“That does sound good, Al. But you know what?” Here I pause, to build the suspense. “I’m going to have what I had last time!” And Al, despite his 84 years, knows exactly what that is. A cherry phosphate.
There’s a precise order to what follows. First, he squirts a liberal dose of sweet, scarlet, cherry syrup into a tall glass. Then, he ceremoniously brings forth the small glass bottle with phosphate from its hiding place and shakes a few drops into the syrup. He peers up at me quizzically till I tell him to stop. The more phosphate, the sourer the soda.
Finally, the exciting part. Pulling on blue plastic gloves several sizes too large, Al extracts a large cylinder of ice from his freezer. The block is about 8 inches high and 6 inches in diameter. He places it in the ice shaver, taking great care to make sure it’s centered. Then he screws down a large metal disc with prongs that stick into the top of the block, to secure the ice firmly in place while it’s shaved. Sliding closed the plastic door that keep ice chips from flying all over, he inserts the glass with cherry syrup and phosphate underneath. Over his shoulder he says to me, “Look out!” and turns the machine on.
I hold my hands to my face and cringe. With a loud rattle and thrum, the machine whirls the block of ice around, scraping fine shavings off with each revolution, which fall like a heavy Spring snowstorm into the glass below. I watch from between my fingers as the snowy drift grows. Al is vigilant. If the ice block slides off-center and comes unclamped, it could launch itself through the plastic guard and go airborne. There’s a thrill of risk-taking to the whole process totally unbecoming to a soda fountain. I stand there knowing this is no ordinary cherry phosphate. It’s a lethal weapon!
Waiting for the glass to fill with ice, and for the final touch of seltzer being added to the icy blend, I entertain myself with a brief reverie about the nature of things. So little in our world stays the same for long. From restaurants to phones, furniture to fashion, we’re bombarded with new menus, models and technologies. Except at Al’s soda fountain, where the value of the offerings is precisely in their sameness from one season to the next. Where people still pass the time of day for no other gain than friendly company. And shaved ice comes off a block, not out of a bag.