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"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.

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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.

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Jorge

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Armando

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Keltie

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.

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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.

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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.

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The courtyard

Who knew we were steps away from scrappy Broadway? Think I've just discovered one of downtown's hidden gems.

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Comments

Matthew Lickona Aug. 4, 2011 @ 4:50 p.m.

Ed, this is marvelous. I ate at the Grand Central rather a bit when I lived downtown, but I never knew about that courtyard.

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Ed Bedford Aug. 4, 2011 @ 7:40 p.m.

Hi Matt: Yes. Funny what a thrill this is. It's like finding an extra treasure room in the Tutankamun tomb.

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