An a-typical American Food Biography
I grew up in the galley kitchen of my father’s restaurant called Happy Boy Diner. A remnant of the 50’s diner, the large, triangular-shaped restaurant was ensconced in a little San Francisco neighborhood called The Castro district, also fondly known as the “gayest neighborhood in the world”. When my father first brought us to see Happy Boy, we stood on the corner of 15th & Market, admiring its bright orange and brown striped storefront, little did we know that our little Chinese American diner would become the epicenter of gay culture in the early 1970s.
Recent immigrants to this country, my sisters and I experienced a lot of culture shock – trying to conquer a new language, making new American friends, all this juxtaposed with our work life where our customers were handsome men who wore feathered boas and stiletto heels, while others favored crotchless leather chaps with chains hanging from pierced nipples. America seemed like a mysterious place, but with customers like Big Gay Mike (a 7ft tall banker who wore suits 5 days a week but dressed like Marilyn Monroe on the weekends) and Lesbie Debbie (who grew facial hair and dressed like a lumberjack), they made us feel at home. We were outsiders, and so were they, and that’s how we became one big happy family.
The rest of our clientele was comprised of a handful of truckers, families, and elderly couples who still dressed for breakfast – the men wore suits and ties and hats and their wives wore dresses, gloves, and hats too. The elderly couples would read their respective newspapers over their soft boiled eggs, dry toast, and coffee and juice.
To this day, I remember people through food. When I make pancakes at home, I think about Mr. Bob Goddard who always ordered the #2 Breakfast Special: 2 pancakes, 2 eggs over easy, 2 sausage, 2 slices of bacon and black coffee. He would stack all the food together, cut it into neat squares, pour syrup on the whole mess, and then disappear behind his paper, never looking down as he shoveled neat bites into his mouth. He never dripped syrup onto his tie. When he was down to his last bite, he would fold up his paper and finally look at his plate. Using the last square of pancake on the tip of his fork, he would scrupulously mop up the entire plate of any remaining syrup, egg yolk, bacon bit, or sausage crumble. Leaving his plate shiny and clean, he would fold the paper under his arm, pay his bill and leave. And I would think to myself, that is one man who really loves his breakfast.