Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I Hate Progress.

For as long as I can remember, there's a place in San Antonio that has served as a backdrop to almost every different phase of my life.
It's a comfy old diner called Earl Abel's, located on the corner of Broadway and Hildebrand in San Antonio. It used to be a 24-hour joint, but Jerry Able, the late Earl's son, decided to start closing at 1 a.m. because things got too wild in the wee hours.
When I was a callow youth, newly gay and a fixture on the bar scene, Earl's was the place to go after 2 a.m. when the bars had closed and we had a mess of beer that needed soaking up with eggs and bacon and biscuits before we could drive home.
The drag queens would flock there after 2 a.m. too, in various stages of disrepair but always flamboyant, boisterous and wildly entertaining.
One late night in the 70's, I recall being drunk and high on acid while we were seated next to a table full of nightshift cops there on their dinner break. I was paranoid until my friend Wanda said, "It's Wednesday night, who's gonna suspect we're trippin'?"
During the day, Earl's was a little old lady joint- with walkers and canes and wheelchairs jammed between the widely spaced tables. Sundays would bring the church people, lining up for fried chicken with cracklin' gravy.
The waitresses were all vintage 1940s, mostly Anglo-American, with rouge applied in perfect little circles on each cheek and red lipstick applied over thin lines that used to be lips. They wore black uniforms with frilly white aprons and they all seemed vaguely formal, like down on their luck Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
To this day, my sisters and I drag my 92-year-old mother there for an annual pilgrimage. We all order chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and green beans, with hot yeast rolls and real butter. And Brandy Alexanders. We each have two, even Mama. Sometimes we get pie for dessert. They are famous for their pie, which is fairly good but not memorable.
The food in general is not that good, but it's comforting. The decor is sort of weird, with red walls and heavy club tables and chairs made of dark wood. Semi Goth looking coats of arms and assorted Spanish Inquisition weapons adorn the walls, in between corny little framed plaques with hand-lettered phrases like, "Eat at Earl's and Diet Home."

Earl Abel's is located on some prime real estate, precisely midway between downtown and the wealthiest neighborhoods inside the city limits.
Jerry Abel, Earl's son, took it over in 1982 and ran it the same way his daddy did when he opened it in the 40's. It was a seamless transition; Jerry knew not to mess up a winning formula.
But now Jerry's getting old and I guess developers offered him millions so they can tear it down and put up a big condo complex. Long story short, Earl Abel's is closing at the end of the year.
I had to write my big sister in Austin and give her the news.
She's gonna take it hard.
Here's a little more info about the place: http://www.texasmonthly.com/food/onthemenu/abels.1.php
Read the menu- tell me what you'd order if you could visit the place before it closes for good.
I already know what I'm getting.


Sanford said...

I would aim to come twice in a day, to have both the chef's salad and the club house sandwich. To close the deal, cherry pie.
Take the salt and pepper shakers.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Sanford, I like the way you think. The salt and pepper shakers would make lovely mementos, and I'm sure the new condos won't be needing them.
And their cherry pie is pretty damn good.

in.dog.neato said...

I used to hang out at a nifty coffehouse in the U District in Seattle back in the early 90's called the Last Exit (appropriately, it was on Brooklyn St.). Irv, the owner, was a little Italian guy who opened the place in August of 1967, and ran the place like it was his living room. It was a microcosm of culture in that section of the world, and I was priveliged to have been a part of it.

Irv passed on in '92 or '93, leaving the place in limbo for a while. This was a piece of prime real estate that the UofW had wanted to get their hands on it for years. After the old man's death, they (the UofW) pulled a few strings and found a couple of loopholes, and refused to renew the lease on the old place.

The new owners (some of Irv's family) found a new location up the street, and the present and former patrons all pitched in to make the move. It survived for a while as a struggling business, but eventually folded. The old locatoin was gutted, remodeled and later turned into rather unattractive office space for some UofW staff...

Happens all over...all for the sake of progress...we're dealing with the same type of B.S. here in Duluth...

sorry for the longwindedness...KZ's story set me on a thought...

Karen Zipdrive said...

I love when I write something that prompts others to recall people, places and things in their lives that grounded them or otherwise makes them reflect on things as they used to be.
In this insane world filled with peril, I think it's important to find comfort in what once was.
Thanks Doggo, makes me wish I'd visited Irv's place in Duluth.

CLD said...

