It was early summer, 1969 and I was flying with our chopper pilot to our next project site in Ontario. Below, we spotted the rest of the crew in our huge International Harvester crew cab truck (adorned with its characteristic EM birds) turning into a service station/motel/restaurant on the Trans-Canada Highway. It was time for lunch and it would be while before we would have another opportunity to eat – rest places were few along Trans-Canada Highway.
We landed in a corner of the huge parking lot. It felt so cool to calmly remove my headset/microphone, step out of the chopper, close the door firmly with authority; and then saunter to the restaurant, hopefully under the admiring stares of impressed women. Smithy the pilot was truly calm- but then he was in his 60’s, and did not have to try and impress anybody: he was the oldest and most experienced chopper pilot in Canada at that time.
The restaurant was packed with summer tourists. The crew had found a booth big enough for the six of us. There was no doubt what I would have for lunch: a big cheeseburger and fries, with a slathering of tomato ketchup. Before I discovered real North American hamburgers I had had to make do with paltry British burgers which were very slender, tasteless versions of real burgers, rendered edible by a marinade of tomato ketchup. In several years practice in eating wimpy Britburgers I had developed a ritual: always prime the ketchup with a good shake. I was most used to ketchup in plastic containers that looked like tomatoes – a vigorous pummeling and squeezing was necessary to persuade the goo to flow.
Flush with the glory of walking from the chopper under the gaze of imagined women, I grabbed the capped ketchup bottle and shook it con brio, meantime joshing with the rest of the crew… Suddenly, the three chaps opposite were stunned silent with eyes wide and looks of amazement frozen on their faces and the clamor of the restaurant was pierced by a screaming yell in my ear. I jerked around to see a child, being burped on mother’s shoulder in the next booth, its face painted red with ketchup that had shot out of the now-open bottle I had shaken. Mother was also turned around, hair highlighted incarnadine, and looking like she would burp me too.
I had, as I wanted, won the attention of a young woman….
But I was speechless. Red-faced, chagrined, completely lacking any cool, I struggled past my giggling colleagues in the booth and spluttered to the woman: ” This is so hilarious I do not know what to say to you”, and fled to the parking lot to regain my cool. Unfortunately, by the time I had recovered my manners and wanted to redeem myself to the family with a heartfelt apology, they were gone.