A whole weekend fuelled by Vietnamese iced coffee, freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice and love …
Last year, I volunteered for a couple of shifts pulling a rickshaws, Bennie joining me for one of them.
This year, we are up for way, way more.
As much as we can get, in fact.
Well, our continuing adventures with Consider The Sauce and projects such as The Westies: Dishes of Distinction and the CTS Feasts are only strengthening our commitment to and love for the west, its food and its people.
As well, this year the Rickshaw Run is being co-ordinated by our great pal and partner in the Westies, Lauren Wambach of Footscray Food Blog.
We’ve been eagerly anticipating this night and the days ahead for many weeks.
Getting set for the first night.
Several months before RR14, Lauren had suggested I would be perfectly suited for the role of meeter-and-greeter at our guests’ first stop – D&K Live Fish for fresh oysters.
And so it was agreed.
Turning up at about 5pm after my regular (paying) gig, I take in the scene and then get busy familiarising myself with my job.
Lemons, napkins, time schedule, touching base with David of D&K, oysters … tick, tick, tick, tick tick!
Am I nervous?
Only a little – the simple truth is can’t wait to get into it.
Maribyrnong mayor Grant Miles gives rickshaw pointers on opening night.
And then it’s on!
I handle my first group, and then another, and then another – and so the night unfolds sweetly and with intense pleasure.
I find I am getting a real kick out of sending our guests on their way with smiles all round.
I develop a spiel that takes in the western suburbs, their many marvels and their incredible food, with plugs for the Westies awards as I go.
My first group at D&K make short work of their oysters.
I soon discover that in each group of eight, there are some who oyster and some who don’t.
I let them sort it out for themselves.
A week or so before the run, Lauren had tipped me that a group from my NZ hometown of Dunedin would be passing my way.
But that is meant to be on Sunday arvo.
So I am utterly gobsmacked by what happens halfway through Friday night.
There I am, settling into my “welcome to the Rickshaw Run” groove and happily entertaining a wonderful group of gorgeous gals.
Then, with the conversation being focused on oysters, one of them asks me: “Have you ever had Bluff oysters?”
Here’s how the conversation unfolds:
Me: “I’m Dunedin born and bred – of course I’ve had Bluff oysters!”
She: “So are we!”
She: “We’re all from Dunedin!”
Then unfolds a fabulous conversation and gales of laughter.
From the left, Pip Gardner, Nicole Hesson, Maureen Williams, Sheryl McCammon, Barbara Anderson, Kenny, Alison Glendining and Karen Dalzell.
All of these women are about the same age as me, and the degree of separation between them and myself in terms of connections between friends, family and business is way below six degrees.
Here’s more conversation with the same chick, Barbara, who asked me about Bluff oysters:
Barbara: “So King’s High School – did you know Geoff Anderson?”
Kenny: “Yep – he was pretty much in the same class as me all through high school. His old man was deputy principal. He was a cranky old bugger!”
Barbara: “I married his son!”
Cue more uproarious laughter …
(Confession: My somewhat jaundiced memory of my high school years paints all the King’s High School staff – including those who were young and female – as “cranky old buggers”!)
Thank you, beautiful Dunedinites – I loved meeting you. Where were you in my teenage years?
In the meantime, my newly teenaged son has been having a ball and making himself useful at the same time.
He’s bonded with Duncan at Toh’s Bakery and is stepping right up in terms of serving the Rickhshaw Run guests banh khot as they listen to the fabulous drummers of Wadaiko Rinko Noriko Tadano.
As Friday night winds down, we head to Sen for a feed with our similarly ecstatic fellow volunteers.
Then it’s home for some well-deserved sleep before arising and doing it all over again.
Fronting on Friday, I had been tired from a hard day’s work and wondering how I was going to get through the Rickshaw Run night.
By the end of it, I’m outrageously high on natural love juices.
I struggle to bed down for the night – and I’m not alone.
Lauren texts me in the morning: “I took ages to go to sleep!”
I get there eventually, despite the racket emanating from our next door neighbours’ party and their hideous taste in music.
It’s fabulous to return to the scene on Saturday morning and watch our wonderful event unfold as the Saturday Footscray street similarly comes to life.
I happily swing into action at the “oyster bar”.
By this time, I am embellishing my spiel with tales of events and people who have already passed my way.
As well, depending on the group, I am finding there is sometimes a lot of interest in food blogging, how it works and my own personal journey.
