Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Welcoming Light: Meetings With Remarkable Men

Kastl's in San Francisco, copyright by Kevin Scanlon,
all rights reserved, used by permission

The glow of warm lights from Kastl's is a sensory memory deeply encoded in my brain. That memory image can be triggered by associative senses, such as hearing certain songs that were on the jukebox there (Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” or Elvis Costello’s “Alison” in particular). Long gone in reality, Kastl’s has a tendency to reemerge in my fiction writing – sometimes resurrected whole as a setting for a scene, and sometimes just a small detail from it will be used for an entirely different place. The night photograph shown above was taken on one of the final evenings it was open for business, and serves to confirm that the place truly existed and wasn’t simply invented by my imagination.

We rarely referred to Kastl’s by name, instead calling it “the diner” because the layout reminded us of the diners back east with a long counter and stools along the interior wall and deep booths against the window walls. The menu was far from diner food (brown rice and steamed kale were the standard side dishes instead of fries), but you could get a good burger and a real soda fountain coke, and the jukebox was usually playing.

What remains of Kastl’s is a series of memory images, such as the rainy evening a tow-truck driver stopped in for a takeout order, his truck double-parked out front with the yellow lights flashing. While he waited for his order, he sat at an upright piano along the back wall and played a classical piece I couldn’t identify, but in my stories it’s always something by Rachmaninoff.

Kastl’s closed when Bell Savings decided to take over the prime corner location at Sacramento Street and Presidio Avenue. That meant that Phil, the diner’s owner, lost his lease and was forced out of the space where he’d been in business for thirty years. In his sixties at the time and feeling too old to start over, he ended up retiring rather than trying to reestablish his business at a new location.

I still have one of the typewritten menus, a single sheet of paper folded in half, which I nabbed on our final visit. I come across it from time to time in a box of old keepsakes. It has a little grease stain on the front that I like to think is from the oil-based blue cheese dressing that came with the spinach salads.

I can’t remember the exact date it closed, although I could look it up in the journal I kept during those San Francisco years. I would’ve guessed 1980, but the movie listed on the Vogue’s marquee next door suggests it would’ve been 1979. If you look closely at the photograph (click on the image for a larger view), you can see Bell Savings wedged in between the theater and the diner, ready to expand and push the diner out of existence. Kastl’s was definitely a welcoming light, and a favorite meeting place for me with the remarkable man who photographed it.

Photo Credit: Kastl’s, copyright by Kevin Scanlon, all rights reserved, used by permission

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1 comment:

Karyn Bosso said...

I totally loved that place. I used to go there with my then-boyfriend Tom back n the early 70s. One time, I ordered Apricot wine from a Soquel winery. Tom was 21, I was only 20. Phil never carded me. Phil was a sweet, affable guy. I loved the salads and the chocolate milkshakes. Sad that Phil was forced out of business in his 60s. I am now nearly 60 myself and can imagine just how he felt.