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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Deluxe Cafe Review (it's in there somewhere, I promise)

Oh no.

I’m playing that game again.

You know, that low-intensity game of chicken you involuntarily play with other people any time you step out amongst pedestrian traffic on a crowded street. It’s a game I play with regularity here in downtown Wellington. Hell, it could be a new Olympic sport, if’n they had an Olympics for banal, non-athletic phenomena such as this game, which has been referred to elsewhere as the ‘Indecisijig’.

I believe that term was first coined by Rich Hall back in the early 80s as one of his many hilarious “sniglets”, or words for things that up until then had no, well, words for what they meant. I forget the exact definition for indecisijig (which, when broken down into its components, combines the words ‘indecision’ and ‘jig’ - neat, huh?) but it describes the scenario where you are walking somewhere and you come across someone walking towards you and they are on the same ‘line’ that you are. In a mutual attempt to give the right of way and/or to try and go around the oncoming fellow walker, you each try and guess which way to go and start to commit to a direction. If you both guess exactly wrong, it leads to a series of aborted side-steps, with your resultant jumpy moves forming into an awkward little dance number. This mutual fake-out results in the wonderful spectacle that is the involuntary maneuver called the 'indecisijig'.

Nobody ever wants to start the indecisijig on their own. If this was consciously attempted, it could no longer be a proper indecisijig by definition; rather, it would be more of a Robot Dance or perhaps even the White Man's Overbite (q.v. When Harry Met Sally). You can try and anticipate the other person's choice of direction, based upon several factors, such as their current trajectory, the look on their face, and whether or not they’re even paying attention to you. The easiest people to predict, in fact, are the ones who seem blithely unaware of the people around them – they don't seem to even notice that there's anyone else on the sidewalk – and so they remain obstinately committed to their chosen path. For them, you just pick right or left and carry on.

It’s when you are headed toward someone who is also aware of them heading towards you that the magic begins. The shuffling starts and inevitably you end up stepping closer to each other in a zig-zag. This heightens the anxiety and one of two things then happens. You can both panic and keep repeating your ill-fated dance until you get right up on each other. Then, both mortally embarrassed at this bilateral invasion of personal space - combined with a failure to successfully and gracefully avoid collision - you both mumble apologies as you awkwardly and painfully twist out of each other’s way like two cars heading opposite ways on a very narrow street, all the while hoping against hope that you don’t inadvertently – gasp! – touch each other.

Or the other thing can happen, and this is usually what I try and do. That is, I stop dead in my tracks, smile and hold out my hands to either side. I’m indicating to the other person, ‘It’s OK, no need to panic. I see what's happening here and I know how this always ends, so now we can stop this absurd little dance.’

For it is absurd, and the embarrassment is heightened by the prospect of putting on this impromptu and never-before-rehearsed little scene for the amusement of the other passers-by, whose own paths are mercifully free of any impending collisions.*

But this indecisijig I’m currently caught up in is happening right in the middle of the crosswalk on Kent Terrace. There are heaps of people going either way and it’s mid-day traffic here in Wellington. The Little Green Walking Man in the crosswalk sign has disappeared, having been swatted away by his nemesis, the ominous Flashing Red Hand. There is no room to either side of me or the girl on the other end of this indecisijig and time is running out on our safe haven here in the middle of the busy asphalt. Cars just off to my left are gunning their engines in anticipation of the light changing in their favor. How they just love to blast off and try to go from zero to sixty in less than two seconds as they hurtle up Kent Terrace, pedestrians be damned.

She jigs to her left, I to my right: Strike one! And so the dance has begun. In time with the perfect rhythm of the indecisijig, we both panic and hop the other way, once again occluding each other's paths. We are now a mere six feet from each other. To either side of us is an impenetrable stream of people. We are the only two caught in this comical struggle to simultaneously yield and obtain right-of-way. Tensions mount.

Damn. We both panic and take that fateful third step, a repeat of the first: me to the right and she to her left, and now we’re nearly upon each other. I wouldn’t mind bumping into her, for she is a young and attractive woman (and no, I wouldn't grope her or anything, you pervs), but she does not seem to share my indifference to our pending close encounter. This potentially intimate rendition of the indecisijig has her face frozen in a study of shy panic, her eyes cast downward and flicking left and right.

Finally, I resolve the crisis by making a small sacrifice. Sure, I’m not even halfway across the street yet and the Flashing Red Hand has been blinking more and more furiously since I first stepped onto the zebra stripes. All it has to do is turn its frozen red glare solid and then the anxious cars to my left will be unleashed upon us all, crosswalk or no.

I stop in my tracks and spread my hands out to the sides, smiling at her. She bounces back once more to her right, then suddenly notices the daylight around me on that side as I have stopped. Without bothering to nod or smile or acknowledge in any way my signal that our dance has ended (my indecisijig partners frequently fail to give me any props for yielding, but that’s OK since neither of us asked for a dance anyways), she shoots on by me to the left. My way is now also clear, except that she’s nearer to her kerb than I am to mine, and my time is up: the evil Red Hand is now no longer Flashing but instead blazing down at me with a baleful, crimson glare. I can hear gearshifts being manipulated off to my left. The neon light in the window of my destination, the Deluxe Café, beckons promisingly yet distressingly far away up ahead and to my right.

