12169 Woodside Avenue, Lakeside
Rose turns her back on me. She picks up the phone.
“Hello? No, I don’t see him.”
She puts the phone down. “I can’t tell a lie,” she says. “I’m telling the truth! If I face the wall, I don’t see them. They probably already said, when they were leaving, ‘I’m just going to the Neighbor’s.’ So they were telling the truth too.”
That’s what this place is called. “The Neighbor’s.” Rose is demonstrating how to handle domestic “situations.” We’re sitting around the curve of this P-shaped bar — me, Hank, Criket, Charlie, Bob, John, Sue, Lee, chewing fat and downing a couple of beers. And chewing more fat.
“I live in Santee, but my horse is here in Lakeside,” Criket says. She’s ex-Army. Sergeant. First Class. “I ride here sometimes.”
“In Barstow, we kids always rode to the dances,” Charlie says. “So getting home wasn’t a problem. And at the end of the evening the girls had their horses too.”
“Was that good or bad?” Hank asks.
Man, this place is such a find. Hank and I stopped in here at, like, fourish, this Tuesday afternoon, before heading down the hill to Diego. I was the one who noticed the little shingle-roofed pub attached to the end of a forgettable strip mall. The pub owners must have stuck the wood shingle on to give it a bit of personality. But mainly, I noticed its blue-and-yellow sign. “The Neighbor’s Pub & Grub.” Sounded perfect.
So we get inside, just as Rose the bar lady is talking about Sunday lunches going for…three bucks. I think, three bucks?
Charlie nods. “That’s why I moved up here. Everything is cheaper, people are friendlier, the town is quieter — and we’ve got this place, and Rosie, to come to.”
Rose, who’s Lee the postal carrier’s wife, says she’s been working behind this bar for 17 years.
Huh. Hank slurps on his Michelob draft Amber Boc ($2.50). God, it looks delicious. He swears he’s only having one, since he’s driving. The incredible thing is these beers cost almost more than the food. I mean, yes, the chow’s homey, but the prices are downright fire-sale. We check the “Grub Menu.” Cheeseburger’s $3.50, BLT’s $3, ham-and-cheese sandwich is $3, hot link’s $2.50, hot wings are $3.50, tuna sandwich is $3, and ye old corn dawg goes for $2. Oh, and a bowl of chili for $2.50. The most expensive thing, the one I’m just about to ask Rose for, is the pork tenderloin sandwich, $4.50. But, too late. Hank’s in like Flynn.
“I’ll have the pork,” he says. He looks at me. “What?”
Guess I have an expression on my face.
“You have it too,” says Rose. “I’ve got enough.”
“Never,” I say. “Principle.”
“Well, do you like meat loaf?” Rose asks. “I could get you some meat loaf and peas.”
Sounds good. And when I hear it’s gonna cost me, uh, $2.50, it sounds unbelievably good.
“Guess I’ll have some fried mushrooms too,” says Hank. They’re on the extras bit at the bottom of the menu card, $2.50. “And can you do a salad?”
“Sure, I can rustle you up some salad,” says Rose.
There’s no mention of salad on the menu. But five minutes later, she comes out from the kitchen carrying a full, blue cardboard plate loaded with the pork sandwich, the salad — lettuce and cut-up tomatoes and sliced cucumbers in a kind of vinaigrette — plus a pile of breaded, deep-fried mushrooms. Not long after, my blue plate arrives, with crumbled meat loaf, a nice heap of peas, a bun, and pots of butter. It’s hot, hearty, soothing. I grab a couple of Hank’s mushrooms. Mmm. Good. Okay, Hank says one of his is still cold in the middle, but he won’t ask Rose to warm it up. He knows she would.
“Naa. She’s too busy right now.”
Instead, Hank challenges me to a 50-cent game of pool. I whup him — heh heh — get three lucky lies and sink ’em all. Then I’m back chowing meat loaf and jawing with Charlie, and he’s telling about being a kid in Barstow, son of a locomotive engineer. “My grandfather was one too, and my great-grandfather,” he says.
Wow. I’m dreaming steam, cow catchers, cowboys, the sounds of those ancient whistles blowing into the big-sky Barstow night.
And then John’s telling me how Charlie here spent 21 years in submarines, and years in a North Korean POW camp. Plus John himself and his brother were Marines with two-tour Vietnam records. “We’re redneck military here,” says Criket. ’Course, she’s an Army of One among this gang of Navy and Marine vets. “Seriously,” she says, “these are good people. We’re always having potlucks for someone who needs food, or medicines they can’t afford. It’s family, a little community.”
Criket (her sister called her that because she was always jumping about) says it’s no problem riding her horse Spot (he’s a black-and-white pinto) down this avenue. “That’s what’s so great about Lakeside,” she says. “You still can.”
It’s only now that I notice one wall is made of brick, and about half the bricks have been painted with messages. “You pay $5 and you can put what you want on it,” says Rose, as I get the bill. Lordy. Hank’s salad was only $1.50.
Criket shows me a tribute brick she did to her dad, another for friends who didn’t make it back from war. “Come by Saturday for karaoke,” says Rose. “Or Sunday, for that Sunday special meal. We lay it on.”
Man, nothing I’d rather do.
“You know the only thing missing?” I say to Hank. “Couple of nags. Then we could stay all night, get drunk as skunks, just climb on board, let ’em take us home.
“You been watching too much Lonesome Dove, son,” says Hank. “Or is it Comanche Moon this time?”
The Place: The Neighbor’s Pub and Grub, 12169 Woodside Avenue, Lakeside, 619-561-8890
Type of Food: Pub grub
Prices: Cheeseburger, $3.50; BLT, $3; ham-and-cheese sandwich, $3; hot link, $2.50; hot wings, $3.50; tuna sandwich, $3; corn dog, $2; bowl of chili, $2.50; pork tenderloin sandwich, $4.50; daily specials, e.g., meat loaf, veggies, bun, around $3
Hours: 9:00 a.m.–midnight Monday–Thursday; till 2:00 a.m. Friday–Saturday
Nearest Bus Stop: Woodside and Prospect