Special dispatch: Thunderbird Café, Wellington, New Zealand
154 Featherston Street
+64 (0) 4 499 1966
by Egg Miliband
Economy class, London to Wellington, New Zealand, via Shanghai. I’d spent two days staring at the back of a chair and eating meals that felt like being walked through by ghosts. Now I was standing in the wind on Wellington’s waterfront, with two old friends at my side: one hungover and heartbroken, the other freshly arrived from a stint in Japan. I realise now that all of us were in various stages of trauma, and perhaps in need of more than breakfast. We thought we might wash up at Astoria on Lambton Quay – one of those spindly-chaired cafés, full of people shouting through mouthfuls of chef’s-special beans – but on our way there, we were drawn towards a sign with a red eagle on it. Thunderbird Café.
Inside was a vast wall-print of an Arizona highway rolling through a desert. An inflatable deer’s head stared fixedly from the wall, while a real hog’s head lolled beside the cakes cabinet. Above the wall menu were the words “YOU LOOK AMAZING!” The tables were covered in butcher’s paper, with bunches of crayons in jars, so we sat down and immediately began to doodle in silence.
After a series of meals eaten in mid-air – bandagey buns, flubbery omelettes, stewed tea – most foods will taste good. But let the review be unbalanced. My scrambled eggs on knobbly buttered toast were perfect because they were so ordinary. Part of it may have been the satisfying heft of real cutlery in my hands. Heartbroken friend had mushrooms glistening on toast. Japan friend had something called Big Brains, a plate consisting mostly of animal things: bacon, sausage, fried eggs, “Thunderbeans” (ham and beans), and potatoes. On toast. It came out as a reddish-brown mountain that he worked his way through slowly, heavily, like someone in a Raymond Carver story. Everyone ate everything.
There’s something about a breakfast like this that darns all the holes in a ragged day. We went back into the wind, full of beans. Our lives were going to change. I felt it.