As fast as these cars may be able to accelerate, they still have nothing on my ability to perform the indecisijig and still make a clean getaway. With a sly smile I take two quick and long strides... and I am there. Safe on the opposite kerb, the only harm that's been done has been to my ears as an obnoxious boy racer (an oxymoron if ever there was one) speeds by behind me with one of those mufflers that makes his car sound constipated at very loud volumes.

"HhhHhhnnnnnNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNnnnnnnn...." his car complains as it speeds away. Dork.

I’m now safely in the queue for Deluxe, now just a little more practised than I was before at the Indecisijig. If I keep it up, I just may be able to take this act on the road (heh). You know, if they don’t ever come up with a ‘Pedestrian Olympics’, perhaps I can finagle my way onto one of those ‘Dancing with the Stars’ shows, if not as a contestant then at least as a guest choreographer.

I can see it now: “Tonight on Dancing With The Stars, ladies and gentlemen, we have a very special competition planned for you! You will see the contestants square off not in the style of ballroom or salsa or even break dancing, but something new and fresh and vibrant! We’ve flown in a Special Master all the way from New Zealand and for the past fortnight he’s been involved in intensive instruction with all of our dancers! They’ve all frequently complained and even threatened to walk off the set, but they’re under contract so they’re screwed no matter what! Straight from the streets of Wellington, we bring you the latest and coolest trend in urban dance - the Indecisijig!”

Then, cue the crowds of people strolling by on set, the sounds of car engines gunning in the background, the Flashing Red Hand, and our first pair of competitors as they stroll inexorably towards each other from opposite ends of the stage...

These are the thoughts running through my head as I sip on my third mochaccino of the day, this time in Deluxe Cafe. It’s the best mocha by far, as from what I’ve found nobody else in town makes one as good as Deluxe does (especially by this really cute girl there) – and that ain’t an easy task, for all of the coffees I’ve had in Wellington have been nothing short of very good.

Deluxe’s food is exceptional as well, for they feature not only an eclectic variety of things (muffins with olives, tomatoes, feta and corn; tasty filos; great pizzas that are very much Chicago-style; all kinds of baked goods like cupcakes with raspberry icing, Anzac biscuits, cheesecakes; wraps with fish and rice and avocado; all kinds of paninis, etc.) but it’s always flavorful and you can tell they use the best quality ingredients. Even better: they have the best food prices of any café in town.

It doesn’t hurt that they’re right next door to the Embassy Theater, either, which not only has the biggest and best movie screen and sound system in town but also the best theater seats. On more than one occasion I've stopped off at Deluxe to kill some time before then catching a matinée at the Embassy.

I think my favorite thing about Deluxe by far, though, is its people. The crew they’ve got working there is always cool and laid-back and friendly. They have a habit of cutting out a picture from that day’s newspaper and taping it to the top of their tip cup. It’s always an inspired selection and it never fails to crack me up. They’ll usually have somebody’s face cut out and will have drawn in a word balloon and supplied their own text. I remember seeing Dubya's face taped to the top of the cup once, as well as Winston Peters' mug (he's New Zealand's Foreign Minister). There was even once a picture of the current Dalai Lama, and they had him saying something implying that you would achieve infinite wisdom simply by putting a little money in the cup. (No comment on whether or not I contributed on that day.)

Deluxe is also the place that introduced me to the Foxton Fizz, and they also display local art for sale on their walls, so I’m all about supporting anything native to New Zealand. So, as with the Lido Café and their support of the Phoenix line of drinks, Deluxe gets mad props and extra visits from me because of the way they’re keepin’ it real for the Kiwis.

Something else unique to Deluxe that I’ve not encountered quite to this degree anywhere else in Wellington is the broad range of people that choose to patronize it. It reminds me of a place back in the States in Tacoma, called Frisko Freeze, where I’ve been told that even though it’s in a seedy part of town it is widely and unofficially recognized as neutral turf. You can have people of all races, ideologies, and socioeconomic class levels – some of whom, were they not outside standing in line for a Frisko Freeze burger, would be nowhere near each other – queuing up for long lines without conflict. All for a burger. I've read on-line reviews by people who have orchestrated layovers of their flights to be in Tacoma and for long enough for them to nip out for a couple of their unique burgers, they're so good. Clearly, I need to visit this place one day.

Deluxe is quite like Frisko Freeze then in that I’ve seen a wider variety of people dropping by here for a cup of joe than I have at any other coffee joint in town. You've got students, suits, tradesmen and women, retirees, bicyclists, nerdy American bloggers, people on dates, and would probably even have some of the policy wonks from the Beehive (New Zealand's Parliament building) were it not clear on the other side of town from Deluxe.

The guys from the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra even frequent Deluxe as well, playing there Thursday mornings once in a while.

Hmm, the Ukulele Orchestra. Maybe that’s who I’ll book to come with me for when I head to that Dancing With The Stars competition...

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*As an aside, I wonder: Is this what it’s like to be an asteroid? You (the asteroid in question) are hurtling along at monumental speeds, when suddenly you see another planetary fragment zipping right towards you. You then have to do a last-minute shuffle to avoid smashing into each other and sending off a potentially disastrous bit of asteroid shrapnel, which invariably will head towards hapless planet Earth, thus spawning the creation of movies starring Bruce Willis as a commercial drill operator, shepherding a team of elite professional oil drilling cosmonauts into space to save humanity. Including Ben Affleck, no less.

No, of course it doesn’t happen with asteroids. They’re all spinning in the same direction! Duh.

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