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.