I had to go back a couple of decades to remember this, but it was in the early 80’s when I was out with some college friends looking for something cheap to eat. Some one suggested we go to Sam Wo’s. Sam Wo’s is in the heart of Chinatown right around the corner from Ed Jew’s Flower shop. It’s a kind of dodgy looking place since when you walk inside you’re in the kitchen and have to make a sharp right to go up the stairs to get a seat.
The people working there give you kind of strange looks except for Edsel. If you weren’t Chinese he saw you as fresh meat. This was my first time there around 1981 and I remember ordering sweet and sour pork. “You boring, why white people always order the only chinese dish they know. At least you didn’t order chow mein!” That was my response. I then made the mistake of asking for a coke. “No coke, only water. You want coke you go across street and buy it.” Little did I know, Edsel wasn’t kidding.
Two of us walked across the street to a little liquor store and got sodas for all of us and we came back in 5 minutes and the food was on the table. About every 5 minutes Edsel would come by and ask if we were finished. Finally I guess we were finished as Edsel began to take our plates. One of my friends Dan tried to take his plate back. Bad move. Edsel smacked his hand and walked off in a huff with his plate. Part of me wonders if when Edsel wasn’t working if he lost his broken English Chinese accent, but I’ll never know now.
Now some of you are thinking, why would I possibly want to write about a guy so rude. After awhile I kind of got it. Sam Wo’s isn’t much to speak of and Edsel was more putting on a show for non-Chinese people who would venture into Chinatown. Herb Caen used to eat there and he’d always post whatever insult Edsel had offered the night before and Edsel would hold up the column and proudly display it to the customers. It was his schtick and it worked. I was visiting a friend at work around the corner one day and walked past Sam Wo’s and thought of going in and having lunch. But without Edsel being there it’s just Chinese food and no entertainment.