Man Alone With Salad
Today was a gusty day in Beaverton. If I stood on my tiptoes and peered over my cubicle wall I could see tree branches whipping around beyond the tinted windows on the far side of Floor 4. I felt the gusts firsthand, too, at lunchtime, as I walked across the courtyard from Building 50 to the company cafeteria. It was a short walk, a couple hundred feet at most.
The company cafeteria smells like a typical Sysco-fueled operation. I can’t say much else about the cafeteria in general because I always keep my head down and walk straight to the salad bar. However, I can certainly say some things about the salad bar. I eat two or three salads per week, on the days that I don’t bring food from home. Except in rare circumstances, of which today was not one, I opt for the larger of the two container sizes offered there.
Today’s salad started like every other, with a bed of spinach. I hear that eating lots of raw broccoli might help stave off death for some brief period of time, so I put broccoli in there next. After the broccoli, I piled on various other things including bits of raw bell pepper, both red and orange.
Lance Armstrong says that you should eat a raw bell pepper, but in light of all his doping and fibbing, I considered that it might be better to NOT eat ANY raw bell pepper. I don’t know who or what to believe anymore, but, for good or ill, I did put some raw bell pepper on my salad.
Then I topped it all off with blue cheese, croutons, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper.
The process of assembling my salad took longer than usual because the man ahead of me was talking on his cell phone and fumbling with every tong because, in addition to being distracted, he had only one hand available to manipulate both container and tong. An ideal salad bar would have a sign that says “No cell phones at salad bar,” and a mechanism that makes the greens, toppings, dressing, and definitely the croutons all retract behind an impenetrable lid until the rule is observed by all. A pipe dream, I know.
Three vessels of soup await customers at the tail end of the salad bar. Today, the right-hand vessel was full of chicken tortilla soup. A basket of accompanimental tortilla chips sat next to it. These tortilla chips had quite a shape to them: long and slender and gently curved, like the fried claws of a corn dragon. I wasn’t in the mood for soup, though.
I’ve purchased a great number of salads in my time here, and many of them have been quite large. In fact, I’ve put together enough impressively sized salads to catch the attention of Tom the cashier, who more than anyone has a very keen eye for this sort of thing, and data to back it up. A typical salad for me weighs in around the $7-$9 range, but once in a while one enters the rarified $11 – $13 stratum, and when that happens, Tom shoots me a knowing smile.
Today’s salad was modestly sized, which I sheepishly acknowledged to Tom right off the bat. He replied, “Did I tell you about the salad yesterday? This guy bought a huge one. It cost fifteen bucks and change. He didn’t bat an eye when I told him the price, either.”
“There should be a Wall of Fame here,” I said, gesturing to the nearest empty wall.
“I gotta talk to that guy and find out his secret,” I said.
This cafeteria, by the way, closes at 1:30 p.m. Do you think it would be a good idea for me to go in there at 1:29, buy up all the remaining greens, toppings, dressing, and definitely the croutons, and sell them at a markup out in the courtyard? I could make some extra scratch that way, flippin’ salad for a couple hours in the late afternoon when I’d probably just be jerkin’ around otherwise. Please advise in the comment section.
Like I said, it was a gusty day in Beaverton. It was sunny and mild, but blowy, blustery and breezy according to the thesaurus, and like I said, this was not a weighty salad. If you stop and think about those two facts for a second then you won’t be surprised to hear what happened next, which is that, as I was walking back across the courtyard to Building 50, a gust blew the whole damn thing into a ditch! I had to crawl in there on my hands and knees and eat the scattered salad components like a pig from a trough, which at first seemed like a rotten deal, but over the course of the three or four minutes that it took me to find and chew and swallow everything, I developed a fondness for the soft ground and the cool shade, and I ended up staying there until around sunset. Corporate security approached me at one point, understandably, but I flashed my employee badge and they were cool about it, they left me alone. I missed the 3:00 status meeting. I don’t know how that’s going to shake out with my boss, but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.
William Foster lives in Portland, Ore. Photos by Christopher Serra