Tonight was a night full of rich nostalgia for me. In Thursday morning’s newspaper, there was a front page, below-the-fold article that announced the closing of one of my all-time favorite restaurants here in the city. “Ed Debevics” has been an institution here in the Valley Of The Sun far longer than I have, and even though there are many who have loved it more than me, I felt like I had join them in marking its passing from our landscape.
The story in the paper noted that Sunday would be its last day, so Bec and I decided to take a crack at getting down there tonight, knowing that the lines of sad diners were only going to get longer. Thank God we did. Tonight’s wait was 90 minutes when we got there, and people only continued to pour in from the parking lot. Now, Ed’s always had a decent wait, but this was ridiculous. On the other hand, there was no way in Hell that we weren’t going to stick around and say goodbye. Besides, waiting at Ed’s was always worth it.
ED’s was a 50s style diner with real style, unlike the wretched “5 and Diner” chain, a place where the help was always dancing on the countertops and was marvelously rude to the customers. Service wasn’t quite as big of a deal way back when, and so Ed’s made it perfectly acceptable to have a waitress plop down in your booth, chomp her gum, insult you, then steal a French fry. In other words: it was Heaven.
I remember the first time I went there, around fifteen years ago. My friend Chad has just finished playing a hockey game, and, not knowing we were going out to dinner afterward, he didn’t have a shirt to wear except the t-shirt he had worn under his pads. So Chad reeked and he reeked badly. Well, I had no idea what this place was about and was just along for the ride until our waitress came to the table and plopped down in our booth. She made some idle chit-chat, then suddenly began sniffling, finally sniffing louder until her nose alit on poor Chad. The girl recoiled in horror, drew back and said: “Damn, you stink!”
I knew right then and there that any place that allowed their employees to be that honest was a place I’d return to often.
Years later I took Rebecca in, and our waitress was talking with us when she suddenly ogled Bec’s lovely pair of 38s. “Wow,” our server said, “Nice rack!” I thought Rebecca was going to keel over in shock. It was that kind of place. It was always, always fun.
The article in the paper said that the few restaurants in the nationwide chain were being hurt by the proliferation of trendy hotspots that specialized in sushi and such. To that, I can only shake my head and wonder. How can we have, once again, let modern living wipe out something unique and full of joy and replace it with something dull and spare? Did we really need another excuse for abstract art and crystal fountains. Is there really no room for a place with color, life and cool signs like “You’re Leaving Ed’s And Going Back To Grim Reality” at the exit?
Over the years, I danced with the help to the sounds of “Car Wash”, “Shout”, and probably a song or two by Prince, sadly enough. But tonight, my heart tinged with sadness, I danced only in my seat, singing along to the classic songs being blared by the DJ, and tapping my toe along to the beats. And as we sat there while the building prepared to close for the night and head into its final two days, that DJ stopped the dance music and put on John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and that is exactly what I did. I imagined all the friends gone and forgotten who I had spent my time with there in that building, and I did a quiet dance for them all. For that moment, at least, I was able to ignore the grim reality.