I felt no envy at
the Sefton Pub, no sense that anything was out of reach.
We had traveled all day. We made a loop around the Canterbury region on part of Inland Scenic Route 72, starting at our rented bach (pronounced “batch” meaning a holiday (meaning “vacation”) house) just outside downtown Christchurch, just outside the zone leveled by an earthquake some three years prior. Even still, though the roads were pasable, one knew looking at them there had been liquefaction beneath. Gaping cracks filled as best the authority can. Ruts and bumps, as though roots of giant kauri had pushed across the city, reclaiming their dominance. But really an act of nature, nobody to blame any more than we blame a storm that floods a crop. We simply plant again, as we must.
State Highway 1 runs the length of New Zealand, interrupted by a three hour ferry trip between the islands — though to speed things up we flew down from Auckland and hired a car.
We followed Highway 1 south and wound around until Riccarton, home of the south island’s largest open air market. This was a Sunday morning.
The market resembled many I’ve seen in New Zealand. Vendors peddled the new, the used, and their services. Innovative crafts — clever hot water bottle covers shaped as whales and fish — to vintage tools — an English-made folding ruler, its precision irresistible. My biggest regret: I didn’t wait in the queue half a lane long to get a coffee at the democratically expressed best brew in town, tucked in among the Chinese donuts and used record albums rescued from a flooded ground floor flat a couple days too late, mould overrunning the grooves.
Out of Riccarton we headed south to Ashburton to visit the Ashford spinning wheel factory. Well, I guess I told that story already, more or less.
We followed the scenic route to Oxford, where we had heard there’s another market. I guess I told a bit of that tale as well. Anyway, all along were farms, gorgeous tracts of fertile green land in every direction, Autumn setting in at precisely the pace of crop growth and watering and sunlight — moving in a way I want to call “unintentional,” if only because we let the road and the season dictate our pace over our desires.
Just outside of Sefton I figured I’d flick a message to our friend who grew up here, maybe pop into the family farm if the folks were about. But there’s no mobile coverage to speak of around here, not because they don’t need it so much as the dictation of pace, as I was saying.
Lucky I’d already heard of the pub and knew it was on the main road and that they pour a good beer and fry a good steak. And there it is, clear as day if only because it’s pretty much the only building around. Looks exactly as you’d expect. A sign over a veranda (I’m working from old memory here so you’ll excuse inaccuracy) and you walk in and it’s a pub. It’s a goddamned right pub, alright, with neither a hostess nor Swedish chic interior design bathed in halogen light. It’s incandescence and sunlight and a wood bar and bottles of brown liquor and pictures of a century worth of rugby team celebrations and autographs over black and white portraits and a history worth perusing against a pool game and a pint. Smokers please take it out back, to another well-groomed area, so far removed from the quiet reality of the road, so perfectly tucked away with a gazebo and a plastic tomato full of ketchup on each table and take your pick of spots on a mid-Sunday afternoon off season, your little boy as welcome as all.
I had the steak sandwich, my wife a burger and chips, my boy chicken and chips, plus two pints and an apple juice. I think it was twenty two dollars out the door. Maybe twenty seven. Either way, it was as welcome an exchange as it was a meal.
Here in Auckland, a pint’s nine bucks and burgers seem to start around twenty, give or take. When I walk past all the places I can’t afford, well sometimes I get to thinkin this is all out of reach. And I get to thinkin the fact it’s out of reach is a problem and that problem starts with me.
But that’s all wrong, and the pub in Sefton reminds me why. What’s in reach is a style of life that suits me. It ain’t tidy and it ain’t free of stains on my shirts and its vocabulary might be rough on the edges. This place, Sefton Pub, this steak sandwich on white bread and a handle (I guess it wasn’t a full pint) of yellow beer. This is the life I crave. Not press toasted panini with vine ripened tomato and brie and inedible garnish.