Nite Owl: Last Call Carriages From the All-Star Cafe
My head is pounding. I’d gone straight from work, to the gym, to yet another hijacked political meeting and finally a rather awkward, albeit surrealistically humorous event entitled San Francisco Political Squares. It was cute, well constructed and everyone was trying their damndest to channel Paul Lynde (or Totie Fields, for that matter), except for unfortunate Scott Wiener, who, looming at top center, came off more like Lurch. Our own, Stuart, was adorable, of course.
At any rate, after that last ill-advised shot with a friend, my stomach has now decided to devour itself. At home I mentally inventory that I have a pallid chicken breast in the icebox and a tube of anchovy paste in the pantry and from what I can see through the drizzle, the illustrious San Bruno Owl, which will ferry me to this feast divine, is nowhere in sight. Rats.
Yet, just beyond I spy a possible reprieve from this sour constitution and the inevitable slog home.
The All-Star Café occupies the northwest corner of the windiest intersection in town and what should, ironically enough, be the grand entrance in to downtown from the U.S. 101’s southern approach. Instead, in its palette of fluorescents and shadows, it’s about the loneliest, most tousled place in the city, especially at this hour. A friend lives in a studio down the street known as an afters crash pad and affectionately dubbed, “Market & Despair”, but that name seems better fitted on this block. The long hidden Carousel Ballroom sleeps above the soon-to-close Honda dealership dreaming of jitterbugs and deadheads of yore, and I look up at the long extinguished news ticker above the doughnut shop and wonder if it ever ran at all. To be honest, I’m wondering how much longer the doughnut shop will run itself, seeing as that, like it’s once famous dancehall neighbor, they both are slated to be replaced by two more glass monoliths that will kick this breezy signal stop’s afternoon gales up to hurricane force.
We often bemoan the growing loss of our dwindling midnight coffee shops but I’m curious whom beside myself and their clientele, who rely on a steady diet of sugary buns and amphetamines, will much miss the All-Star.
I walk in and know exactly what I want, which fills me with a bit of nostalgia and uneasiness. After all night cocktail-thons at a friend’s nearby abode in many years past, I often would stop here to soak up the damage just as the sun would dapple it’s judgmental rays upon me.
I’m not even sure what the dish’s real name is, but it’s a cold noodle salad of some sort that hits the spot every time with its cleansing vinegar and sesame purity….. which I promptly destroy with mouthfuls of syrupy apple fritter.
My fellow diners are an enormous ogre and his more than a little older female companion. He’s cruel and demeaning in the way that he speaks to her and she seems humiliated, but unable to walk away. She seems as though she has slept little in her days and is doing everything she can to appease this bully and curry his favour, but, who like most I’ve known, is doing his level best to make sure she feels as though she is culpable of just about everything that is wrong in this life.
It seems like San Francisco is full of bullies these days: landlords, venture capitalists, heartless developers, but, sadly, among progressives too. Egomaniacs and narcissists duking it out over their claim to this postage stamp city, while the real victims: the pocs, the workers, queers, artists, the sick, the homeless- all end up being the collateral damage.
The bully leaves and she chases after him, like so many of us have also done so many times before. I leave my spread behind. Late night eating generally makes me feel ill, but the nausea has started early this time. Self-recognition can cause tummy trouble.
I walk out into the still dark morning and traipse southward. I wish I could tell someone something, just to make sure that woman is okay. The cops? Sure, they give a shit. I hope she gets some sleep and realizes she can do better tomorrow.
The breeze settles me a tick and suddenly the walk ahead doesn’t seem so long. Just as my strength is renewed, a dark vision of an older SF I thought disappeared ambles towards me on Otis Street. I had often wondered about the relic known as the SF Jitney Bus, but had never taken it. Much like the micros in DF, when the main form of transportation had let me down, a rattling jalopy has saved me. The door opens into a lightless, phantasmic void and I board the contraption, throw some coins in a tray, and am placed in my seat by propulsion before I have a chance to second guess this decision. I look around me, and in the near pitch-black darkness, I see the dozing faces of chambermaids, night watchmen and janitors catching some winks on their way back to the Mission and points further south. I feel like a little boy on some grand adventure. Like I just snuck out of my house and am jostling off to the city on my own.
After about five minutes, I pull a cord when I see what vaguely resembles something familiar through the warped windows and am quickly expelled onto the sidewalk like Darby out of the cóiste-bodhar. Cleverness and faith saved that old codger, but noodles and luck have saved me this night. I nonetheless count my blessings and dance a jig towards bed.
The All-Star Café
1500 Market Street (@ Van Ness)
The San Francisco Jitney Bus
Supposedly runs from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., but it wasn’t anywhere close to those times.[Market Street-Mission Street-A.T. & T. Park-Moscone Center- SF Caltrain Station]