Adding to the fun and colour are periodic episodes involving some Footscray locals who think they know a good thing when they see it.
On several occasions I am obliged to explain that, no, the oysters are not for general public consumption and are actually part of a paid, ticketed event!
Rickshaw passengers Tony and Rosa are offered sweet treats from their own business!
With the lunch rush over, I am able to wander around a bit and take in the greater Rickshaw Run picture.
For a lucky few groups on Saturday afternoon, their journey includes the impromptu generosity of canoli, beignet and biscotti from Cavallaro’s.
Then it’s time for us to go on our own Rickshaw Run.
I had been somewhat reluctant about this, seeing as both of us have been having such a swell time in our volunteer roles.
But we’re food bloggers, too, and duty calls … and the truth is we are looking forward to a yummy break and seeing life from the other side of the rickshaw.
We have a real nice time with Kylie, Gee, Sean, Paula, Jenni and Temple.
We are delighted to be hauled around by our good friend Jane.
As with all other Rickshaw Run punters, our adventure includes making our own rice paper rolls at Sen and hu tieu soup noodles at Phong Dinh.
As the day’s oyster action winds down, Lauren summons me to Sapa Hills for the dinner shift.
There’s a bottleneck of rickshaws happening.
Sapa Hills is mad busy so there is only one table available for Rickshaw Run purposes.
A suitably assertive marshal is required.
To my surprise, I find I enjoy this role, too!
It’s simple – explain to the guests what the situation is and that they have precisely 20 minutes from the time they are seated to enjoy their bun cha ha noi, charcoal grilled pork with vermicelli and herbs.
After I’ve done my best to make everyone involved in the flow of what is, after all, a glorified progressive dinner, things move along nicely.
Long and his crew do their bit by making sure the food is on the table pretty much as soon as their guests are seated.
There is one group, though, that is uncomfortable with being given instructions and perhaps even with the whole Rickshaw Run arrangement.
One member of this group gives me a “death stare” of epic proportions.
That’s OK, lady – I love you, too!
Out on the street and during this logjam, I witness a truly heartwarming scene.
As four rickshaws and their passengers await their tasty time in Sapa Hills, I see all eight guests deeply engaged in conversation with their haulers, who include our friend Georgia.
No way could this be defined as “killing time”!
We give the volunteer meal session at Sen a miss and head for home once more, tired but very, very happy.
Sunday dawns beautiful, sunny and just right for a whole lot more of the same.
Today the rickshaw haulers are to include a beefy, friendly bunch from the Footscray Rugby Union Club.
At the “oyster bar”, I have long since done away with asking people their names. But I do persist with finding out from whence does every individual customer come.
They come from all over Melbourne – and in terms of the west, I am surprised how many emanate from West Footscray and Williamstown.
They come from all over, actually. From New Zealand, of course, and quite a few from Britain.
But it is only with my second last group that I meet my first North Americans – and even they’re Aussie residents.
Halfway through our final day, I find my own passion and enthusiasm completely unflagging.
But Bennie is starting to feel a little jaded and bored.
So I am grateful to Lauren’s hubby, Paul, for whipping him away for a few hours to be in another place with other faces.
Hot food at the Croatian Club, if you don’t mind!
My expected post-oyster Sapa Hills duties fall through on account of there being another ultra-keen volunteer raring to go.
And it’s too early to wait around to enjoy the camaraderie of the Sen volunteer shebang.
So it’s over for us.
A week or so before Rickshaw Run 2014, I became involved in some undignified dickering over the placement of the CTS logo relative to others on the official event T-shirt.
The matter was easily resolved.
But I later reflected on the episode with dismay, horror and revulsion.
It was a glimpse of the sort ego-driven ambition that sometimes made monsters of myself and my colleagues in our big-time newspaper days.
I don’t want to go down that road again.
So I am profoundly grateful to the Rickshaw Run and all who sailed upon her for a timely reminder of what it should be all about.
I loved every single minute of it and enjoyed meeting with and talking to so many wonderful people from all over the west, Melbourne, Australia and the world.
The photographs below constitute by far the biggest ever pic spread attempted on Consider The Sauce.
They are published in chronological order as our one night and two days of the run unfolded.
As I actually had a job to do and there were simply so many people and events going on all the time, I unhappily dispensed with the idea of taking names for captions.
This Sapa Hills vegetarian alternative – eggplant done in the same way as is frequently accorded chicken ribs and calamari – was the best dish of the weekend for me!