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MEMORIES WITH A SIDE OF POTATOES

4 August 2003

Perhaps Patrick's Roadhouse is a nice, rustic, out-of-the-way place to look for celebrities. I think it's fair to say that the same has probably not been said of The Pantry, located in downtown Los Angeles, near the railway station.

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This city landmark, established in 1924 and owned by Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, farily reeks of "comfort food." You can put on 5 lbs just walking by and getting a whiff of the grease.

Naturally, it's where we had breakfast this morning.

I suspect this would not have been Michael's first choice. Or possibly not his 100th choice. But when we were driving around the other day he was telling me something or other about downtown and he mentioned The Pantry and it was like being caught by a huge rubber band that zapped me back about 40 years in time.

My father worked for most of his career as a railway mail clerk. This meant that he sorted mail on the train going from San Francisco to Los Angeles. His scheduled would be to leave on, for example, a Monday evening, and work all night on the train sorting mail and tossing bags of mail off at appropriate railway stations en route.

He would get into Los Angeles on Tuesday morning and check into the Figaroa Hotel and then go to The Pantry for breakfast. Then he'd sleep, get up Tuesday night, get back on the train, and be back in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. He'd be off for two days and then do it all over again.

I don't know exactly how many years he worked on the train, but pretty much all through my childhood, until the government ended mail service by train and moved the mail by trucks and airplanes, at which time my father went into the main post office (and was so traumatized by the change that he ended up having a nervous breakdown).

All of my childhood, then, I heard tales of The Pantry. My father would sit at the counter and eat his breakfast and I guess he was noted for having catsup on everything because one time someone drew a cartoon of an overweight guy sitting at the counter at The Pantry with a catsup bottle in his hand and catsup everywhere. (I wish I knew where that cartoon is now).

So when Michael mentioned The Pantry, that was it. I had to go. And, being the generous host that he is, he agreed to take me.

By this time, Walt was also in LA, having flown down on Saturday to go to The Big Voice with us, so this morning the three of us piled into Michael's car, hit the freeway, and in half an hour or so we were turning onto Figaroa Street, right past the Figaroa Hotel, and there, a block away was The Pantry.

I was surprised at what a big deal this was for me. We had had Hotel Figuroa stationery in our house for years, and had heard tales of The Pantry for all that time. Now I was actually there.

The first thing that surprised me was that there was a long line outside the door. (Later, on our way out, I overheard someone say there is always a long line to get in--and it's open 24 hrs a day.) When we finally got in, it was obvious that this was a very no-nonsense, plain down-home cookin' kinda place.

carrott.JPG (37515 bytes)There are no menus, but the food choices ( a small selection) are on posters all over the place. The mugs are heavy ceramic. The plates are heaped high with food, and the pancakes are the size of frisbees.

They accept no checks or credit cards. It's a cash only deal, and you pay to the guy sitting in the cashier's cage at the front of the restaurant (we wondered what bars on the window of a cashier's check would realistically DO to thwart a would-be robber, but decided that it was built when times were simpler and maybe it actually was a deterrent.)

I had been so good about food all weekend, that I wasn't about to blow it now, though I was sorely tempted to have my first pancakes in a year and a half. But one of the menu choices was 1 egg with toast. Perfect. I ordered one scrambled egg with toast.

"Two eggs, potatoes and toast?" the waiter asked.

"No," I said. "ONE egg, toast, and NO potatoes."

"No potatoes?" the waiter asked.

"No potatoes," I said, emphatically.

This is what I got...

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In addition to that generous mountain of potatoes, that is also at least two eggs. You also can't really tell from this photo, but the toast was the largest hunk of bread I'd seen--and from the taste, I suspect that instead of traditional toasting, they "toast" it on a greased griddle. Is it any wonder the table had that kind of stickiness that comes from absorbing grease in the air?

I ended up eating it all (...not all the toast in this picture; that was shared among the 3 of us), figuring that I'd only been having 2 meals a day and was probably OK on points. As it turned out, the meal was so huge that it ended up being my only meal fo the day, for a light snack when I finally got home.

But I've now been to the Pantry and kind of feel like I had a brief taste of what my father's life on the road was like all thoseyears. It was kinda fun. But next time I'd rather go back to Patrick's Roadhouse and see if I can find Johnny Carson huddled in his booth by the front door.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense and the past perfect.

~Author Unknown

Today's Photo

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With Steve after The Big Voice -- see how evil he really is?

For more photos, please visit My Fotolog and My FoodLog


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