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If music be the food of love let's hop in for our chop

©2000 Duncan R Fry


I'm a bit of a connoisseur of fast food. So much so that the doctor calls me Saturated Fats, which is a little unfair since I haven't been near a pool hall in years.

I suppose it's a legacy of days and nights on the road, eating on the run in all sorts of places, because when you're out on the road, food is survival. A way of stoking the body's fires to keep going for another 20 hour working day, so it needs to be fast, hot and good. Usually it's any two of those three!

It's an added bonus if it can be available at a petrol station roadhouse so that the hamburgers, chips, drinks etc. can be surreptitiously added to the band's petrol bill.

"Geez the old truck must be running a bit rough guys - we seemed to have used an extra hundred bucks of juice - look, here are the receipts!"

There is also an unspoken bond between you and the person who sells it to you, and that is - once you've eaten the food, that's the last you expect to see of it. Life being what it is, though, it doesn't always happen that way, which is one reason why the major fast food chains do so well. If you pull into Pigsknuckle, West WoopWoop and there's a choice between getting something from the totally unknown local greasy spoon or Hungry Mac's, then Hungry Mac's wins every time. It might a little bland and predictable, not exciting thought provoking cuisine, but least you'll have someone with deep pockets to sue if your stomach explodes like an outtake from Alien!

On one occasion I'd just come back from doing the NAMM show in Anaheim, and so had been sampling the mother lode of road food, US style.

As everyone who's experienced it will agree, Southern California has a very special smell at sundown. It's the heady aroma of hot lard, gently wafting its way from thousands of fast food palaces to your olfactory senses. Like the siren's song of the ancient seafarers, the hamburger faithful are inexorably drawn by this irresistible fragrance, night after night, to end up chomping on some giant slab of minced cow and a bushel of fried potatoes.

Considering how much fast food I've sampled over the years, the bad experiences have been few and far between. A steak ordered rare that left me doubled up in agony all night, and put me off rare steak for about five years from a beachside diner in Venice, California; a late afternoon (a bad food time, having usually been kept warm since lunch) burger that had me doing the Tijuana two-step; and that was about it.
I should have known my run of luck had to end sometime.

Anyway, I had a couple of days spare after the show, which I'd planned to use cruising around the wrecking yards of Southern California looking for elusive Plymouth parts to get the Roadrunner up and running. I had a lead on a tailshaft, from Tony's Truck Wrecking in El Monte. It's a bit of a drive, and I hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was now 3 o'clock, so as I drove through downtown El Monte I saw a sign for Billy's Original Burgers.

Never tried one of them, I thought, and drove into the parking lot and walked up to the counter. I ordered a cheeseburger.

"You want the works on that?" the lady behind the counter drawled.

"What exactly is the works?" I asked.

"It's onionsketchuppepperpicklesmustardextracheese-chilliandbarbecuesauce," she rattled off at breakneck speed.

"Er... OK," I said, having not really heard properly,
"And give me some chilli fries as well." Might as well go for broke, I thought.
"Oh yes, and a Doctor Pepper".

Well, whatever else the meal was, it was certainly good value - total cost $4.35, including tax. The steaming trayful appeared in about 30 seconds, and I sat down at an outside table in the sunshine, surrounded by assorted old age pensioners gummily sucking on cups of chilli.

I've always felt that you can always tell if a place is good value if pensioners eat there.

I ploughed my way through as much as I could, but have to confess that even with the help of my 2 litre cup of Dr Pepper, about half the burger and the last few chilli fries were beyond me. Burping happily, I got back into the car ready to haggle with Tony..

About half an hour later, I was driving back down the 605 freeway, tailshaft on board, when all of a sudden I started to feel rather hot and sweaty. The road started to gently wave up and down and spin sideways, and I felt distinctly unpleasant stomach rumblings getting stronger and stronger.

Yikes! I wrenched the wheel and aimed the car into the emergency lane, hit the hazard flashers and leaped out of the car, just in time to revisit Billy's burger and fries and drink as they hurtled past my tonsils and into the bushes.
Talk about Agent Orange - this stuff ripped through the foliage like liquid flamethrower!

The landscape gradually stopped swaying and I leaned back against the car with the feeling that something was definitely better out than in.

It would have been about one minute from the time I stopped to when the Freeway Emergency Service tow truck pulled up in front of me. A free service that patrols the freeways all day and night, helping people who have usually broken down, not thrown up, but it was good to know that someone was out there.

I walked up to the truck cab and opened the passenger door.

"I'm OK," I said to the driver, Jerry, a very helpful guy of probably Mexican descent, whose skin paled visibly as he caught the full paint-stripping force of my breath!

"I just had a burger at Billy's", I explained, then to avoid the risk of him losing his lunch in the bushes too, I gave him a sign language explanation of where Billy's burger had ended up.

He laughed. "Billy's Burgers? Hell, you gotta be crazy to eat those things. I wouldn't eat there if you paid me!"

Now he tells me.


Like, you know, when I'm not depositing toxic waste by the side of California freeways, I'd like to hear if you have any food stories to share? Email me:

This story first appeared in Connections magazine

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