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More Stories - The Way We Were
Cotner Blvd. & Thousand Island
When I was eleven, we moved from Western New York State to Lincoln, Nebraska in early December (see Who Do We Owe? and A Powerful Time of Year). One day as harsh winter began showing signs of the coming spring, I took an early bus from downtown Lincoln which left me at O Street and Cotner Blvd, about 3/4 of a mile from where we were living. Just north of O Street was a restaurant and nightclub, I believe named after the Boulevard. This day there was a help wanted sign, for a hat check girl.
"Why not?" I thought, and went in to apply. Let me mention that I was small for my age, and was dressed in some combination of cast-offs from a bygone era.
At the time I didn't think it was anything extraordinary; I had an idea what hat checking was and it didn't take a brain surgeon to do it. The owner, apparently so bemused at my audaciousness, hired me on the spot for Friday after school and Saturday afternoons and evenings, and asked to have my father call him.
My dad, a conservative evangelical minister, should have hit the ceiling, but to his credit he didn't. He went to visit the owner, ready to put his foot down, but came home with an odd expression on his face, told my mother the owner promised to care for me as if I were his own daughter, and informed me I could do it. He would pick me up at midnight himself.
The club was huge; there were sliding pocket doors all over that could be closed off to make private rooms for celebrations, and a section that opened into a dance floor. They catered to an older, country-clubish clientele. The pay wasn't much at all but the tips were fine. The side benefits were beyond comparison.
First, I was introduced to '40's music; Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Guy Lombardo and so on. I wasn't sure I liked it at the time, but it kept sticking in my head until with maturity I learned to love it.
Second, checking in the coats and hats, I was introduced to the world of cashmere, vicuna, camel's hair, mink, sheared lamb, and other luxuries I hadn't handled before.
Third, we could have all the coffee we wanted, and what wonderful coffee! I drank it black, just to savor the flavor. We also had a meal break; there was a special menu for employees. The first afternoon, between the early dinner crowd and the late evening revelers, I was told to take a break and eat. As I recall, I selected the Swiss steak and mashed potatoes, plus a vegetable. We were also allowed a salad of choice.
My mother fixed lots of salads which I loved, and usually served either French dressing or Italian, home made, or a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Feeling all grown-up, ordering from a fancy menu by myself in a great restaurant, I wanted to try something different. Thousand Island sounded sufficiently exotic, so I ordered it.
Heaven!!! Almost every meal at the club thereafter, all spring, I had salad with Thousand Island Dressing. Over the years when the children were living at home, I made my own. When I went to work full time and the nest was empty, it wasn't worth the trouble to make up a whole batch and I sort of forgot about it.
Recently, recovering slowly from a bout of the real, horrid flu, with no appetite and unable to eat more than a few bites at a time, I decided to tempt my taste buds with some chopped salad greens and avocado, with Thousand Island Dressing - bottled.
Let me tell you, that stuff almost killed me! It was vinegary, salty, peppery, and not much else. After coughing for some 10 minutes, I washed my greens well and dressed them with a little olive oil and rice vinegar. And I determined on the spot to dig out my recipe for the most glorious salad dressing on the planet.
So here it is, the real stuff: Thousand Island Dressing. Enjoy!