On the Cusp of Dinner and Breakfast

“The guy’s a magician. He needs a job.”

Night and Day Café

847 Orange Avenue, Coronado

It's 2:30 a.m. I swear, it's so tombstone quiet here in Coronado you can hear a penny drop. I know 'cause I just dropped one. Searching my pockets to see if I have enough for a cawfee at the Night and Day, the only place open on the whole island. Probably the last light before Japan, if you're looking west. The last greasy spoon for 5000 miles. The café at the edge of the universe!

I'm walking the streets 'cause Hank is still outside Danny's Bar on Orange Avenue, yapping to some Navy guy. Said he'd catch up.

The "Night and Day" sign says they've been here since 1929. A couple of sailors sit outside on the garden bench, smoking. I open the door. Bam! End of silence. AC/DC's belting out "Hell's Bells." Raucous laughs come from other Danny's alumni. This is gonna be fun. 'Specially since I've discovered a spare Jackson in my pocket.

I've been here before, but not for years. It's still a tiny place, a counter, a dozen stools, and a narrow ledge for folks to put coffees on when it's standing room only. Plus the other essential, a jukebox. Three plays for a buck.

"Yeah, I always get drunk before work, so I can stay on my drunk till I get off," says this gal.

Whoa. She's leaving with her two friends as a bunch of surfer dudes and dudettes comes in. Arizona heat refugees, to judge from their conversation. One guy, Andy, makes straight for the jukebox. He asks everybody, "Come on, what groups? Gimme a song to hit."

People start noticing: as Andy walks he keeps bringing out this glowing red light. He puts it in his ear. It comes out of his left pocket. He puts it in his mouth. It comes out of the jukebox. "The guy's a magician," says his friend Jimmy. "He needs a job." Andy says, "No, I'm an actor. And I need some happy music."

In the end he hits Bob Marley. "No Woman, No Cry." The women in his tribe -- they've all been at some bar, for sure -- sing out like they are the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "Everything is gonna be all right!"

Me, I'm starved. I check the one-page menu. It's loaded with cholesterol, of course, and strewn with wit. "If you like my work, you can do one of two things: throw money, or applaud. I've heard enough applause."

First decision I have to make is dinner, or breakfast. We're on the cusp here. Night hasn't too long to live. A sailor with early duty recommends his breakfast, a "nine-ounce, seven-buck beauty with sautéed onions, and cheese if you want, plus bacon or chili," for a dollar more. Mmm. I think he's talking burgers here. "Better decide about the chili," says Lee the cook. "I have one lot left."

I scan the Night and Day Graveyard Menu the simplest dishes are the eggs with hash browns and toast. One egg is $5.50; two, $6.25; three eggs, $6.75. A breakfast croissant with ham, bacon, or sausage is $8.75. So we're definitely talking Coronado prices here. The best value might be the New York steak and two eggs for $10.95. Or pork chops and two eggs for $8.95.

Lee says the most popular items by far are the Denver omelet ($8.75) and 6 oz. cheeseburger ($6.50). I'm also tempted by a pancake special: one pancake, two strips of bacon, two eggs, fried or scrambled, $5.49.

Lee has a big star tattoo on his left elbow and a skull on his right. "I'll take the chili burger," I say. Then I think about the bacon cheeseburger, same eight-buck price. Then I notice a cardboard sign stuck to the massive black metal hood over the cooker. "Porker omelette (4 eggs), with ham, bacon, sausage." The sign says $9.95, but the menu says $10.95. "Sign's old," says Lee.

"I'll take that," I say. There are three orders ahead of me, and only Lee to handle them. The poor guy says the summer has been hell. "My griddle is 500 degrees. Just standing here beside it you're in 150 degrees Fahrenheit." He's constantly wiping sweat from his eyes with his shoulder and taking a slurp from a big can of Rock Star caffeinated energy drink.

But I'm in no hurry, 'specially since the Arizona gals are doing just fine on the musical front. They get through "No Woman, No Cry" and "My Best Friend's Girl." But when they see my gi-normous omelet, loaded with lumpy things, and home fries, they break into applause.

"I want that," says the other surfer dude, Jimmy.

It wasn't cheap, but it is delicious. Great chunks of sausage, generous curls of bacon, pyramids of ham cubes. Like everybody else here, I squirt a wad of ketchup over the omelet and chow in. Pity the coffee's a little watery, 'cause everything else is perfect.

It must be heading for 4:00 a.m. Lee hauls himself out into the cool night air for a smoke on Orange. I follow him out. Need the exercise. That omelet was something else.

"This is the dead time," says Lee. "Another hour, it'll be early-shift guys and retired admirals who can't sleep coming in." Hank's coming up. "Have I missed anything?" he asks.

"No," I say. "You're just in time. Step inside. The show's about to start, all over again."

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