Top Sirloin Steak with all the fixins' and the Cherry Pie. I'd take the salt & pepper shakers from another table. :)

Jade said...

Fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and a small extra plate where I can dump the carrots since I don't plan to eat them.

The cherry pie for dessert, although peach cobbler might be a deal breaker.

Holly in Cincinnati said...


You were once a callow youth?

BigSis said...

This getting old thing can sure be a bitch. Aside from losing real people and beloved places, I'm not sure I like that so many of life's mysteries are being divulged. I liked stuff like looking up into a dark summer night sky and wondering what the heck made Mars so damn red. Now I know, and its taken the magic out of what I dreamed was going on up there.

So I'm glad Earl's didn't have recipes for their cracklin' gravy, meatloaf, or velvet hammers. That way I can always wonder what the heck made Earl's food so damn good.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Why is Mars red? I must have missed that lesson. Or wait- is it full of rusty iron? Yeah, that must be it.
Last time we ordered velvet hammers at Earl's, we had to tell the bartender how to do it. We suggested she double the vodka from the recipe book she used- remember?
The Real Recipe: 1 1/2 ounces of vodka, 1/2 oz. of White Cream de Cacao and a splash of cream.
Shake with ice and strain.
Heh. That reminds me of the time a young tinhorn bartender asked me how to make a martini.
I said, "You start with 4 ounces of Tanqueray..."
And he fell for it, then charged me only $5 for it.

JimBob said...

I'm surprised some local group hasn't gone to city council to keep 'em from tearing down the place claiming historic importance or some such. I pass by that place on my way to and from work every day and it's just not gonna be the same to see friggin' CONDOS going up there.

I've eaten there plenty of times (although never late at night and never on acid...) and ALL their food is great.

How come they never tear down a McDonald's to build new condos?

Karen Zipdrive said...

J.B., the property is really valuable and we know damn good and well the mayor and city council are all about helping their buddies the contractors make money and help jack up property taxes.

My favorite story about Earl Abel's happened in 1986,when the late Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-TX) and his wife were having breakfast there one morning.
Gonzalez was 69 years-old at the time, but when a 40-ish Republican wise-ass at the next table called him a Communist, he got up, punched the guy in the face and knocked him to the floor.
The guy had the gall to press charges.
The local D.A. was forced to charge him with assault, but he immediately called the Texas Attorney General to get an idea of how to proceed. The story goes, the AG said, "Anyone who'd call Henry B. a Commie deserves to get punched, so it was clearly self-defense."
Congressman Gonzalez was acquitted and the whole city went wild celebrating.

You don't get that kind of action in a fuckin' gated condo complex.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Speaking of the kind of Democrats we need representing us today, here's a little more about my hero, the late Congressman Henry B.Gonzalez:

NY Times, November 29, 2000

Henry B. Gonzalez, 84; Served 37 Years in House


WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 - Former Representative Henry B. Gonzalez, a pugnacious and partisan Texas Democrat who used his perch as the chairman of the House banking committee to champion public housing and tighter controls over the savings and loan industry, died today in a San Antonio Hospital. He was 84 and lived in San Antonio.

Mr. Gonzalez, whose irascible manner and staunch defense of the downtrodden exasperated many colleagues but inspired his constituents to keep him in
Congress for 37 years, died at Baptist Medical Center after he awoke feeling poorly, a family spokesman said.

The cause of death was not immediately determined, said the spokesman, Adrian Saenz.

Mr. Gonzalez, the child of Mexican immigrants, was an ardent supporter of desegregation in Texas and later became an avid admirer of President John
F. Kennedy. During his long Congressional career, from 1961 to 1998, he led critical inquiries into the savings and loan scandal of the 1980's and into the Bush administration's dealings with Iraq before the Persian Gulf war.

But Mr. Gonzalez, a former college boxer, will also be remembered for his inclination to throw an occasional punch at detractors.

In a San Antonio restaurant (Earl Abel's), he heard himself referred to as a Communist by a much younger man. Mr. Gonzalez, who was 69 at the time, gave the man a black eye. He was later unrepentant.

That combative spirit fueled a famous feud with Samuel R. Pierce, Jr., the secretary of housing and urban development in the Reagan administration.
Mr. Gonzalez fought for more low-cost housing at a time when Mr. Pierce sought to dismantle such federal programs.

