- 22 oct
I eat at Henri's over there at Five Points, across from the railroad tracks.
Over the last several months, I've become one of those creatures who inhabit restaurants, diners, dives, and eateries that have lost their glamour. All once-glistening grande dames eventually become dowagers, and the one I've been eating in lately looks like it's been dowaging for a good twenty years now. The Space-Age hope of its Googie architecture was surely dashed long ago when it got the faux fur coat of industrial green. Driving by, you'd think the building was maybe a carwash reborn as an appliance outlet under new management by two brothers who died in the 1970's. But no, it's a restaurant. And I am one of the regulars.
I've never been a real regular before. Sure, I frequent some places - Jamba Juice, the Chinese buffet at the mall - but this is downright Edward Hopper stuff and I've become the heap on the corner stool. The waitresses, all in their 50's and 60's, don't bother to hand me a menu anymore, but I'm still fickle with the beverages - what'll I have, let's see, Coke? Orange soda? Coffee? Keep 'em on their toes, that's what I say. It's my job.
Close your eyes. Hear that traffic? Produce trucks and Harleys, beater Buicks and pimped-up Caddys. That guy whackin' the spatula? He's done time. I mean just look at him, shootin' us the gaze from under his eyebrows. The tall chef's hat is pristine, but the pants and the apron and the grill, the backsplash behind it and the tops of the steam drawers and the floor? The nearest chef around is uptown and around the corner - this guy's a cook. Okay, you can open your eyes now, but shut up and don't complain, okay? He's sensitive. Like a wolf. He knows it ain't all about appearances.
Okay, I'm coming clean here. I'm fatter than I was in Spring. I started doing this photo project and, hell, a guy can't eat Mexican food all the time now, can he? Plus, you know, characters. Characters in the back, characters out front, characters on the stools and in the booths. Cops eat here. The poor folks from the motel next door, the Regal, they eat here. So do a whole mess of fat divorcees, god knows why. Don and Dee, Umberto and Holly and Mr. Street and Jaime and George and even Henri himself, they all eat here. And when they do they're not on their way somewheres else. This is the destination. This is the place.
We know each other. We talk. We tell stories, stories that'd kill you if you cared enough. Old bosses get resurrected and beat up the way they should've been in the first place. Some of us have had our kids die on us. Only a few are married. Daycare happens here - 'cause it has to, that's all.
And you know what? When we're here, we watch out for each other. Pretty simple. It looks like any other hard place in a hard town, but it's for damn sure any of us regulars can tell you that sometimes people and places ain't like they look.
But you gotta grab a stool and set a spell. Try the Henri Burger.
"Black Coffee" -- Julie London -- WILD, COOL & SWINGIN'
"To safeguard one's health at the cost of too strict a diet is a tiresome illness indeed."
- La Rochefoucault