A feature of all lunch bars in any industrial area, the plastic tasselled entry curtain suggests one of two things: the presence of flies and other winged insects are not wanted; and at some point during the year, a desire to keep the cold in, or the cold out. Today it was keeping the cold out. But only barely.
I’m standing in one here, in Wangara Industrial area. A market garden-cum-industrial precinct, which in the early 2000s, the greedy demand to service the mining boom, spread its tentacles in Perth.
Graced with only five dollars in my wallet squinting at the chalk board menu, my wet Vollyes squeak on the tiled floor announcing my presence. The moaning drone of an extractor fan from the open planned kitchen provides an auditory cover assuring an otherwise awkward entrance. I smell toasted sandwiches hissing on a hot plate. That kind of caramalised fried bread character, reminiscent of school tuck-shops—but this tuck-shop is now servicing bigger, hungrier kids.
My lift to pick me up (from dropping off my car for servicing) shan’t be long away. Ten minutes max. Long enough perhaps for a quick redeeming coffee – the banana and almonds that formed a slapdash breakfast behind the wheel, failed to shoosh my groaning stomach.
An Asian man with a round face and piercing eyes greets me in his own take of an Australian welcome.
‘Goo-dae Mayte’. He smiles as he ferries fried goods to the bain-marie. His accent is Vietnamese.
He glistens under glistening foods under glistening lights. The fried wares include potato scallops, Chiko rolls and those ubiquitous beef cheese sausages that always look desiccated – the skin shrunk around a filling stage frightened in the spotlight of cookery failure. I cringe at the thought of their complexion at the end of a day’s trade. Vomit rises in my mind.
‘G’day’, I casually say. I shiver from the cold and the radiant heat from the heat lamps is both odd and welcome comfort. I espy a coffee machine. It’s an automatic. A one button no-brainer. The kind you always find in delis and quasi ‘café’s’ less able to handle a proper extraction with a reasonably skilled barista.
I figure asking for an espresso would be too exotic, wankerish and probably lost in translation. After all this is a disparate lunch bar. English-as-a-second-language lunch bar owners, in a gruff industrial area like Wangara. Most of the customers are ‘true blue’ it makes Vegemite look like an import. I make no apologies for my assumption that the maxim for coffee around here is probably two, maybe three coffees. Cappuccino, Flat White and Long Black.
‘Can I please get a long black?’
The man gives me a cow eyed backwards stare towards the direction of a woman busying herself arranging patisseries wrapped in clingflim. Dusted with icing sugar, they too will glisten into a syrupy slime and soggy pastry at the end of the day. I imagine their clientele are not as fussy as me. She says something to him in Vietnamese.
‘Loan Blat?’ He says in hope and validation.
‘Yes, Long Black.’
‘Wee Mil?’ She says.
‘Velly stlong Cob-bei.’ The woman smiles. Her teeth are stained brown and wrinkles run deltas into her eyes.
‘Yeah’, I smile.
I stand there rubbing the back of my neck as if it were stiff from bad posture. I need something to lurch my half slumbered brain from the memory of sleep.
The man stands there feigning to work the machine. I suspect this is a husband and wife team. Their business card I see later attests to this. She, in typical Asian wife fashion, elbows him off a kitchen apparatus ushering him to busy himself with something he can’t fuck up. A foam cup is placed under the double spout black with patina for one that is used as oft. It makes a hollow ‘tock’ sound. SHORT BLACK button is pressed.
Those automatic coffee machines always make a cascade of ricketing and clanging. It reminds me of an old five CD changer I once had. The cup fills by a steamy third.
Like most lunch bars in industrial areas feeding men with bottomless stomachs, more is ALWAYS better. The generosity of the woman in her smile and demeanour was not going to let me leave with a half filled cup. It will be another five minutes and two more buttons and a whole lot more clanging before the cup brims. I made a few more observations whilst waiting.
I always feel impelled to make small talk about something, anything. But when there is a language barrier, I stand there and sense the other party wants to talk too, but can’t. I just smile like an idiot and feel my shortcomings of only knowing English.
There is a tiny ATM in the corner. By tiny I mean tiny. If you were to put an existing ATM in a cardboard compactor and it had implosive joints, this would be the result.
Today’s paper is on sale. Another near air-disaster.
There is a sinister looking marble budda on the counter covered in loose change. He has a one dollar in his mouth which looks like a gold chocolate coin.
In the bain-marie there is something called ‘Wing Dings’. I’m slightly confused as to what part of what animal it has come from.
There are some REALLY fresh fair dinkum Vietnamese spring-rolls. I’m almost tempted but remembering my caveman diet—Bugger.
I love the way immigrants bring something from the old country to the new. The shrine in the corner , the ‘prosperity cat’ and above all, a desire to own these little shops and eke out a living in fair go Australia. Lots of them work the jobs many Australians ‘can’t be arsed’, then we wonder why we’re not the ones driving around in a new Mercedes.
She over fills the last automatic pour and the crema is lost into the drip tray. Dam, the best part. The husband is out the back flipping the toasted cheese sandwiches which I must admit look appetising. She levels out the coffee and places a firm lid. I pick it up with both hands from hers. It feels like a hot water bottle. The foam is disconcertingly thin.
‘Tree dolla.’ Bargain.
I stand outside. The sun has risen behind heavy cloud to the east and thinner bands rise from the south. It gives an otherworldly aura about this place in the light drizzle that I’m cowering to avoid. It’s eerily still and cold as a morgue. I inspect my cup of inspiration. Steam licks my face, whispering my eyelashes in warmth. I take a sip preparing myself for a Coffea draconica.
I’m reasonably impressed.