Up in the Air

B & B Deli & Catering

8690 Aero Drive, Kearny Mesa

I can’t believe this. I’m looking down — way down — at the kelp beds off La Jolla. Brown bruise on blue ocean. Jet fighter zooms out to sea — underneath us! Chopper whirrs by, maybe half a mile to the north.

“Okay. Ready?” says Jim through the headphones. “Got your hand on the joystick? You have the plane.”

D’agh…man, this is too much like real life. Right move, live. Wrong move, John Denver. At this stage, I’m just trying to keep us up and my lunch down.

An hour ago, I hadn’t the slightest idea all this was going to happen to me. Was just cruising the neighborhood while my buddy Cisco spent a couple of hours at the hospital nearby. Still getting chemo doses for this pesky growth he’s got. Good news is he’s quit smoking. So I found myself at this modest-looking strip mall, just across a little road from a bunch of private planes parked in Montgomery Field. And on its corner, a deli. Hey, food. Why not? Inside, it was all pine-planky cafeteria, scattered with flying fanatics’ posters, like “Wings Over Gillespie.”

“You want the special?” says this Korean-American lady, like that’s what everybody asks for.

Uh…I start rapid-reading the large wall menu. Oh, man. Wish I’d been in time for breakfast (they stopped serving that at 11:00 a.m.). They have three-egg omelets that come with hash browns and toast or biscuits and gravy. The cheese omelet’s $5.29, ham and cheese for $5.99, and Denver for $6.29. But it’s lunches now: sandwiches, lite sandwiches, grilled sandwiches, 1/3 lb. burgers, and, ahh…guess this is what she’s talking about: hot lunch specials. Today’s (Wednesday’s) are roast pork loin, teriyaki chicken, or curry chicken. Other days, it’s things like Polish sausage, chow mein, pepper steak, meat loaf, cabbage rolls. They all come with potato or rice, veggies, deli salad, and dinner roll. Cost is $6.96. Not a bad deal.

Also, I see an all-you-can-eat salad bar ($5.99) and soup bar. ($5.49. Huh. That’s a good idea.) And soup and salad bar ($6.99).

Guy ahead of me got the pork, three big slices, but I’m looking at the next chafing dish: teriyaki chicken. Dark and rich. I point. She scoops me a couple of good loads, then some mashed potato, then presses a lakebed into it and fills it with gravy. Corn, cole slaw — this is ’50s food fare, straight up. But one side of you kinda likes it. When you’re done loading, you slide down past the salad bar to Brian, the cashier.

Turns out he’s co-owner of the place, along with his wife Suzy, who took my order. “Drink?” he says. I get a can of Coke ($1.65).

I carry my red tray to the nearest table. Must say, the teriyaki is real sweet/soy/ginger-tasting, and just dunkin’ into the mash and gravy is like childhood calling out. Come ba-ack! But pretty soon I’m getting more interested in the conversation next door. These guys, in their 30s, 40s, 50s, even 70s, looks like, are rip-roaring away about flying into Paris, peeing on Mt. Whitney from a great height, and a buddy who flew from here to Hoover Dam with no engine. Oh, I get it. They’re glider pilots.

“I flew with ravens the other day,” says one. Man. Gotta butt in. “Uh, you flew along with a bunch of crows?” I ask. “Sure,” says the raven guy. George. Used to be a carrier pilot on straight-deck carriers. That has to put him at 70, at least. Another guy, Steve, is a pastor. They fly out of Warner Springs. “Gliding?” George says. “It’s a Zen experience. Like sailing in 3-D. When you’re gliding, nature is your fuel.”

Beautiful. And those ravens? “They accept you. Gliding’s so silent. They’re not threatened.”

George is eating a Reuben sandwich. “It’s what I had the first day I came in here. I just can’t make myself order anything else.”

Hmm…I see the sandwich is grilled, with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, $5.99, with a salad or fries. Bargain. Plus, you can get turkey instead of corned beef.

Steve, across from me, has a roast beef sandwich ($5.89 with potato salad or coleslaw or macaroni, and pickle). Another guy, “Captain Jim,” as they call him, is munching on a vegetarian sandwich. It’s stuffed with cucumber, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sprouts, avocado. Costs $5.89.

“I hate tuna,” says Jeff, the gent next to me. He’s a flight instructor like Jim. He’s got this “Dieter’s Platter,” a scoop of tuna salad on lettuce with macaroni, carrot salad, sprouts, and cheese ($5.99). “But I’m trying to lose five pounds,” he says.

Guess with gliding, every pound counts.

Jim’s day job is flying European Airbuses for United. Apart from gliding, he also flies a little stunt plane called the Citabria — “pretty much ‘airbatic’ spelled backwards” — with an outfit called Pacific Coast Flyers, out of Palomar. The difference? “Like driving a Mac truck and driving a Beetle,” he says.

“Why don’t you show him?” says Jeff.

“Like to go up?” Jim asks.

An hour and a lifetime later, I stagger back into B&B, shaken, stirred, and desperate for a coffee to settle my gut. “They’re a wild bunch,” Brian says. “But they’re not the only ones. We get the Chargers in here. Their training center is just down the road. LT comes in. He eats the turkey burger [$6.59]. We’ve even had the mayor.”

I sink into a lime-green couch. Take a slurp of coffee. Feeling of power suddenly floods over me. Can’t believe I was up there. Me and Lindbergh...

“What you been doing for two hours?” Cisco says, 20 minutes later. “Feeding your face as usual?”

The Place: B&BDeli, 8690 Aero Drive #120, at corner of Aero Drive and John J. Montgomery Drive, next to Montgomery Field, 858-292-1636
Type of Food: American
Prices: Three-egg cheese omelet (with hash browns and toast or biscuits and gravy), $5.29; ham and cheese omelet, $5.99, two eggs, bacon, sausage, or ham, $5.99; machaca breakfast (with beef, scrambled eggs, bell pepper, hash browns, tortillas), $6.49; roast beef deli sandwich (with deli salad), $5.89; 1/3 lb. sourdough bacon-cheeseburger (with fries or salad), $6.59; grilled Reuben (same sides), $6.19; hot lunch specials (changed daily), e.g. roast pork loin or teriyaki chicken with potato or rice, veggies, deli salad, dinner roll, $6.96; all-you-can-eat salad bar, $5.99; all-you-can-eat soup bar, $5.49
Hours: 7:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., Monday–Friday
Buses: 25, 928
Nearest Bus Stops: Aero Drive and Sandrock (25); Murray Ridge and Aero Drive (928), three to four blocks away

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