I said if something wasn't done to halt the spread of the urban development, the growers would be forced off the land. It's a tragedy of town planning that Lincoln Rd should have gone under the hammer in the same way that Rosebank Rd, East Tamaki and Panmure have gone."
And as Lynton Diggle of Titirangi wrote in a letter to the Herald on February 11, "Rosebank Rd used to be the fruit basket for Auckland with six feet of topsoil. Town planners decided it would be better used for commercial buildings. Henderson's vineyards and orchards have also been rated out of business, thus losing what was a green oasis. Is Pukekohe next on the list?"
Lincoln Rd is what's become of us. Ratings incentives attracted the stripmalls and the multinational franchises, and spelled doom for the orchards and the vineyards. Who did all this? Who's to blame, who's responsible? Was it you, former Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey? Are you reading this? Come with me to Texas Chicken or Carl's Jnr. Let's talk about it over some fried chicken. Put your face closer to it. Closer. Go on. Take a good, close look.
Not that I'm really complaining. Lincoln Rd is my happy place. It's so various, the people's bazaar, where you can buy most anything you want, from beds to headstones to hearing aids to chicken - Auckland has the Great North Rd and the Great South Rd, and I think of Lincoln Rd as the Great West Rd.
Even so, it's only 3km, and I can amble from one end to the other in less than an hour. It may be where I take my last steps and last breath. Behold 55-75 Lincoln Rd, Waitakere Hospital. Spooky numbers! I'm 55; will I stretch to 75? I have intimations of mortality as much as the next middle-aged fatso, but I feel a special kind of urgency in my mission to become the man who ate Lincoln Rd. It's something I want to be able to claim before I die.
It feels important, it feels worthwhile. It's a quest, and I can feel the good will of Aucklanders urging me on. Readers are coming up to me on the street and saying, "You're the man who ate Lincoln Rd!" I say to them, "I haven't got there yet!" Their eyes are bright, their hearts are in the right place.
They, too, have a share in this quest; Lincoln Rd is a common experience, it represents Auckland life - the stripmalls, the minimum wage earners, the rock-star economy actually craven to the whims and demands of multinational franchises, the waiting in traffic at the drive-through and placing your order to a box with a microphone it, the whole profound question of how you respond to the fact that the Lincoln Rd experience is what your own life has become. Do you want to tear it down? Do you despair? Or do you just want fries with that?
And so I march on, and on. It's about journalism, it's about sociology ... Above all, it's about chicken. I like fast food. I like food in serving trays. I like doughnuts. Ten down, 45 to go; there is so much in store - noodles, sushi, curry, dumplings, KFC, Subway, Thai, Korean, cheesecake, gateau, possibly the occasional rogue vegetable. I know where to find fruit: there's an old apple tree growing wild in an abandoned lot, a left-over from the days when Lincoln Rd was Eden, and the apples right now are delicious.
O Lincoln Rd! O one-time fruit basket of Auckland. It's so much better now that there's also a lot of chicken in that basket.
•All views expressed are the author's.