Jewish World Review June 13, 2001 / 23 Sivan, 5761
And the sun doesn't even need to be up in the sky. It can be indoors, in the form of a voice at the next table.
The other afternoon I was walking around, noticing that no one seemed to be where they actually were. Oh, they were technically present -- the fellow walking down the sidewalk was really there, but his mind was somewhere else as he spoke into the wire connected to the cellular phone clipped to his belt; the clerk in the store was definitely on the clock, being paid to interact with customers, but it was difficult to get her attention because she was playing a game on a screen on a computer terminal; the father was walking with his son, but even though the son was talking, the father was not paying attention, because he was checking his voice mail somewhere out there in the ether.
So I ducked into a sandwich shop, thinking about whether, by developing the technology that allows us to connect with each other so constantly, we have paradoxically lost the habit of connecting in ways the genuinely are personal. . . .
I was sitting in a booth, thinking about that, when I heard the voice of a man who was in the next booth, and who had his back to me.
"I've been working as a doorman," I heard him say to someone who had paused by his booth. "Years ago I was a waiter -- I was at the old Blackhawk on Wabash Avenue. . . ."
I hesitated to say anything -- I wasn't part of the conversation, I hadn't even seen the man's face -- but then I said it anyway:
"So you probably prepared the spinning salad bowl. . . ."
He turned around.
He was Walter Morrow Jr., now 70 years old, a man whom it has been my good fortune to run into several times over the years.
His face brightened. That restaurant -- its official name was Don Roth's Blackhawk, and it opened its doors in 1920 and didn't close until 1984 -- was the antithesis of impersonal. It thrived in an era when the personal touch meant everything, and nothing was more one-on-one, made-from-scratch, meant-for-you-and-you-alone, than the spinning salad bowl.
"Please," I said to Mr. Morrow the other afternoon. "Make my day. Say it."
He grinned and began:
"This is our world-famous spinning salad bowl. It consists of 21 ingredients. . . ."
It was a production -- something so special that every customer was made to feel like royalty, and the waiters had fans from around the world. All of the ingredients would be brought to the table, and laid out on a wooden board. A bed of ice would be presented; a metal bowl would be placed carefully atop the ice.
The waiter would begin to spin the bowl in a way that would all but hypnotize the customers. He would present an elaborate, carefully rehearsed speech; as he spoke and spun the bowl, each of the 21 ingredients -- different varieties of lettuce, greens, a special dressing, blue cheese, cream cheese, chopped eggs, ground pepper, seasoned salt, anchovies. . . .
All of these would be added, like plot developments in a great drama. And the narrator, the director -- the waiter, formally dressed men like Walter Morrow Jr. -- would drive the show, would be in charge of the pageant. Everything would stop -- the people at the table who might have been drinking would set their glasses down so that they could watch and listen. It took five full minutes for the salad to be completed, for the bowl to finally stop spinning on the ice -- and then, cold and deeply delicious, the salad was dished onto heavy white china plates.
Sort of a silly thing to be thinking of on a June afternoon in 2001. Yet as Mr. Morrow and I talked, I could tell that he still had not just fondness for, but pride in, what he had once done on a nightly basis.
"I never used to be very good at talking to people," he said. "But at the
Blackhawk, I learned how. I learned how to enjoy looking right into people's
faces and having them listen. I liked it. I think they did,