Mrs Edwards’ Coffee Shop

For all its reputation as a town full of great restaurants, San Francisco is full of great restaurants where you can’t afford to eat. For a good meal at a good price, it’s the Sincere Cafe for Chinese, Taqueria El Castillito for Mexican, and the cheap no-name diner inside the TransBay Terminal for anything else. Other than those three, there’s no such thing as an affordable, edible meal in Frisco. You’re better off eating cold SpaghettiOs from a can.

My neighborhood is mostly expensive shopping and tourist trinkets, so It's especially barren near here. There are a few places that look like cheap diners, but a glance at the menu proves they’re just using the “cheap diner” aesthetic to lure in suckers or sell miniature omelets at inflated prices to future failures (‘yuppies’, they’re called). A couple of these places sell two-egg omelets, standard.

No. Two-egg omelets will never be the standard, not in Doug Holland's America. Fake diners are an abomination. The ‘communist threat’? Bah. Even the Republican Party or nuclear armageddon are doo-doo dangers, compared to the proliferation of fake diners.

That was my mindset, as I peered in the window at Mrs Edwards’ Coffee Shop on Taylor Street. It looks right. The menu is handwritten, photocopied, then Crayola-colored, and taped to the window. A sign brags that the place has been run by the same Mrs Edwards since it opened in 1955. And they serve three-egg omelets.

It’s a real diner, in other words — a place where the waitress might have worked for thirty or forty years, pouring coffee refills and calling everyone ‘honey’. Gotta love a waitress calling you ‘honey’. And bearing in mind that downtown San Francisco doesn’t rent cheap, $5.25 for a cheese omelet isn’t bad.

Well, it isn’t bad on the menu, but on the plate it’s a tragedy. The cheese was Velveeta, or tasted like it. The hash browns were passable but nothing special, and only about five forkfulls. The toast was toast. The butter was margarine. The coffee was neither bad nor good, but at least it wasn’t served at 800° Fahrenheit like at most places, so I could sip it without adding ice or waiting ten minutes to avoid scalding. It would be better if it was better coffee, though.

Since 1955, eh? Well, a diner can't survive that long serving lousy breakfasts, so my experience was probably just bad luck. That said, the grand total, including tax and a modest tip, came to eight bucks. That's a fair price for a good breakfast, but more than I can afford for so-so, so I won’t be having a lasting relationship with Mrs Edwards.

♦ ♦ ♦

At the Castro tonight, a pair of psychobabbling thrillers from the 1940s, when America was first infatuated with Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. I never have been — you ask me, a cigar is almost always just a cigar.

Dark Mirror (1946) is a semi-campy thing, with Lew Ayres as an alleged expert shrink, and Olivia de Havilland as identical twins, one of whom might be a killer, and the other might be the killer’s next victim. Dr Ayres is supposed to be the ultimate authority on twin psychosis, but since he’s trying to seduce both sisters maybe he’s not their ideal analyst. There aren’t many surprises here, but it’s harmless and done with verve.

The Locket (1947) is more effective, with half a dozen moments of genuine bone-chilling fright — not ‘movie fright’, where things jump out from the shadows and violins squeak, but an internal terror, knowing that if something like that happened to me, maybe I’d go crazy too.

There's a bleak darkness to The Locket, and it’s a delightful noir overload to have the entire movie constructed of flashbacks within other flashbacks. By my count, the movie goes four flashbacks deep, but it all unwinds nicely, and there’s a stirring rendition of “Hands, Knees, and Whoops-A-Daisy” which shouldn’t be missed.

♦ ♦ ♦

On the bus ride home from the movies, I stood in the aisle because, as usual, all the seats were taken. The driver, following Muni protocol, was alternating at random between the brakes and accelerator, so everyone standing was getting whipped around, and I staggered a bit.

Someone sitting nearby said to me, “Hey, hang on, buddy.”

“I’m hanging here,” said I.

“You gotta get home in one piece and sleep it off,” the stranger said, and I love it. Nobody’s mistaken me for a drunkard before. Chopping my beard down to a messy stubble probably did it. I’ll take it as a compliment.

From Pathetic Life #6
Tuesday, November 29, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Addendum, 2021 — I googled it: Mrs Edwards’ Coffee Shop has been gone for a long time, and Mrs Edwards herself has been gone since 2015.

Pathetic Life   

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  1. I remember two more non-burrito-joints that were amazing - I think it was called the New Dawn Cafe? on 16th between Valencia and Guerrero, sort of acrodd from the Roxie. Remember their huge piles of home fries? They were cheap and fucking great.

    Also, Jewels. They were near the Target on Geary, I think? Near the bus yard? They were a black-owned, very traditional Southern diner. Not sure you ever went with us, but when Shawna and I found it, we went pretty often. I specifically remember the amazing biscuits and gravy.

    Of course, both were gone well before I left SF in 2014.

    1. Never ate at Jewels.

      The New Dawn Cafe was great, but didn't last long. It was open for about six months before closing forever. I loved the "Mess o Potatia" which was just a plate piled high with hash browns, plus some fancy toppings. Yum. Cheap. We ate there several times before Roxie shows.

    2. I can't believe I don't remember that name. "Mess O Potatia."

  2. Your description for a waitress in a real diner sounds like you're describing Kirsten. Glad you finally found that real diner, and happy that you decided to write about it.

    1. Any real diners you'd recommend? There are lots of places that serve breakfast, but not many great diners.

      There was a great one in Seattle, Beth's Cafe, but it closed forever a few weeks ago, says the internet. And a great one in Kansas City, the Woodswether Cafe in West Bottoms. (That's the name of the neighborhood, and ain't it great? There was no East Bottoms, though.)


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