An Incident at the Annual Fair

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I worked as a busboy at an outdoor Charcoal Broiled Hamburger restaurant or stand as they sometimes referred to it during the annual fair. It was really nothing more than a “V” shaped open air concession booth that sold burgers of all sorts and sizes: hot dogs, French fries, soft drinks, coffee and other major food group worthy snacks and delectable treats.

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There was this sports stadium very close to the concession stand. This stadium was quite big for the times holding about 40,000 people at a sitting. It had a large concourse that also provided various snacks and refreshments, including beer during game time. The work was mindless fluff: empty the garbage; ensure all the condiments were full; replenish supplies such as coffee cups, cold drink cups and the like; clean what few tables there were; and just be an all round gofer.

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Beside our booth there was a side entrance, staff only, to the Food Building. It was in here that we stored all of our supplies. It was also my smoking room and measuring room. We diluted almost everything in there. Ketchup, mustard, pop, coffee, you name it. Yes coffee for it was also my job to gather discarded coffee grounds and add them to our tins of real coffee bean. It also housed a cold storage walk in freezer, which held our pails of our so called charcoal broiled hamburgers (BB’Q)

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During the annual fair the concession did a thriving business in charcoal broiled hamburgers: hamburgers topped with cheese, with bacon, with bacon and cheese, fried onions, relish, mustard, pickles, ketchup, mayo, well… all of the major food groups of the day combined in a huge, messy calorically rich, artery busting snack. In fact their burgers were so well known across the fairgrounds that the working stiffs, old and young, migrated to this place everyday either at lunch, dinner or just before closing time of the fairgrounds itself to get their daily fix. They sold so many burgers that a ranch out west had a herd of cattle on standby just for this fast food joint. They sold hundreds of these burgers daily. How did they do it? How were they able to keep up considering it does take some time to cook one of these delicacies properly so as to ward off those nasty gastro-intestinal loving critters?

See the source imageFor the Hamburger joint!

It was easy as I found out. The owners had this wagon stored in the storage shed beside the concession. The wagon could hold about six of the two gallon type stainless steel kettles, two abreast: narrow at the bottom, bulging wide in the mid section then open to the air at the top, with a thin steel handle bar fastened at each side near the top rim. Every day about 2 hours before lunch it was my job to take that wagon and the kettles over to the sports stadium, up the ramps into the concourse of the stadium itself. This was a stealth operation you see for I could not make it be known to the public that I was connected to a food processing establishment while on this particular mission hence off came my white apron and hat while in transit from the concession booth to the stadium’s concourse.

Inside the concourse one could not fathom that anything was amiss, or open. All of the vertically oriented and aluminum sliding shutters were shuttered shut. Silence, nobody there it would appear at first glance. Then, almost subliminally, the odour of a deep fryer operation wafted the senses. It became overpowering as I walked along the concourse, pulling my wagon, as if a hundred deep fryers were at work simultaneously. An exaggeration perhaps but the smell of gazillion French fries could be overwhelming to the senses. But this wasn’t about French fries frying. This smell was sweeter, pungent, salt-like in its aroma with a deep and richly textured smell. It was meat!

See the source imageNo French Fries here!

As instructed I banged on the penultimate shuttered booth to the main ramp of the stadium. It opened slowly.

“Yeah, what do you want.” said no one in particular.

“I’m here for the burgs”

“Okay, hold on a bit”

Suddenly the shuttered metal door opened up about half way. Inside I could make out about 3 sets of deep fryers going full tilt. The oil bubbling and boiling over it seemed. Smoke filled the air but then got caught and sucked up in a vacuumed vent. This was only one of the booths. There were three more in operation.

“Give me your kettles” he ordered. “Just two.”

I complied. He took the two kettles over to the fryers. He then lifted two baskets out of the oil tilting them up then down, then shaking each of them to drain the oil, or grease, or whatever from the baskets. He tipped them over onto a white cloth, stained by a hundred deep fried burgers past while the burgers present looked like a lump of brown, oil soaked fried “cow” pies laid out on to the white cloth towels. With tongs he then transferred these deep fried burgers into the kettles ever so carefully but ever so skill fully so as not to damage the integrity of the burgers themselves. When he was done, both kettles were full to the rim with these oil soaked cooked burgers. He then covered them up with more white cloths tucking the ends into the kettle walls.

“Here, off you go” he said

“Thanks,” I think

With that the shutter was shuttered closed again, until tomorrow.

The same was repeated at the other two booths. I now had six kettles full of delectably delicious, oily and greasy yummy burgers. Mmmm mmmm good. Off I went, careful not to give anything away as to what had just occurred. Down the ramp pulling that wagon as stealthily as one could pull a wagon stealthily that had six cloth covered kettles on it. One had to be very careful here as the exit ramps were situated in such a way that two 90 degree turns were required to navigate one’s way from the concourse level of the stadium where the fryers were located to the ground below.

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The very first time I did this I courted disaster. As I turned from the bottom of the first ramp into the first 90 degree turn and its transition to the second ramp the wagon tipped over. I was going too fast. The kettles rolled and clanged and rolled and clanged, scraping metal against concrete, a sound akin to a cat’s claws scraping down a blackboard, and rolling along the concrete walkway. The burgers fell out onto the cement ramp. Some of them were so firmly cooked as to roll down the ramps on their sides, turning wildly from left to right, out of control, then twirling rhythmically like a top before collapsing and plopping face down on the concrete surface of the ramp. I was a sight to behold running after these wayward, vagabond burgers: cursing hard and picking them up, collecting them then throwing them back into the kettles while at the same time wiping my greasy, oily hands on my pants, licking my fingers in a juicy disgusting fashion. After a while it became difficult to grasp these slippery burgers. Lucky for me I was wearing dark coloured pants.

At about the same time a flock of seagulls (shit hawks), and pigeons swarmed in at the sight and smell of these juicy burgers. I had to swat, and slap my way around these birds not unlike a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds.” And what made it particularly bad was the noise from the cawing and screaching of the birds. They were in a raptured, excited state which caused them to crap all over me and some of the exposed burgers. The white creamy, liquid droppings of bird dung or guava.

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Finally, after a conscious, concerted and panicky effort, I managed to collect all of the burgers and redistribute them into the respective kettles. Covering them up I continued my pace back to the concession stand but in more of a determined and deliberate manner. Returning, stealthfuly, I immediately placed the kettles into the walk in freezer, or fridge awaiting the first call of the day for more burgers. With the call from the cook they would be placed inside the concession on the floor but beside the grill but in such a manner that when they went on to the grill the paying public had no clue as to the life cycle of our delicious charcoal broiled burgers. I’m sure I saw some customers spitting or picking something out of their mouths after taking a bite or two of those burgs.

Yes, the charcoal broiled burgers at the concession stand were the best in the whole wide world!

It must have been that special sauce!

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Have a nice day

Song of the day:

I’ll never have a hamburger again!