I frequently walk down to Harbor House Café for Sunday breakfast. Armed with my favorite sections of the NY Times I enjoy a lazy morning and an indulgence: pancakes, a short stack of course. Harbor House is a large place, with classic counter and booth seating, with an adjoining glassed in patio with patio style glass-topped tables and plastic chairs. I favor that space as the light there is better suited for reading. Open 24 hours, this café, originally called a coffee shop, is equivalent to an East Coast diner. Reminds me of long ago late night dates with the gigantic menu of cheap eats and the slightly grungy ambiance that fits poor students and large families.
Down a dark hallway to the ladies room there is a large framed photo of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke that always makes me smile. This is but one of hundreds of film-related photos and posters that line every inch of wall, and I mean every inch. These are not signed photo’s as at Sardi’s. Nor are they reserved to celebrities who might have lived in SoCal. No rhyme or reason. I once asked a waitress the significance of the film memorabilia and she had no idea. I asked at the counter, a shrug. I can only conjecture that the owner has a passion for film. Perhaps a family member has a Hollywood photo business. Or some poster store shut down just as the café was opening: instant décor.
A clue to the mystery is found on the website: Harbor House was founded in 1939, an exceptional year for film. Gone with the Wind. Gunga Din. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Wizard of Oz. Destry Rides Again. And the year before [one has to look] Holiday and Jezebel, two of my favorites. So I understand the passion for film at that time. Makes sense. Why Harbor House Café? The right of ownership.
The photos, while lots of fun and recalling many of my own favorite movies and actors, creates a real disconnect in this place more frequented by bikers and blue color workers than stars. I need metaphors and I can’t find one here. We are 70 miles from Hollywood. The photo montage covers nearly a century of film icons, well before the café was founded. As far as I can tell, even the wait staff has nothing to do with film production. Now and then I look up to see James Dean or Audrey Hepburn smiling at me and while a pleasant distraction, makes no sense. Of course, a patron with the New York Times in her face makes no sense either [LA Times and OC Register sold in machines just outside the door] so I am just as much a contradiction in this place as the photos. Perhaps that’s the connection in the end – we come from everywhere and end up here.
Whatever. Paul Newman always makes me smile.