12/07/2005

The Golden Cheeseburger


The Caribbean hurricane season is done for another year, so my step-father flew down to put his boat back in the water. He brought my mother. My mother brought her friend, so that she'd have somebody to pal around with during the boring parts.

In the course of this adventurette they managed to spend $120 on cheeseburgers.


Beurre d'Arachide keeps his boat on the divided island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten in the Lesser Antilles, a land one half a non-contiguous patch of the Netherlands and one half a non-contiguous patch of Guadeloupe (which is itself a non-contiguous patch of France). All of the roofs are red.

The island maintains a certain charm anchored by the particular way in which French haute couture is kept pegged to Earth by Dutch groundedness. The same cannot be said for the exclusive isle of St. Barthelemy to the south-west where the Frenchness runs unchecked. It was on Saint Bart's, as it is called, that my mother and her friend found themselves seeking divertisement on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The cafe at the boat-yard where Beurre d'Arachide was mucking about presented scant entertainment, so Popcorn and Dunaway decided to call a taxi to run them inland to the ex-Swedish town of Gustavia. "Taxi? Non," said the raisin-faced white man at the cafe. "Today is the Sunday. But to Gustavia it is not far, the walking."

Not as the crow flies, perhaps.

It was a twenty kilometer hike up and down the island's central volcano, and while the ladies were no couch potatoes they found themselves fairly exhausted by the time they reached their destination. The town was quaint but dead. This was a pious land, a Catholic land, a land where He-who-must-not-be-named is Harry Potter as often as Frodo Baggins, heroes of damned witchcraft and magicks most perverse, mascots for the wrong mythologies. And so the Sabbath was kept, and the hot world admitted no work.

Church bells tolled, echoing down the empty cobblestone streets. Since the island features no black people, there wasn't even anyone around to try to sell them trinkets and kipple.

At long last they came upon the local branch office of songster Jimmy Buffet's restaurant network, Cheeseburger In Paradise, known to me lo these few years for using their Black Hat SEO voodoo to keep me from claiming the #1 result in Google for the search term cheeseburger with my Web-famous essay Death By Cheeseburger.

Apparently Buffet bows before Satan, because the joint was open.

It was an open-air terrace with cafeteria-style seating. Customers were invited to step up to one aperture in the wall to receive their burgers and chips, and then a second aperture to receive soda-pop or milkshakes. Popcorn and Dunaway each requested a cheeseburger, a basket of chips, and a drink.

"Hokay, bien," said the tanned Frenchman behind the counter. "Zhe totale she is fifty Heuro."

Popcorn, still fuzzy on the conversion between Euros and our proud Canadian Tire money, handed over some bills while stepping back to take in the prices posted on the menu with renewed scrutiny. She was about to open her mouth when the Frenchman beat her to the punch and confirmed the terrible truth by prompting Dunaway for her fifty.

The burgers and chips are fifty Euros each. That's two ladies lunching for about one hundred and twenty US greenbacks...self-serve.

Popcorn reported that her burger was "okay."

After the second 20 kilometre leg of their jaunt about St. Bart's they collapsed gratefully into the shady cabin of the Prairie Fox and grabbed bottled water out of the little refrigerator. "How was Gustavia?" asked Beurre d'Arachide, sunburnt and covered in motor grease.

They told him. He laughed, and so did Mademoiselle J's father from further down in the engine compartment. (You may or may not recall that Mlle. J was the Swiss girl who served as a nanny and au pair at our old schoolhouse this past summer.) He popped his head up to say that he used to fix the boat that ran restaurant supplies out to various points on St. Bart's from the airport on St. Martin.

On St. Martin the same meat and potatoes cost five Euros. From the same package, cooked with the same oil: five Euros.

"So what's with the crazy mark-up?" Dunaway wanted to know.

Mlle. J's father shrugged. "St. Bart's is zhe Nice of zhe Antilles. All zhe population is rich. Zhey hexpect superior prices, so zat's what zhey get."

So there you go.

If you're rich and you're reading this the lesson should be clear: your sixty dollar cheeseburgers are not in any way different from those shovelled to the mere mortals on saner islands. Your demand for "the best" had optimized the vultures around you, and even Jimmy Buffet will swindle you if you thinks you're self-important enough to swallow it.

If you're not rich and you're reading this the lesson is equally clear: when hoofing it among champagne wishes and caviar dreams, bring a packed lunch.

2 comments:

Sith Snoopy said...

$60.00 per cheeseburger?

Yeesh. If you are going to charge me that much, it had better come with a complimentary full body massage and a glass of champagne!

Man. That's alot of French pretentiousness.

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