Monday, March 10, 2008

Goodbye Sal Of Sal’s Hoagies and Cheeseteaks Day!

Hear Bob Powers read this one, recorded at NPR's "Bryant Park Project" studios

Today immediately after slicing his one millionth Italian Hoagie into two halves, Sal of Sal’s Hoagies and Cheesesteaks will slice into his own throat and drop to the floor of his kitchen to die.

“Guess Sal hit a million,” Louie, one of his faithful lunch crowd will say as he watches the puddle of blood seep from behind the counter into the seating area.

“I knew this day was coming,” Jerry, another of Sal’s loyal customers will say. “But I didn’t do anything to prepare for it. What the heck am I gonna eat for lunch now?”

Jerry will crumple up his counter ticket. He has 58. The LED screen reads 55. Just three sandwiches short of getting that legendary millionth roll full of the finest cold cuts, veggies and oil.

“Call an ambulance!” a new customer will shout. “Call an ambulance!”

But no one will move. The ones who already got their food will eat their sandwiches in honor of their faithful chef. The ones who didn’t will weep at their tables, staring at their useless ticket numbers, wondering why they couldn’t have left work just a few minutes early to get just one last heaping pile of deliciousness before they have to resort to hitting the Arby’s five times a week.

But everyone will be waiting to see who just became the luckiest man in town.

“55!” Rita, Sal’s wife, will shout through her tears. Her husband’s one millionth sandwich will be in her hands. There’s some blood on the roll. “55!”

A little boy will shuffle to the counter, his eyes on the floor, his ticket held in the air for the nice lady to take. Rita will manage a smile for the boy when she hands him his sandwich.

“One Italian Hoagie,” she’ll say. “You eat it up.”

“Every last bite,” a customer will shout from his table.

“It’s your sandwich,” Rita will say. “My husband made this for you.”

It will take the boy most of the afternoon to finish it, as the sandwich is almost as big as him. But finish it he will.

Tomorrow Sal’s will be closed, and it won’t reopen. Soon, the sign above the shop window will be covered over, and no more will anyone get to read Sal’s famous marquee promise: “I’m Going To Serve One Million Hoagies To This World And Then I’m Going To Kill Myself.” It was a strange mission statement for a store owner, but it’s nice to see that some retailers still honor the promises they make to their customers.

Happy Goodbye Sal Of Sal’s Hoagies and Cheeseteaks Day!