As I write this post, I'm sitting on a wall in Tempe, AZ. It's a funky, studenty district of Phoenix, dotted with great little shops, a couple of chains, some fun food places and a marvellous store called Old Town Books who've just sold me a copy of The Playboy Gourmet for $13 after mentally calculating the sales tax and writing the receipt by hand.
I'm also slightly regretting the last burger but it might be some time before I get to enjoy a Five Guys again: this wall in Tempe is pretty much my last 'stop' before I fly back home. In my vague defence, it means I won't have to eat on the plane, I went for the 'Little Burger' option (a single patty), shunned 90% of the bun, didn't order fries and had already undertaken the vow to diet hard during November. The case-building falls apart, however, when you consider in the hour before Five Guys I'd had a great mixed ice cream (caramel, apple and pumpkin and cinnamon ice creams with added Graham Cracker crust and chocolate chips) at Sparky's Old Town Creamery and - sorry colon - the apparently ironically-named 'medium' option at a new chain (well, for me) called, not inappropriately, Fatburger. Both were what you'd expect from a mid-range US burger outlet: freshly prepared, beefy, dense, well-charred and utterly delicious (if a little under-seasoned: thank you very much US salt police).
While I stand by my earlier theory that much of the enjoyment of such a handheld snack is the location and setting - being in America makes me happy, good burgers make me happy, the combination of the two makes me very happy - you can't help but wonder why we don't get this quality of mainstream burgers in the UK. There is the separate issue of local food culture, of course, and I'd also argue my support of that until I'm blue in the face. I'm not one for 'authentic' - I think I've made that clear before - and stand by my flippant response of hoping there's a blogger / writer in Bangkok attempting to hunt down Thailand's best pork pie. That's often greeted with the responses along the lines of 'why would they want to do that when their local food is so good?' to which I can reply with an exasperated 'exactly!'
Er... I digress. I'll expand on this at a later date - or ramble on in a pub about it some time. Again. My 'quest' isn't for 'authentic' though: it's the quest for 'delicious' and a sense of the sheer enjoyment of food.
On this trip, even when things haven't been delicious (a piece of deep fried rattlesnake springs to mind) they've always been enjoyable, thanks to the setting, the weather and, most of all, the impeccable company. I often get a little maudlin on the last day of holiday or one of these trips, as there's a sense of reality creeping back in and that feeling is far more intense with this trip than with most. Last Sunday, we were a bunch of strangers brought together by fate (and the Arizona CVB). This weekend, as we head back to our homes in the UK, Corsica, Montreal and Germany, it's a group of, I hope, genuine, long-term, proper friends saying a heartfelt goodbye.
So, dear general reader, I hope you'll indulge me (and Team Arizona will forgive me for any omissions) as I raise an imaginary glass (and throw in an in-joke or two) to the impeccable company of Peter, Claire, Nadia, Caroline, Marina and the violent Laura: whatever Adele may reckon, however many times a day, I don't think I could ever find someone like you...
And Kara, Marjorie, Jackie, Scott, Jerry and, particularly, the legendary Curt. Massive thanks for your enthusiasm, company, organisational skills and all-round loveliness: I'd whoop a little and high five the lot of you but, as we've established, that's not going to end very impressively...
I regularly say you can slap me if I ever appear to be taking my life and career for granted (and that's a general invitation to anyone out there). If I ever appear to have taken last week for granted, I'd probably deserve to be shot too. Cheers all. You - and Arizona - have been incredible.