STEPPING BACK IN TIME AT RAE’S DINER

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March 1, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 

 

Photos by Barry Stein

 

By Bob Vickrey

You’ve driven by it numerous times on Pico Boulevard, but like most Westsiders, you’ve probably never considered stopping for a meal at this old-fashioned diner.

Rae’s Restaurant has been around since the days when you could actually find a parking spot in Santa Monica. Rae’s turns 60 this year, and is still plugging along for those locals who don’t mind a little grit and authenticity with their meals.

As our monthly lunch group entered the restaurant, we were convinced Rae’s must have been where they shot the movie “Time Stood Still.” The modest menu prices also underscored the apparent time-warp that occurred here in 1958.

But after recent trips to the glitzy Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Beverly Hills and Madeo Restaurant in West Hollywood, our group welcomed a meal that cost less than a down payment on our last automobile. However, Barry said he was leaning toward ordering five hamburgers in an effort to match the recent tabs we’ve encountered at upscale spots we’ve visited.

Our special guest this trip was I.C. “Chuck” Rapoport, a longtime Palisadian who has enjoyed dual successful creative careers. He began working as a photojournalist for Paris Match, the French weekly picture magazine, and photographed notable world figures including Fidel Castro, shortly after the Cuban revolution. He also took classic shots of Francois Truffaut, Marilyn Monroe, and President John F. Kennedy. His photo of a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy, taken after the President’s assassination in 1963, appeared on the cover of Paris Match, and became an iconic image of the First Lady.

Chuck also photographed fitness master Joseph Pilates for Sports Illustrated, and many of these rare photos are displayed in studios throughout the world. His career at Life Magazine was highlighted by his award-winning photo essay in the aftermath of the 1966 mining disaster in Aberfan, Wales that killed scores of villagers after a slag landslide wiped out the small town.

He also enjoyed a long career as a television script writer on movies and mini-series, including “Cook and Peary: The Race to the Pole.” He won the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Writers Award, and was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for one of his “Law and Order” teleplays. He is the author of “Kapinsky’s Still Dead,” and the co-author of a young adult novel, “Feather.” He is currently working on an autobiographical novel entitled, “Flight of the Doves.”

Special guest Chuck Rapoport with our server Lupita and Rae’s cook Manito

It has been years since I had eaten at Rae’s, and I had forgotten how small the petite-sized booths were that were intended to accommodate four “generously proportioned” men. I was worried that a couple of us might be required to stand next to the table while eating our lunch. (Elton John must have been considerably thinner in 2000, when he posed in a Rae’s booth for the album cover of “Songs from the West Coast.”)

Our timing was perfect because the two customers who had been hogging a much larger booth in the back room were just leaving to pay their bill. Perhaps it was the menacing stare we had given them that prompted their sudden exit.

Since Rae’s is pretty much a steak and potatoes kind of place, Chuck ordered the hamburger steak with mashed potatoes and salad (iceberg lettuce—of course—with a bowl of blue-cheese dressing on the side.) Arnie had the tuna melt with French fries and Barry chose the patty melt and fries, but as usual—no tomato. And he means NO tomato anywhere near his plate! The man has strong convictions about certain matters.

I had Rae’s version of huevos rancheros with pinto beans on the side and smoking hot corn tortillas. No one commented on their meals, but my huevos rancheros dish was terrific.

Arnie loves his desserts, and ordered a slice of pumpkin pie, while the rest of us shared a piece of apple pie ala’ mode. Our group scarfed down the desserts quickly—and did offer comments on this portion of the meal.

On our way home, our day was made even brighter when we stopped by to visit Josh Greenfeld on his 90th birthday. We brought hamentashen from Victor Benes Bakery, which put a smile on his face.

You may remember that Josh was really the founding member of our group three years ago when he asked us to go to Langer’s Delicatessen for a pastrami sandwich. This was a lunch of celebration after his prolonged stay in a local rehab center. We had such a great time at Langer’s that on the way out of the restaurant, he asked, “Where are we going next month?”

And 32 restaurants later, our monthly lunch club forges ahead with our sights set on our next quest.

 

Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald. He is a regular contributor to Boryana Books. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.

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