In a couple years or maybe even a couple months February 14, 2005 will become romantic, bohemian, unique, and memorable. At the time it was mainly hilarious.
Sabrina and I were together again, and alone together for the first time. We had taken an all day bus from Byron Bay to Noosa because I had to get out of Byron and make progress towards Fraser Island for my trip there in a couple days. Noosa Heads was rainy, somewhat unremarkable, and quite far from the only hostel we could find a private room at.
From Noosa Junction we walked “up the hill and down the hill” to Noosa Heads and strolled down Hastings Street as the evening got darker and hungrier. The shops were wet and closed and it hardly seemed like the hot spot we’d heard about. The trendiest thing we found on Hastings Street on that rainy Valentine’s Day were the prices of the food.
We scanned each AUS$25-40 menu before moving on to the next. I was ready to pay for some place nice but I don’t think Sabrina understood that that and she suggested we go back up the hill and down the hill to a Chinese place we passed. “I want Chinese,” she said, I believed her. That is how we ended up at the Noosa Garden for Valentine’s Day dinner.
There are many, many fine Chinese restaurants around the world but the restaurant you want to picture is that big suburban Chinese factory with the sterile dinning room that does all its business by take-out. The walls are white and the carpet a muddy green. There are 120 chairs covered in a vaguely African print that reminds you strongly of 1990. To break up the white walls there’re bamboo and birds painted right onto giant lightboxes. The musical selection suggest the Twilight Zone: a constant stream of 1950’s covers. Sabrina insists these American songs are “very famous” but I don’t recognize them. Apparently she’s memorized her parents’ old LPs chorus and verse.
You are backpackers on a budget with no working knowledge of the town, no effective means of transportation, and no meaningful romantic bond to commemorate. It’s okay to be here. I guess.
But what makes it all so funny is that there are other people here. Not many others, but others. There are middle-aged mutes staring holes into their plates and you wonder what condition it is exactly that compels you to a) decide to go out, b) go to a place like this, and c) not have a word to share. There’s a couple seemingly just out of high school all dressed up for their night out; her in a sexy black dress and him with his pink hair spiking up just so. There’s an elderly couple sitting with another older man who might have lost his date; they’re at least talking.
A man comes in selling roses and while my mouth is full Sabrina tells him we don’t need any. I chew a couple more bites and realize I can’t stand being the guy who doesn’t get a rose. I find the rose man at the door.
“How much for a rose.”
“Seven dollars!?” The roses look half dead.
“How ‘bout $5.”
“No, seven sounds about right. What, you can’t afford $7”
“Apparently you couldn’t afford decent looking roses.”
I dig into my pocket and find a $5 bill but no dollar coins.
“I don’t have any change so it’ll have to be $5 or nothing.”
“Okay. But if you’re supposed to make $700 and at the end of the week your boss gives you $500, what would you do?”
“I’d find another job. Thanks for the rose, have a good night.”
At least we’re having a real meal. A typical dinner costs AUS$10 or less but this one will be more than $50 for the two of us. The spring rolls are disappointing but we hold out hope for the mains. We’re sharing chicken chow mien and sweet and sour chicken. We both try the chow mien.
“I think the sweet and sour is better,” Sabrina says.
“Oh, I haven’t had any.”
It isn’t good either and we should have known better than to order dessert but Sabrina has never had fried ice cream and I’m in the mood for it. When we put our forks through the hot outside we quickly hit the rock hard center. They aren’t doing any frying back there and even the fried ice cream virgin can tell.
“I think it was already finished,” Sabrina says.
The waitress collects the check and asks how it was. We lie, leave, and cross the street for a beer.