My most recent visit to The Bay felt like I was going backward in time. Having visited Buffalo Bill’s for dinner the night before, my taste-buds were still giddy from the pastrami and bacon-topped “Wrangler,” a pizza that also featured salami and pepperoni, and my mind was buzzing from the abundance of bonding with new and old friends alike.
But that’s what weddings do, bringing people together, and though I couldn’t make it to my friend’s celebration, at least I was able to serve him in some small way and share in his joy, as well as meet him and his lovely new bride at the table. And now that the duty to my friend and former right-hand man was fulfilled?
The thought of other old friends led me up a familiar path. I came out of the Berkeley BART station, the bustling subterranean causeway I often took on my sprints from the Richmond train to Jupiter and Triple Rock, and emerged on to Shattuck Avenue, which was radiant with a magnificent gleam in the pre-noon daylight.
Sure enough, the sidewalks still sprout poetry, McDonald’s still stinks up the corner of Shattuck and University, Missing Link still sells The Tour, and my favorite table at Triple Rock was open. The familiar wood panelling and railing are still accented by the window looking into the brewer’s den, and the stools and tables and booths didn’t seem to have changed a bit, either. Then, when I took a peak into the kitchen window, I could still see that Jorge S. is still hammering away, and he took a mintute to say hi before I returned to my table.
Though both of the TVs over the bay windows seemed to be brand new, nothing much else had seemed to change as my delightful server, Zoe, brought my chili-cheese fries. They were, however, on a massive plate, much larger than I remembered, and I had hardly dug in when Jorge popped out of the kitchen and pulled up a chair. He filled me in on the gossip which, sadly, included the key change of our former boss, Jim Humberd, having been gone about a year. I was glad to hear that Little Ricky, the resident Beatles fan who had also worked at Pyramid with Jim and I, and Ben Frizzle, who replaced me as Jim’s #1, are still stoking the flames of Jupiter’s wood-fired oven, while Jorge has cut back to 8 shifts a week between the two restaurants, so he could spend more time with his family.
Intermingled with my kitchen spanish, we chatted about the joys of fatherhood and all the things that come from getting older, though it seems to me he hasn’t changed a bit… so it was no surprise that when a crew of Bears came in he said he had to get back to work, but not before we could take some pictures. As I entered the kitchen, the past rushed back, tickling my ribs with the memories of all that was good, bad and and ludicrous about being a line cook, and a slight twinge of disbelief that it had been three years since I faced the furnace of a Friday night on the line.
Despite the crisp luminescence of early afternoon, I walked back down Shattuck toward Jupiter in a bleary haze of nostalgia. The same panhandlers sat in the same spots, tiny kids in backpacks crossed against the red, and then I caught sight of Original Pollo’s, the breakfast/lunch/coffee joint where “The Bay is Burning Societe Poetique” had its little flicker in the pan, where Big Ben, Jono, Preston, Little Jorge and I had a few precious pre-shift episodes of feeding our souls by reading from Whitman, Ginsberg, Teran, and our own essays, poems, or journals, before we would head out to feed the masses.
And the masses had arrived when I got to Jupiter. As I entered the overflowing patio area (which I still believe is the nicest in the Bay, especially with Sunday Jazz), I walked by the prep kitchen and heard, “Hey Dustino, whats happening?” The same crew of prep cooks I had worked with in creating our stuffed poblanos and lamb skewers were busy cooking off Molinari sausage and stocking the fridges full of shredded mozzarella, pizza dough, and chicken. As I took a minute to catch up, the sure, steady presence of Dave Rowe, Operations Manager of both Jupiter and Triple-Rock, descended from the upper level to greet me.
I was stunned he remembered me so well, but as we talked I recalled how much we had actually shared in all those brief, passing moments over the year we had worked together. He told me about how much the scene has changed, how Drakes is doing very well, and how James had actually returned only recently from a stint in Colorado, As I took everything in, I was not surprised to see the same familiar faces at what I had always dubbed Table Numero Uno: The hands-on owners, the Martin family, were seated there wrapping up their usual power lunch, which usually happens at least once a week. And of course, I was delighted to see that Patricio was manning the orno, as congenial and consistent as ever, while Jorge’s brother, Jose, was busy tossing the pies.
And though it wasn’t a surprise to me, the dining area inside was cool and quiet, while James and his team of servers kept the seemingly frenetic patio flowing naturally. I chose a place at the bar, where I could chat with my former coworkers and watch the interaction of the servers as they danced to the tables delivering libations. After ordering another light snack, the bruschetta arrived, overflowing with fresh tomatoes and basil, and tasting just as good as it had the last time I sat at the bar.