Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Secret Courtyard at the Y
"I fly," she says. "Airbus."
She's sitting two down at the counter, waiting for her veggie omelet ($8.95).
"Wow," I say. I've ordered a crispy corn flake French toast ($7.95). "Flight attendant?"
She pauses just a moment. Enough for me to see what's coming.
"Pilot," she says.
Oh, Lord. Fell right into that one. Foot-in-mouth disease. Male stereotyping of females. Just the presumption.
"God. Sorry. You must have been fighting that your whole career," I say.
"Pretty much. You just learn to roll with it."
Her name's Keltie. Flies for United. Usually comes to eat at this place when she's flying into SAN.
Keltie at the counter
This is the place I walk past 300 times a year and never even notice, the Grand Central Cafe. Thirty-year-old eatery (at least) in the 87-year-old downtown YMCA (500 West Broadway, near Santa Fe Depot, 619-234-2233).
She flies the A-320. "Flying it compared with, say, a Boeing 737 is like driving a Cadillac versus an MG. The 737's the MG."
Armando and Jorge, who are working the counter, bring Keltie's omelet. They've given her extra veggies because they know that's her thing.
This beautiful old room, with wooden splay-back chairs and arches everywhere, seems to be that kind of place. Everyone who's made it up the baker's dozen steps from the street feel like they've joined a club.
Me, too. Plus, I accidentally walked through to a beautiful old courtyard with tables and umbrellas. "Can I eat there?" I ask Armando.
"No, but if you order your meal to go, it's not a problem," he says.
Uh, right. You can see this is a bit of no-man's-land between Grand Central and the Y.
Whatever. I order my French toast to go.
So when it comes, go I must. I say bye to Keltie, and head out into the patio to make a sweet mess among the potted palms. Those cornflake French toast slices are crunchy and drown happily in syrup. My large coffee ($1.86, free refills) sets it off perfectly.
Who knew we were steps away from scrappy Broadway? Think I've just discovered one of downtown's hidden gems.
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