The shiny black-and-white shuttle-shaped UPO, which like an ostrich looks as though it can fly but cannot, is patriotically decked out with peeling decals of the Stars and Stripes.
Big, bold black letters bellow: “Space Shuttle Café United States.”
The intruding shuttle cafe is no small matter – the brazen vehicle takes up a whopping 39 feet of parking space on the corner of the peaceful residential street.
Since its surprise landing, it has brought its share of stares, selfies and significant head scratching.
WTF is it? Where did it come from? Who parked it there? How long is it going to be here?
Omar Elbroody, the shuttle café’s current owner, is the only man who has the answers.
Omar, as it turns out, is as much a mystery as the shuttle café itself: Despite two telephone calls to confirm our meeting at the UPO and a third cellular conversation, unlike the shuttle, he fails to land.
He did, however, impart some pertinent information about the UPO during those casual calls.
Omar, who says he has homes in Astoria and on Long Island, bought the shuttle in 2015.
Made from parts of an old Douglas DC-3 airplane, which was in production from 1936 to 1942, the Space Shuttle Cafe was so quirky that Omar couldn’t stop looking at it and dreaming of its income potential.
He saw himself finding a spot for the food truck, perhaps in a city park, and trying his hand at flipping burgers.
His first sighting came at a most opportune time: He thought he was going to lose the lease on his longtime Manhattan auto-body business.
He promptly plunked down $87,000 and proceeded to spend $140,000 to renovate the interior, which has a cockpit and kitchen accoutrements that include a stove, freezer, oven, refrigerator, freezer and grill.
The shuttle café, which boasts boosters on its red-white-and-blue rear end, travels on wheels.
Entry is via an ordinary-looking accordion door at the back of each side.
But things didn’t turn out as Omar expected, and he’s never had the chance to serve a single customer.
A couple of years ago, he decided to sell the shuttle. He listed it on some Internet sites and got a lot of interest.
But at $230,000, which is pretty much how much he has invested in it, he never did find a buyer.
Omar didn’t explain why the Space Shuttle Café suddenly landed on 48th Street this year.
As I wait for him, a white Mack truck pulls up to the shuttle café and parks parallel to it.
The two beasts are nose to nose.
All I can see is a massive elbow hanging out the passenger side of the cab window.
It has a tattoo of a spider spinning a web that radiates all the way around the muscle-bound arm.
Two beefy guys wearing neon vests and hard hats saunter out and give me, my camera and the shuttle café the once over.
Spiderweb Elbow Tattoo asks me what’s the story behind the shuttle cafe.
Before I can answer, he tells me that he and his pal are in construction and stop here every morning to get breakfast at Sergio’s Pizza and Deli.
They like to sit in the side yard at the concrete tables that are in full sight of the shuttle cafe.
Spiderweb Elbow Tattoo says the shuttle café has been parked in the same spot for three months.
I tell him I’m writing a story on the shuttle café, and if he hangs around, he can meet the owner.
Wow! He’s pumped.
He hurries into the deli to place his order.
When Omar still hasn’t arrived 15 minutes after the appointed time, I reach for my cellphone, only to discover that I’ve left it in my office.
When Spiderweb Elbow Tattoo returns with his eats, I ask him to call Omar to see what’s up.
He dials the number with the fingers of his right hand, making the spider shimmy.
He tells Omar he’s with me waiting for him at the shuttle cafe.
He listens intently and looks crestfallen – Omar, as it turns out, is not coming after all.
“Do you want to talk to him?” he asks, starting to pass the phone to me.
No, no, COVID-19, no, I don’t want to touch it, thank you very much.
Spiderweb Elbow Tattoo takes matters into his own hands.
“That’s too bad,” he tells Omar loudly and rather indignantly. “She was going to write a really great story about you. You blew it.”
He smiles at me as he hangs up.
I tell him that he should take a good look at the Space Shuttle Cafe while he’s here because Omar says he’s going to move it soon to Long Island for the winter.
One of the back tires is flat.
We look at each other and shrug.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.