Editorial: A life lived with relish

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

People can make their mark on a community in many different ways. Some do it by running for local office and offering progressive leadership. Some do it by giving away money to good causes. Some do it by devoting themselves to education, to ministering to the sick or the needy or by embracing other worthwhile endeavors.
And some do it by serving up a heckuva good hot dog.
Such was the case with Albert Joseph Boulus of “Al’s Night Hawk” fame, who died Tuesday at age 86. The restaurant that Boulus operated in Salisbury for more than 50 years wasn’t just an outlet for weiners, sodas and such. Besides being a Salisbury institution, it was a personal landmark for many Rowan County residents, anchoring thousands of memories cherished by those who frequented Al’s as children, as teens, as college students and, later, as adults bringing their own youngsters around for a taste of the good life.
Saying that Al Boulus served up tons of hot dogs and hamburgers is like saying Captain Ahab liked to fish. It doesn’t begin to cover the subject. The anecdotes pouring forth after his death told us much about the man behind the apron. Part philosopher and part entertainer, he was a friend, erstwhile banker and big-hearted benefactor for many, including hungry Catawba College students who needed a meal or a part-time job. The fact that his restaurant remained such a popular gathering spot over so many decades says as much about the flavor of his personality as about the menu.
It’s no doubt true that the heyday of Al’s Night Hawk harkens to a simpler era, when people had fewer choices but more time, when the community had less sprawl and more cohesiveness. Now, convenience and mass-market efficiency have come to rule the roadside restaurant landscape. But it’s also we, and not just the times, who have changed. The Night Hawk’s allure ties into the youthful rites of passage so many enjoyed there, downing a dog with all the fixin’s while sipping a soda ó or slaking a thirst in other ways ó among the company of boisterous friends and family.
Each generation has its own version of “Happy Days,” and for many years, Al Boulus was a memorable part of that cast in Rowan County.
His hot dogs and hamburgers were just one of the ways in which he served the community long and well.