These days, some universities have “Entrepreneurs in Residence”,whatever that means. This morning, like most mornings, the Hummingbird Grill has P.O.I.R. (police officers in residence).
Other denizens include a couple of street people, a girl just off the Greyhound, suitcase by her side, tattered romance paperback in her hand, trying to make herself as small as possible to avoid eye or any other contact with anybody or anything in the Hummingbird, and me, accompanied as usual, by the New York Times crossword puzzle, and two Uniball Deluxe Fine Tip pens.
I’ve become a regular, which I guess means only that the nite waitress,Rusty, has seen me often enough that she brings my coffee w/o asking, and knows enough to call me by my nickname, “Hon.” (How DID she know that?)
It was kinda dicey sliding in to the Hummingbird this morning. I had to dodge the city workers who were power washing the sidewalk in front of the cafe – and in their “spare time”, washing a car or two. They must not be well paid, for in addition to supplementing their income with car washing, they helped themselves to a bundle of newspapers when I slipped my 50 cents into the Times-Picayune machine. Maybe they sell the papers to co-workers. Maybe they just use them to dry the cars. Styx was playing on the Seeburg as Randy took my order. I usually go for the “Early Bird Special”, which is available 24 hours, so I’m not sure what the name means. It’s 3 eggs, choice of ham, bacon, sausage, and grits or potatoes, toast or biscuit. A bargain at 4.00. Coffee extra, no charge for water.
One of the regular “troublemakers” wandered in and sat at an unbussed table and started eating off the plates that had been left there. Randy has developed a sure-fire method (according to her) of dealing with these types of patrons, by proclaiming loudly “the person that was eating those pancakes has AIDS!” Seems to do the trick and helps clear the room without having to bother the P.O.I.R.
It appears to take five people to run the night shift at the Hummingbird. In addition to Rusty, there’s the cook, who does a marvelous job of juggling several cast iron pans on a 12”x12” gas grill. He never talks, you don’t talk to him. Even if you are sitting at the counter, Rusty takes your order and passes it on to him. Union rules, maybe lol? There’s a ‘mop boy’, a dishwasher in back, and a cashier. With your change, the cashier is fond of giving out financial advice. I think he’s going to be the subject of the next TV commercial for that E-stock broker that ran the ad about the two truck driver that owned an island. Heed the advice of the sign at the cashier: “No talking to invisible people.”
The low end of the menu is an order of grits for 1.35, Well, actually a side of gravy (brown) is only 1.05, but I haven’t seen anybody order that.The high end is an open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner salad and roll for 7.50. It’s available Sundays only. In between the high and low price range, you’ll find the usual greasy spoon fare, everything from fried egg sandwiches to 1/2 Fried Chicken dinner. Is that half-fried, or half a chicken?
Chile-cheese fries weigh in at 2.60 and off the Richter scale in fat and cholesterol. I can never figure out the difference between “chile” and “chili”, beyond knowing that in this case, they really mean “chili.”
Most big-city greasy spoons have a certain element of “charm.” The Hummingbird seems to have been absent from school the day they passedcharm out. But I like it. It’s a good place to listen to people’s stories in the middle of the night, or imagine you’re playing a role in that Paul Simon song “laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces….we said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy…” The sun started to peak through the smoke-stained window at the cafe as Carl Palmer and Steve Howe’s voices wafted from the jukebox their terrific harmonies in the 1982 hit “Heat of the Moment” from the group Asia. Not as interesting as the material from their days in ‘Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’ or ‘Yes’, respectively, but a nice ditty for a piece someone my age would label as “new music.”
Most days I miss the past. At places like the Hummingbird, I get to relive it every night. Catch the crew of the Hummingbird nightly at 804 St. Charles, 24/7. Catch Asia on tour this winter if you find yourselves in cities like Lorsch, Germany.
If I were Don Henley, I’d find something romantic to write about the Hummingbird, the way he did about the “Sunset Grill” in LA. But even the Sunset Grill is not what it was, in LA they tear down anything that is more than 20 years old, and the Sunset Grill today is a gleaming new white stucco building, instead of the dilapidated old shack with stools on the sidewalk with all its old charm.
The Hummingbird is just old. Charm costs extra these days. Sometimes for me, just ‘old’ is charm enough.
Hummingbird Grill New Orleans