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Off Base Bar

9522 Miramar Road, Miramar

Oh, man. It's hot, and I need a drink. I'm up here about a job. A one-week affair helping clean up a warehouse -- could be some surplus furniture in it for me. Been walking miles, along one side of the Marines' Miramar airbase. Tomcats, choppers whoosh and clatter around the sky as I head into this totally forgettable strip mall. "The Filling Station," says a sign over a bar wedged into the corner. Wow. Looks like the ideal place to bring your novia, knowing you'd know, like, no one.

Not that I'd be alive today if I ever tried that on the lovely Carla. Can just see her sniffing my shirt for evidence, looking me straight in the eye, waiting for me to blink.

I shudder as I swing through the doors.

Man, it's dark in here. But slowly, I make out the tables and chairs, three pool tables, purple walls, orange walls. Out-of-state license plates. And signage.

I'm on a drinking team that has a pool problem.

When I feel athletic I go to a sports bar.

And here's a good one: No Shooting Within City Limits. It's metal, riddled with rusting bullet holes.

Seems I'm the only person here, though. Must be that time of day. Around three. Except for Katrina, behind the counter. She's blonde. Li'l tummy's exposed with the lowrider jeans. Big attractive eyes shine out in the half-light.

"Uh, do you have food?" I ask.

That's not why I came in, but guess I've gone onto autopilot.

"Sure," Katrina says. She points to a list on the back wall. Looks like a bunch of hot sandwiches, burgers, Philly cheesesteaks. I slide onto a stool.

"Something to drink?" Katrina asks.


"Uh, no," she says. "Afraid not."

"Iced tea?" I'm trying hard to ignore the dripping Buds ($2.25) in the cooler.

Katrina goes out back to look, comes in shaking her head. "Sorry. Not that either. How about soda?"

I get a Coke ($2.00).

"And you'd like something to eat?" she asks.

At just this moment a guy walks in. "What a day," he says, dropping onto a stool. "Nothing's falling right. Gimme a beer, sweetheart. And meatballs. Your famous meatballs. I need comfort food."

I follow his eye to the whiteboard. Everything up there's a sandwich, too, one kind or another. "Lunch menu," it says. "All $5.99."

"It's the dinner menu, too," Katrina says.

"Can you put ESPN on?" Mike says.

Katrina reaches up and flips the channels.

"You dish here?" Mike asks.

"Uh-huh. Can't seem to find it, though."

"Well, whatever. Noise. Just something that makes noise," Mike says.

I'm still working on the menu. Cheeseburger. Meatball, Philly cheesesteak, BBQ rib, grilled chicken breast, chicken Caesar salad. Then they have all the straight sandwiches like ham, turkey, roast beef, with Swiss, American, or cheddar cheese.

Oh, and a bunch of appetizers. French fries for $1.75, taquitos ($2.75), onion rings ($3.50), mozzarella cheese sticks ($3.85), zucchini sticks ($3.75), chicken nuggets ($3.75), and macaroni and cheese ($3.50).

"Guess I'll have the barbecue rib," I say, as a second guy wanders in.

"Well, if it isn't my favorite gal," he says, sitting down at the end stool.

"Well, if it isn't my favorite customer," says Katrina. She brings a Bud over and reaches across to give him a big hug.

"This is our time," says the guy, Shorty. "Whole bunch of us regulars come in between three and seven. Shell, Doc, Doug, Mike, AJ, Patrick, Trevor the Brit, Jeff, Wayne, Duane, Jim...we used to be in two groups, us over there -- 'Perverts Corner' -- and 'Liars' Corner' here. Now we're all over here. The 'Lying Perverts.' "

Shorty helps run a window installation business around the corner. "This has become a real nice pub. In the bad old days it was, like, a stripper joint. But now Jim and Letreasa -- they own it -- they've made it a Cheers kind of place. At night, you get lots of Marines from the airbase across the road, and they're great. But we're the three-to-seven crowd. It's our club really. We go to ball games together, all sorts of things."

"These are my guys," says Katrina. "They know where everything is. They know all the prices."

"And she cooks a whole dinner for happy-hour food every Thursday, right, Katrina?"

"Salisbury steak this Thursday," she says. "Sometimes I do chicken rice, chicken enchiladas, lasagna. And it's all free to snack from."

She brings Mike's meatballs and my rib sandwich. I've got potato salad on the side, but I could have had French fries, onion rings, or macaroni salad.

"It's Tony Roma's BBQ rib patty," she says, as I chew into it. No ribs, of course, but it tastes really great. And she's brought a big pot of terracotta-colored barbecue sauce with it. There's lettuce, tomato, onion. And it's plenty of food. If this is the Filling Station, it's done its job.

"So where are the others?" I ask.

"They'll be here," says Shorty. "They have to. We all watch Cops."

At seven o'clock, says Shorty, it's like Cinderella at midnight. "Shift change. Bobby the bartender comes on. Two bouncers come in. Prices go up. Music changes. Karaoke cranks up. We get out. Whole new scene. Except we might stay for Millionaire, exercise our little brain cells."

Boy, I just remembered why I'm here.

"Anybody know where Activity Road is?" I ask.

"Just down Black Mountain Road."

"Black Mountain?"

"You're right next to it."

All right, then. If I play my cards right, I could be back for some of that free Salisbury steak.

I get up, think of asking Katrina, "Do I get a hug, too?" It's that kind of atmosphere. Then I think, no. Not a regular, yet. Besides, I can just see Carla's nostrils twitching, three hours from now, when we hug hello.

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