San Diego 'It's a Monroe," says Rosemary.
The little stud above her right upper lip glints in the early afternoon light. Fits with her hot pink hair.
"Yeah. Right where Marilyn Monroe had her beauty spot."
Oh, roger. The piercing must have hurt like hell, but I gotta admit, it looks great....'Course anything would look great on Rosemary. Or on Mallory (brown hair in a cute side-angled bob), or Amber (blonde with brighter yellow streaks), or Natalie (hair: red, caramel, violet, and brown, with green -- "No," she corrects me, "aquamarine" -- makeup around the eyes).
The only thing the same on the four of them is that they're all dressed in black.
"Our uniform," says Rosemary. "We're at Paul Mitchell. The School." She points. "See? Just over the road there."
The whole table is a, like, tableau. It spells glossy-mag, glam, Paris runway, "hot" couture, as Carla calls it. Who knew?
But hey, this is just a sandwich shop. Blah part of town, bottom of Banker's Hill, residential hotels, barbers' colleges, antique shops, parking lots.
And yet every time I come past this place, tucked into the old Sandford Hotel, I wonder: how come it's always full of people -- kids, mostly, like 18, 20 years old, buzzing about like they were at the school café? But not only. There's usually a posse of old folk too. From the hotel, probably. And hey, the old folk seem to be talking with the young folk. Could it be -- shock, awe! -- generations actually like to mix here?
The inside is white, with black tables and red chairs. That's not what you notice, though, not with the Paul Mitchell crowd filling the space.
I mosey up to the counter just as Al is coming out from behind it.
"The birthday girl!" he says. He goes over to Natalie. "How old?"
"Alright. Lunch is on the house."
"Thanks, Al, but I brought my own. That okay?"
Of course it's okay. "These girls are a real eyesore," he says. "I have to live with it, every day."
"I just had my first client," says Mallory. "Does that rate?"
Al sighs. He's the owner, had this deli-sandwich shop 10 years, since his mid-20s. He called it BB's after his beloved grandma. "'BB' was her nickname," he says. "Her real name was Rosemary -- just like Rosemary here."
"This is our second home," this Rosemary says. Her Monroe spot glints. She's finishing up a "5th Avenue" sandwich. The counter menu-board says it's turkey, roast beef, bacon, and cheddar. One of the "deluxe" sandwiches. They're all $5.35 ("regulars" are $4.45).
"Actually," says Al, "I give them all a 20-percent break, the students, and the old people from the Sandford. This is kind of their local."
I see a couple of other Paul Mitchell gals eating soup. Carole and Janet. Deep in a conversation about the trouble with men. It's the soup of the day. Veggie. Smells good. They've got the 16-ounce, $3.39. (A 12-ounce is $2.49.)
"You can get a half sandwich," Amber says. "We do all the time. About three bucks."
Except I'm pretty hungry by now. "Uh, what's going to fill me the most for the least?" I ask Al.
He pauses. "Hmm. Like bacon? Avocado?"
"Heck, yes. You thinking of the BLT with avo?" I see it's a "deluxe." Comes with toasted anything, from onion bun to French roll to wheat or rye.
"Well, no," says Al. "If you're hungry, you need BB's Special," says Al. "That's got BLT plus turkey. Or the 5th Avenue. BLT plus turkey and beef. And if you get the special, you get a 16-ounce fountain drink and a pack of chips. That should fill you."
The West Coast Sub looks well-stuffed, too. Ham, salami, bunch of cheeses.
Or the Chicken Supreme, "marinated chicken breast," with provolone, avo. "Have the Chicken Club," says Veronica. She's standing behind me, waiting for me to make up my mind. "That's got BLT and the chicken. Tastes really good, and it's so healthy."
But in the end, grandma wins out. I order BB's Special plus the $1.50 chips and drink special, and hand over $6.85 plus tax (makes it $7.26). I pick out a bag of Big Grab Sun Chips Multigrain "Harvest Cheddar" chips, get an iced tea at the fountain, and go back to sit with the girls. Note to Carla: Sweetheart, place this size, it's hard not to. Note to self: You're over 30, man. To these kids, that's one step from the Sandford.
I ordered the BB's Special on wheat, toasted. It's great, but believe it or not, too much food. All around, the talk's flying. "Why Paul Mitchell?" Rosemary's answering someone's question. "I mean, it's not cheap. It can cost, like, $20,000 for the eleven-month course. But after that, you've got job security. You can make $20, maybe even $80 an hour...the name Paul Mitchell...anywhere in the world."
Mmm. Sandwich is fine. Plenty of bacon and avo. That's the main thing. All your sprouts, too, plus thick-sliced toasted wheat bread.
"I want to assist in a salon," says Natalie.
"I want to do runway hair," says Rosemary. "You can do wilder styles. I'd like to go to Europe."
"We'd all like to go to Europe," says Natalie.
Al's happy right here. "I'm Armenian. Born in Baghdad. Left when I was two. The last few years have been the best of my life. And this area is growing. Government offices, residentials, Banker's Hill, an Antiques Row developing around us. Then the Paul Mitchell school came, the barber's college too. We've become kind of their social center.
My sandwich is too much. "So," I say to Amber, as Al wraps the second half for me to go. "What would you do with me, my hair, to, like, really make me look cool?"
Amber looks me up and down for a moment. "I'd send you to the gym for four months to work out, then we'd take it from there."