"Meet you at Luigi's, Mission Beach," Hank hollered into his new Razr cell phone before the damned thing cut out on him. Never did catch the time. But it'll be lunch. I know the guy's circadian rhythms to the minute.
Trouble is, I'm already here. Way early. Way hungry.
Uh, yes, I'm back in Mission Beach. Something about that crazy roller coaster calls to me. The way it swoops up and down, in and out, clanking like an anchor chain. Bet that sound hasn't changed in 80 years. People probably stood here listening to it when Hoover was president, when Lindbergh was still trying out that no-window plane of his, when the first nuke went up in Nevada....
Plus, I love Mission Beach. Those little alleys and walking-only lanes with their beach cottages on either side -- Who wouldn't want to live here? The quiet. It's an experience to stop and listen.
So this mawnin' I head back from the payphone down near the sand, through one of the lanes, Island Court, to check out where Luigi's is. I pass a building with a giant bougainvillea pouring over its hooped green canopies in purple waves. Jungle's returning. Man, how Carla would love it. I come out onto Mission Boulevard. Zoom zoom! We're back in the 21st Century.
This is the off-Broadway section of Mission Beach. Not the bikinis, burgers, 'n booze crowd around the corner on Ventura Place. Here, it's places like the Get It On Smoke Shop, or another joint advertising "Best Deals, $5.99 or Less." Old guys in black leather Harley jackets yap at each other as they gun their motors. Ah. I spot Luigi's to the right. Big red, yellow, black, and white building. Blue Bud Light umbrellas outside.
But somehow, I can't face the idea of pasta, pizza, or spaghetti at this early hour. I have an idea. Across the road, next to a bike-rental place, I see this newish Spanish-style building with green umbrellas and tables on the sidewalk, and, looks like, a side patio covered in greenery. I could check out their menu and maybe eat there. If I sit outside, I'd be able to spot Hank.
The place has a new sign up: "Tropicana." I cross over and see that they've painted over the old lettering: "Drip Drop Café." The change looks recent.
Whatever, I check the menu. Yes. Breakfasts. Great.
Inside, it's mustardy yellow on the walls, maroon on the low ceiling, black-and-white tile on the floor. The place is shallow and wide, with a bunch of flat-screen computers, and, looks like, students hard at work. "Fifteen minutes, $1.00," says a sign.
They're set up for coffee and the frappo-latte-mocha-chai-smoothie stuff, but they've also got a page's listing of food. Breakfast things like Denver omelet (three eggs with ham, cheese, onions, green pepper, potatoes, pancakes, or toast) for $5.99, and bacon and eggs (three eggs, with potatoes), $6.50. Most of the items are Mexican-flavored, like the huevos con chorizo ($6.50) or the carne asada plate with rice, beans, and tortillas ($6.75).
But what's this? "Two Breakfast Tacos -- 3 eggs, bacon, cheese, corn tortillas, $6.50." I mean, who ever heard of "breakfast tacos"? Then I remember the breakout tacos of La Ermita down in Tijuana. Shrimp, pineapple, and raspberry sauce in a taco? Who knew? The world isn't just confusing, it's fusing! Tacos, burritos, pancakes, crêpes, wraps -- everything's being wrapped up. Natch, I ask for it.
I get a coffee too, $1.50 with refills, and follow the girl taking my coffee out to...oh...what a great little patio. Nice and cool. Green umbrellas, black metal-mesh tables and chairs among ferns, young palms, climbing jasmine, even a row of marigolds -- and a little fountain chuckling away, with water splotting down three levels to waiting sea lions. A couple of way-big Spanish lanterns, black metal with orange glass slits, complete the picture. In the distance, you can make out the top of the roller coaster tracks. And just over the marigolds, I can see the goings-on across the road at Luigi's. I'll be able to holler for Hank.
The guy brings out my breakfast. And, yes, it's a new idea, for sure. Two hot corn tortillas with scrambled eggs and a strip of bacon across each. Good-looking, but it needs something like Frank's sauce to give it heat. They have Tabasco and Tapatía. I splot Tapatía, then take a bite. Hmm. It's filling, but somehow not that electrifying. Have I been spoiled for unusual tacos by La Ermita?
"Isn't this exciting?" says a big guy at the next table. "I flew in from Chicago this morning. Found this place not far from my vacation rental. I feel like I'm in old Mexico."
Maybe we border folk are getting too blasé. Guess this patio could be a hacienda in, say...Puebla. Bet those lanterns are sexy as hell at night.
Plus, his and his friend's plates do look exciting. He's got huevos a la Mexicana, eggs mixed with tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and potatoes ($6.50), and his girlfriend's chowing into a grilled chicken plate, chicken breast with tomatoes, lettuce, onion, and black olives.
Sigh. Next time. Or maybe I can sell Hank on getting one of them when I haul him across the road.
That reminds me. Better keep a weather-eye out over the marigolds.