It’s a chilly Sunday evening and I am sweeping the leaves away from the front of my work. You can definitely tell that autumn is coming. Just as I am about to push the leaves into the street a gust of wind comes and blows them back into the burger shop. All I can do is smile and laugh about the futile situation. I have a feeling that there are many more leaves to come. Hungry customers sit under the outside heaters, shivering but looking forward to the best burgers in town. While I am not quite dressed appropriately for the cold, I still welcome the weather. I didn’t get to experience autumn or winter at home this year as I was traveling, and I am quite looking forward to it now.
Life is good in Queenstown at the moment. We are entering the “in between” moment for the seasons and things are starting to become quieter. But we’ve still got the same night life, the same backpacking energy and the same mountains that I have fallen in love with.
My job title is “fluffer” at my job. If I had a dollar for every time I have been teased for this title I would be one rich lady. If you don’t know why my name is funny….well….it’s not quite appropriate for the nature of this blog. Feel free to google it and see what you find. Not to sound completely American, but my job is pretty awesome. I guess the main point of what I do is to keep the customers happy. I clear the tables, get customers drinks when they need them, provide napkins (serviettes), keep the drinks stocked, take phone orders, take out the rubbish, and do the laundry. But the main point of my job is to keep the customers happy by initiating conversation with them. This can actually be more tiring than you would think, but I love it all the same. I get to meet people from all over the world. I watch them come in as per the recommendation of Lonely Planet, or their tour guide, or a friend and they study the menu hard for a good solid minute. They go over the names of some of the burgers, such as “Little Lamby”, “Tropical Swine”, and “Cockadoodle Oink”. It’s really fun when I take phone orders and listen to people say “I’ll have a Southern Swine, a Chief Wiggum, and a Sweet Bambi”. I’m still getting used to the New Zealand accent as I confuse such names as Jen with Jim when I write them down with the phone order. Thankfully people have been pretty patient. The atmosphere at the restaurant is intense. They cook thousands of burgers a day and the chefs truly put forth such energy to get the burgers done in a timely fashion. The shop is small and sometimes it is completely packed with people eagerly awaiting the burgers that they have heard so much about. The energy is electric and curious people will often walk by and check things out.
To my surprise, one of the most popular nationalities of our customers at the moment is American. What’s funny is that I can usually spot them out from a distance….especially the older ones. They look so cute when they come in and say in their yank accents “I’ll have a cheeseburger with some ketchup please”. It’s the first time I have heard the word ketchup in about 9 months. But I thoroughly enjoy talking with them and discovering what their impressions of New Zealand are. Most of them are having the time of their lives. They are often curious about me, picking up my accent right away and wanting to know how a young American came about to be living here. Most of them don’t know about the “working holiday” way of life here in Australia and New Zealand, although to be perfectly honest not too many Americans do it. The most awesome part about chatting with the Americans is that they leave tips, although often in American money which has now become completely foreign to me. But talking with them has allowed me to feel close to home again.
Other common visitors are from Europe, Mexico, Israel, and New Zealand as well. I have found myself in several conversations with people from Christchurch who are just traveling for a bit to get away from the stress of the earthquake. I am especially happy to see those people enjoying their burgers and time traveling around the south island.
The restaurant is open until 5 in the morning which is perfect for Queenstown. The owner of my hostel has described it as the “Vegas of the South Island” with bars on every corner and buses of backpackers appearing every day. Trust me, business can be great on a late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. As my shift comes to an end near 12 am I watch some people stumble by as they are finishing up their pub crawls. The look of satisfaction on their faces as they get their munchies fulfilled is quite amusing. Often you will see them coming in the next day to see if that same amazing burger will cure their hangover. It usually does.
And the people that I have been working with are great as well. I think only one is originally from New Zealand and most are from England, Ireland and France. I am the only American at the moment. It’s been nice to get to know people outside of my hostel. I’m ashamed to admit that after all this time being with different people and accents I still have trouble understanding some of them when they talk to me. I wish my “disabled American ears” would get a little sharper so I don’t seem as dumb. Hopefully the more I get used to people the better I will do! But they are fun people and I am looking forward to seeing theme very day.
So I used to have a career teaching math, my own car, my own flat and was an active union member. Now I work at a burger joint and am living at a hostel. And you know what? I can’t remember the last time I have been this happy. When I am done sweeping the leaves I will get the chance to take a break and sit by the lake. I’ll take in the views of the sun hitting the mountain peaks as I’ll listen to some people in the street play music for money. I’ll try to spot some of the leaves that are starting to change in the season. I will continue to enjoy one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. When work is over I will get to walk home and feel the brisk air light my skin up with goose bumps. Life is funny. You think you are supposed to go down a certain path and then something comes along that will change everything. Being rich isn‘t important. Possessions aren’t important. What is important is to follow your heart, find that place that is right for you and then do everything it takes so you can stay. I wandered the world lost for so long. Now 9 months in I am finally starting to feel found. Am I finished with my traveling? Absolutely not. But I finally feel like I have come home.