April 23, 2003




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Cheap Eats
by Dan Leone

Dull and duller

SITTING HERE AT the counter in Ed's Diner, downtown South San Francisco, smack dab between Crawdad's on her way to Brazil for a week and Gravy's is closed. I'm really feeling the fluorescence, man, sitting here staring at flats upon flats of these bright white white egglike things. What are those? That was the first thing I thought when I saw them. Not breakfast. Not even eggs.

What are those? –In my defense, it's more like lunchtime. I was entirely on top of what that burger was, sizzling on the grill there. Still, it's true I've become dumb and dull, maybe because I'm a farmer. Maybe complicated by the fact that I haven't slept in about a week. I've got one of those lingering no-good coughs that only kicks in whenever you try and lie down flat or close your eyes. Plus I threw my back out throwing flowers at Haywire's and Salwire's car as they were driving away toward Brooklyn. So I can't exactly get comfortable sitting up, either.

On the bright side, the War Is Over, according to the two cops in the big booth behind me, who seem to have memorized all the headlines on all the newspapers down at Ed's Newsstand in order to recite them to each other over omelettes.

"U.S. Mop-Up Begins," says one.

"Major Combat Over," says the other.

Fuck Baghdad, man, Gravy's is closed. Did you hear what I said?

Let's fuck bad backs and dry hacks, too, while we're at it. General dumbness and dullness be damned, it just ain't right, little old me complaining about my own personal stupid little problems at a time like this, in the shadow of this one massively disastrous apoco-tragic personal problem: namely, where am I going to get my fried chicken and seafood combos and fried oyster po'boys? Did you hear what I said? Gravy's is gone.

Gone. Gone.

Here comes my chicken-fried steak ($6.50). Hold on a second. I'll be right back.

You know, before I was a farmer, I was all over Ed. If I never wrote about Ed's Diner, it was only because I never knew it existed. I did write about Ed's Bait and Realty, Ed's Used Tires, Ed's Better Hair, Ed's Highway Robbery Produce, Ed's Vintage Smut, Ed's Fuel, and Ed's This That and Other Things. I wrote poems and stories about Ed. Ed in the Universal Ed sense of Ed.

I've even been to downtown South San Francisco once or twice, cruising Grand Street, looking for good places to eat. Looking, in fact, for Ed's Diner. Musta missed it.

Check this out: on the back wall, before you go in through the dirty dishes to where the bathrooms are, there's an official document, framed and signed and sealed and everything, titled "Proclamation." And the proclamation beginneth, "Whereas a city is made up of people" ... then there are a couple of other Whereases, but I skimmed over those to the last paragraph, where I expected to find some sort of commendation or award, or summary, at least, and instead it was just a bunch of names, such as, "Dave, Cheryl, Tom, Timmy, Alice"....

But you know what names are. Anyway, I couldn't linger too long over the document, let alone take any notes, because someone wanted to sit in that last booth there, under it.

I remember seeing "Red." No Ed, though. No Ken, either.

Only other artistical touches, other than your standard Ed's Diner-issue copper pan clock, are pictures of San Francisco. Not South San Francisco. San Francisco.

After lunch I had to drive by Gravy's, because I'd heard the sad news via e-dagger-through-the-heart, and remember what happened a couple weeks ago when I thought that Bobby's Back Door Barbecue was closed until I went there and discovered that, well, it actually was closed, but it had already reopened as basically the exact same place, called T's Back Door (or "B's," or some fucking letter's)?

So I was clinging to the unreasonable thread of hope that Gravy's would still be there, open as ever, with all Gravy's stuff on the menu, only now it would be called Grease's, or Gumbo's, or something.

Nope. There's a For Lease sign in the window, an open freezer on the floor behind the door, the video game, couple of sad, abandoned tables with abandoned tablecloths. And someone must have seen a crumb of fried chicken skin on one of them, because the door was all bashed in and busted.

Still, we find some way to get out of bed in the morning! Or you do, at any rate. I don't even bother getting into bed anymore.

As for Ed's chicken-fried steak and Ed's mashed potatoes and Ed's vegetables and Ed's dinner roll and Ed's vegetable beef soup ... nothing special. Or in other words: perfect.

Ed's Diner.
348 Grand, South San Francisco. (650) 624-9166. Mon.-Sat., 6 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun., 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Takeout available. Beer. MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible.

Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).