Ode to The Roadhouse
20.08.2005 24 °C
The Australian Roadhouse, an institution itself in outback travel. According to a questionable Canadian source there are approximately 180 roadhouses scattered across this girt by sea. All varying enormously but with one thing in common, your a hell of a long way from anywhere. Some roadhouses you can chow down on a focaccia and slurp a latte, whilst others you question the origins of the meat in their pies and wonder in amazement how on earth they made coffee so weak it tastes like tea!? However, if you by chance happened to spend an entire day at one of these outback establishments you would likely see the most varied cross-section of Austrlian society in a single spot in of all of this land. All with little more in common than sharing the same strip of tarmac connecting one distant horizon to another.
One of the most consistent of roadhouse frequenters is the common "Gray Nomad." These geriatric travellers fall into two distinct categories; the caravan or motorhome crowd & the tour bus traveller. The former are the more independent minded of the two but despite this personal freedom they sometimes find it difficult to see life past their home on wheels, as though somehow living on the road insulates them from outside world. I suppose in a way it does, but when it gets to the point where you witness an elderly traveller verbally abusing a roadhouse employee about how corporate roadhouse mongrels charge more for fuel than service staions in town, you quickly realise perhaps their 4-wheeled home should be confiscated until they once again come to grasp reality. The second category of gray nomad, the tour bus traveller, is however fully entitled to lose all grasp of reality as they are shuttled from one platter of roadhouse sandwich's to another. Indeed anyone who decides to see Australia by bus should be automatically placed on the queens new years honours list. I challenge anyone to sit in a tin can for 3 to 4 days straight, watching "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and come out of the ordeal psychologically undamaged. The fact that the gray nomads are already teetering on the verge of senile dementia is a recipe for disaster. In my roadhouse experience there is nothing scarier in this world than being behind a counter whilst an elderly woman with a wispy beard, backed up by 40 other senior citizens, screams,
"HAMMMM," across the counter.
You calmly reply with,
"in what form would you like your ham served? Sandwich? Roll?"
"Sandwich it is then."
You place an order for a ham sandwich only to find it 20 minutes later still in the packet on the table but with the ham missing. These people are a step ahead of us all!
Another common sight at an outback roadhouse is the long-distance truckie. Amazingly easy to spot in a crowd. The uniform is generally a singlet (vest), thongs (flip-flops) and the kind of shorts that normally you'd only see on Kylie Minogue (nothing shiny or skin-tight, but definitely short enough for a full-leg tan.) Again they could fall into two categories; those who are desperate to have a conversation with anyone and those who are desperate for conversation but too mind-numbed to make any sense. The latter are the most interesting. They normally only stop at roadhouses for a caffeine hit and to buy as much greasy consumables as possible. My first encounter with a numbed-brain truckie was a moment of joy and disappointment. I thought I'd found a living example of the evolutionary stage between monkey & man. When posed with the standard Australian greeting "How's it going?" the gentleman in question responded with a series of noises along the lines of,
"Ughh, Ugghhh, Ahhhh."
We resorted to sign-language after this which proved to be even less useful. I quickly found out he had little control over his arms as he randomly pointed to an assortment of objects including "ladies towels." Maybe he's got a nose-bleed I thought? No such luck. In the end we managed to narrow down his arm-waves to an area generally containing mugs for coffee and the problem was solved. After his injection of caffeine he began to mumble a few more words, incoherant at first but clearly originating from the english language. It was the breakfast however that managed to turn him back into a semi-normal person and we even had a small-talk conversation, which considering the initial start to our time together was a small miracle. After this I bid him farewell and watched as he ambled across the road to his truck, my jaw dropped. He was driving a road-train so big that it needed an escort car with it to warn approaching vehicles. I couldn't believe that someone would voluntarily give this loose-limbed man a licence to sit behind the wheel of a truck that could drive through a house and keep going. These drivers are supposed to be responsible for the maintenance of their trucks as well as safely driving them from one destination to the next. Yet if they are struggling to stay awake and drive the long distances who knows what kind of condition some of their trucks are in. One example here in WA would be an incident whereby a road-train had been poorly maintained by the owner and on one journey one of the trailers broke off, careered onto the opposite side of the road and straight into an oncoming car:http://www.safetyline.wa.gov.au/pagebin/pg003258.htm. The Australian governments roadside advertsising campaigns of "stop, revive, survive," are exactly what all the brain-dead truckies need roadhouses for.
Another vital service that the roadhouse provides to Australians is that it keeps many of them fat. According to an article in The Age, more than 25% of children in Australia are now classed as overweight and adult obesity in Oz has doubled in the past decade according to Overweight and Obesity by Justin Healey. When I first arrived in Australia nine months ago I spent a few weeks staying in the Sydney suburb of Cronulla. I slowly became convinced that I was possibly the whitest, puniest and least attractive person on the continent as all around I was surrounded by bronzed boobs & biceps. However, once you leave the beach and experience other parts of Australia you realise that the American influence isn't just prevalent on the TV but also in the diets, and subsequently on the bodies, of many an Aussie. The Overlander Roadhouse in WA goes through 3 or 4 boxes of chips every day and enough cheesy delictables to keep an army of mice well fed for years. I have seen people come in who could easily be descirbed as "morbidly obese" and order a couple of burgers and a bucket of chips for themselves, "oh and maybe throw in a cheese sausage as well. For while I'm waiting on the burgers." Add onto this the mountains of Mrs Macs pies and Iced-Coffees that most roadhouses will go through on a daily basis, plus the nitbits for the car that help stave off the boredom, and the roadhouse well and truely does it's share to help keep Australians fat.
The Australian Roadhouse, an institution itself. With hundreds of characters and thousands of stories to be told as well as a place your sure to get a portion of chips....