Thursday, February 21, 2008
The Twain's Shall Meet - Tuesday 2/19/2009
I had to drop off books at the library this morning on my way into work (one of my two days this week) and decided to find out whether Twains, on the corner of Ventura and Coldwater in Studio City, was open all night. Yes, indeed.
It was a little odd at first. When I walked in a man in a black shirt and pants sitting at one counter looked up and nodded at me. An elderly lady sat at the other counter, looking a little disheveled. There were a couple of retired guys in a booth, talking. I took a booth inside the front window.
It turned out that the man in black was a waiter. He asked the elderly woman to write a check for my order. I thought, huh, maybe she's the owner and she's very controlling. Turned out she was a waitress!
The retired guys said their farewells and left, but one of them came back a few minutes later and sat at the counter nearest me. "The strangest thing just happened," he said to the waitress, "This old couple just asked if they could sleep in my car!"
"Where? Right out here?"
"Right out here."
He'd turned so I could see his face a little and I reacted right along with them. "Excuse me," I said, "But that is really strange."
He nodded, "Just when you think you've seen it all."
We ended up chatting for about twenty minutes. Turns out Twain's was a Denny's until 1974. Made sense, with the beamed ceilings and the rock walls. Chuck, as I later learned was his name, told me that Ellie the waitress is 81.
Ellie told me she'd been working at Twain's since she came to L.A. in 1974 or '75. She bought her house in Encino in 1975. This came out because she was bemoaning the fact that people don't plan for their old age.
When she asked Chuck how old the "old couple" were, he thought for a second and said, "Early sixties I guess." I could see him realizing that the old folks were younger than him. Funny how that happens.
Chuck's dad hitchhiked out here in the 1920s when the Valley was hardly populated and Hollywood Boulevard was lined with orange trees. I'd said to Chuck that he sounded like he was from the cultured Northeast. His dad had moved his family from Brooklyn to L.A. when he was three years old. They moved to the valley around the time the 5 freeway was being built, I think he said.
I know a little bit about this stuff because I am generally interested in local history, and because I worked as a transcriber in the Oral History Program at UCLA as a student. One of the oral histories I worked on had to do with the origins of the freeway system. And really, if you look into 20th Century L.A. history, it has to include the freeways.
As I left, I introduced myself to Chuck and found out his name. He asked if I was done with the paper I was leaving on the table. You bet. I'd just wanted to find out about tomorrow's lunar eclipse.
Suffice it to say, that Twains was a really nice place to be on Tuesday morning. The pancakes were nicely spongy, just like diner pancakes should be, and served with whipped butter that soaked into the short stack in exactly the way it should.
Can I just say, I love early morning diner people?