South Morang is what might be called an aspirational suburb: it may or may not exist. Up until several years ago it certainly didn't. Its very name seems to be based upon a geographical absurdity (there is no north Morang to be south of.) For some reason, Whittlesea Shire Council - which Lalor is a part of - decided to put their council chambers smack bang in the middle of this possibly-non-existent suburb. I can't quite figure that one out, but it seems likely that it is a very, very good joke that they've been having amongst themselves.
Suburbs which may or may not exist, as you might imagine, are rather good places to become lost in. Which the Baron and I did, last night. We caught the train line to the station that was not listed yet on Google maps, looking out of the windows upon the rows of suburban houses which we could not see because it was dark, and got off and promptly walked in the wrong direction while looking for evidence of a restaurant that proudly proclaimed itself - or rather, its reality - on the internet. I blame myself for using Google in the first place.
We walked by broad streets, packed with cars driving very quickly in one direction or another, along neat footpaths empty of people, next to immaculately-mown lawns devoid of weeds or trees, and past darkened council offices. We came to a looming Parthenon, festooned in lights; large posters on its side proclaimed it might be a place where we could hold a wedding, or a conference, or an opera. We continued over a watercourse into a narrower street, where houses built last year, last summer, or last week towered up at us, and we wondered whether we had taken the wrong turning down a street that didn't exist yet on the internet, or we had taken the right turning to go to a place that didn't exist anymore. Eventually we concluded that we had gone in entirely the wrong direction.
We flagged down a bus (which, rather conveniently, charged around the corner right at the point when we decided that we had gone in the wrong direction) and held a very puzzling conversation with a heavily-accented (I have no idea what accent his voice was heavy with) bus-driver who was, in turn, very puzzled by us. No, he didn't go along X Road. No, he wasn't quite sure where X Road was either. But he wasn't sure if we should be on this bus either, he turned soon, just after the station. Yes, yes, we protested, that's where we want to get off!
Eventually we were walking in the right direction towards a cafe whose existence seemed increasingly uncertain. We saw a purple sign, shining brightly on the other side of the road, and I wondered briefly whether that might be it. The Baron informed me it was an adult entertainment shop. We marched on past a fenced-off field - the original South Morang, perhaps - hung around with signs which said, ENVIRONMENTAL NO GO ZONE. And then, quite suddenly, around the corner of a rather modest-looking block of offices, we came upon it.
The 'cafe' turned out to be a cavernous hall that may originally have been intended as an an office building. A series of superfluous blue lights, blinking on and off, festooned the exterior, and to get in you had to go through a complicated system of two doors up to a main desk. We marched up to the desk and asked for a 'table for two'. (Looking out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two or three other diners scattered about the vast interior as I asked this.) The Baron said, rather kindly I thought, "sorry, we haven't booked." The guy behind the desk waved us in in the gestural equivalent of a yawn. Soon after he had dispensed with the customary courtesies (drinks, menus, etc) he went back to the table he shared with a friend, and the two commenced gossiping.
We were left sitting, rather uncomfortably, right in front of the window, in between a bare street, and row after row of customerless tables. Curiously, the empty street left me feeling as if I should be performing the part of a satisfied customer. The Baron and I did what we could to fill up the void - haggled over items on the menu, surveyed the decor of the cafe, eavesdropped in on the conversation of two others sitting conveniently close by.
At such places, of course, the price is also aspirational: you are subsidising the possibility of future customers. The meal may be wholly incidental; though, incidentally, when it came, it was also rather nice. But was it enough getting lost in a concrete Eldorado for? I suppose that all depends. Though on what it all depends, I have no idea...
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