10920 Roselle Street, Sorrento Valley
It's like Brigadoon.
Sorrento Valley, I mean.
You cruise in aboard the Coaster slowly, grunting up the hills from San Diego, the rails singing more than screeching. Outside, native scrub and live-oak-tree country passes by, up close and personal. You're seeing California as it was back when 1000-pound grizzlies wandered here.
Then you lip over the top of the climb. White domes, iridescent blue-glass buildings, satellite mega-dishes pop up on hilltops ringing the valley. It's like a settlement on another planet. The train starts pussyfooting down the other side, following a little stream. You see glass palaces with names like Zybex, Biocept, Qualcomm. Then, beneath the giant legs of the 5 freeway, the Coaster glides to a halt at the stop nobody calls home. Sorrento Valley. Legions of laptoppers elbow their way out through the sliding doors, and into shuttles, heading off to make genomes, stem-cells, cell phones. Next: stem-cell phones? You stand on the platform and look up at those freeways in the sky, the 5 and 805, locking horns like a couple of dinosaurs. Meanwhile, right in front of you, a mother duck crosses the concreted patch of the valley's stream with her grown ducklings. Beyond, a volcano-shaped hill makes the single building at its base look like someone's model railroad accessory.
It's a gray- and red-tiled mini-mall.
That's it? My only hope for chow? Maybe it was a mistake to get off here. One more stop and I'da been in Solana Beach. Lots of breakfast places there. I'm stomach-clanging hungry. Heck, I just jumped on the train at the Santa Fe to get out of Dodge for a couple of hours, see some other scenery. And the Coaster is such a deal. Figured I'd find a place to break fast quick and hop on the 9:31 back, still in time for work.
So I have 45 minutes. I see a sign up for "The Grill," next to a big red canvas canopy in the strip mall. Must say, it looks like the Grill at the End of the Universe. I cross over the slow-running stream, a swift-running road beyond, then up some stepping stones.
Aha. Yes. It says "breakfast and lunch" on the front window. Inside's one big white-walled room. Phil Collins strains for the high notes on the smooth jazz station. You notice first that no one's actually eating. They're all in the kitchen, hard at work, preparing all sorts of food.
"We're getting ready for lunch," says a gent who's doing figures at a cash register on the smoky-blue counter. James. It's been his place for the last six months. "Lunch is when we really get busy."
I ask James what's good for breakfast. "Breakfast burrito," he says. "It has cheese, hash browns, egg, bacon, and ham or sausage, $2.99. Or," he says, "the breakfast pita's pretty much the same thing, same price."
Well, hey, that price is right. He hands me a menu. I plonk myself at one of the salmon-colored Formica-top tables. The chairs are black plastic. Floor's, like, pastel-toned tiles. A few ivy plants and ferns hang from the white acoustic ceiling. Kinda bare-bones, but I bet all those biotech worker-bees are already dreaming of lunchtime, leaving their billion-dollar viruses and robots and chowing into something real down here, like a $4.99 gyros or $6.20 Philly cheesesteak.
I'm scanning the menu. The breakfast deals continue. One egg with two bacon or sausage, hash browns and toast are $2.99. Three eggs with three strips of bacon or three sausage links or a "sirloin beef patty" go for $5.49. A three-egg cheese omelet is only $3.99.
I end up following James's advice and basically go for the breakfast pita with an extra side of hash browns ($1.00). And a coffee ($1.16).
Now here's what gets me liking this guy: I'm doing my usual dither in the multiple-choice section. Can't decide between ham or sausage in the pita.
"Would you like both?" says James.
"Uh, sure -- Same price?"
"Of course. Or would you like bacon?"
"Or would you like bacon as well?"
"Of course. A little less of each, but it'll fill you. Don't worry."
Heck, how can you beat that? As I'd guessed (from the gyros on the menu), James is originally from Greece. He doesn't go back to Athens much anymore, though. "I have changed. I can't understand their attitudes. Now I go, I fight with my family all the time, defending America. People in Europe don't like Americans. Now I feel like a tourist when I go."
Man, I feel like a tourist just coming this far north of San Diego. But it's worth it, if only to clap your peepers on new vistas. Like out this window, hills, hawks (or vultures?) circling over some high-tech palazzo, streams, bridges, coyote trails. Plus, it's funny to think of all the far-out ideas fermenting right now in those buildings scattered around us, in this strange valley of futurologists.
Oops. James has to get ready for his mad two hours of lunch. I've gotta make trax too. That ol' southbound Coaster's about to come whistling in. I get the last half of my pita breakfast packed to go.
I make my dash for the tracks, take two minutes to decipher the Coaster's damned Ticket Machine from Hell, and jump in just as the guard calls, "All aboard!"
Now we're headed for a town called San Diego. Sorrento Valley's great and all, a kind of Brigadoon, but a Brigadoon with -- who knows? -- stem cells and viruses escaping from all those labs. Probably why nobody lives up there. Still, what a deal, James's $2.99 breakfast. I settle in for the ride -- and the remains of my ham-sausage-bacon pita...