A stocky, untelegenic politician who was partial to polyester suits and loud ties, Mr. Gonzalez occasionally took to the House floor for ruminations on abuses by the federal government. He sought the impeachment of two Republican presidents: Ronald Reagan, after the 1983 invasion of Grenada, and George Bush, in connection with the 1987 Iran-contra scandal.

He clashed again with Mr. Bush when he investigated accusations that the United States had sought to curry favor with President Saddam Hussein of Iraq by offering agricultural loan guarantees and access to technology with military applications.

Bush administration officials denied a role in strengthening President Hussein, whose 1990 invasion of Kuwait led to the Persian Gulf war.

Although Mr. Gonzalez was a fierce partisan, his investigation of the
savings and loan industry was especially painful to Democrats. He exposed
the efforts of Charles F. Keating, the director of Lincoln Savings and Loan to influence senators responsible for regulating the industry. Four of the so-called Keating Five senators implicated in the scandal were fellow

Mr. Gonzalez drafted legislation to authorize a federal bailout of the savings and loan industry in 1989 and to impose new regulatory safeguards.

For all his contact with movers and shakers of the financial industry, Mr.Gonzalez prided himself on his honesty and independence.

He once claimed that he had shuffled through the muddy paths of politics at a local, state and national level but "I still haven't gotten the tips of my shoes dirty."

At times, Mr. Gonzalez's obstinacy was disruptive. In 1977, he abruptly resigned from leading a House investigation into the assassinations of President Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After a bitter
squabble with the panel's chief counsel, Mr. Gonzalez quit, asserting that elements of organized crime were succeeding in keeping the truth obscured.
Gonzalez was the first Mexican-American to represent Texas in Congress. But despite his pride in his heritage, he did not want to be identified solely by his ethnicity, and he dropped out of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Born in 1916 to recent immigrants from Mexico, Mr. Gonzalez was one of six children who grew up familiar with discrimination and poverty. He studied engineering for two years at the University of Texas but was forced to return home for lack of money during the Depression. He went on to earn a
law degree at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, though he later took jobs working for his father's translation service. He once resigned from a position as a probation officer in juvenile court after he was prohibited
from hiring a black employee.

Elected to the San Antonio City Council in 1953, Mr. Gonzalez won approval for a measure to desegregate city facilities. As a state senator, he led a 35-hour filibuster against bills favoring racial segregation.

He once said that he had few blacks in his district, but that the principle of equal access was worth defending. "If a bill violates the constitutional
rights of even one person, then it has to be struck down," he said in 1992.

During his years in Washington, Mr. Gonzalez shunned the capital's social scene, preferring the comfort of a small apartment stuffed with books. His family never moved to Washington, so he commuted home most weekends.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Bertha, and eight sons and
daughters: Henry B. Jr., Rosemary, Charlie, Bertha, Steven, Genevieve,
Frank and Anna.

His son Charlie now represents the San Antonio district that Mr. Gonzalez held for so long.

dusty said...

reminds me of a place in Normal Heights in San Diego...same story, different city..i feel sad for you Karen losing such a place full of memories..

Karen Zipdrive said...

I'm okay with it, it's my sister who I feel bad for. She lives about 85 miles north in Austin now, and a visit to Earl's was always a big pilgimage for her when she came down to San Antonio on a visit.
She's the type who really controls what she eats, so when she gets a craving it usually builds up for several days until she can stand it no more and has to have whatever it is.
I guess I'll have to coax her over to the TipTop Cafe instead. It's no Earl's, but it's got some killer chicken fried steak.

Holly in Cincinnati said...

Rep. Gonzalez sounds like someone I would like to have known.

Karen Zipdrive said...

He was a real pistol.
His son Charlie took his place in Congress and he's no Henry B., but he's getting there.
Henry B's marathon 35-hour filibuster against GOP anti-civil rights legislation was the funniest thing I ever saw on TV.
He read from the phonebook for at least five of those hours, saying, "These people would not want to see this bill passed."

JimBob said...

also on gonzalez: wasn't he the main reason it took so long for texas to get the lottery?

he recognized the lottery for what it was: another tax on the poor. and he fought it every time it came up.

if ever there was a GOOD person in congress, he was it.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Yeah- Gonzalez didn't want the poor people of Texas to spend their bean and tortilla money on the lottery.
Ann Richards called it, "a tax on stupidity."
Henry B. always represented his constituency with dignity and honesty.
He was the last of the good guys.