Friday, September 30, 2011

Friendly's: Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

(You will live! Friendly's, you're going to live! It's too soon! Too soon to say good-bye...)

Today on Gawker, I read some truly horrifying news. Apparently, Friendly's is $225 million in debt, and on the brink of filing Chapter 11. This is the worst news ever. I love Friendly's. My one true lament about living in the city is that there are no Friendly's close by. I bring this up with friends every now and again and they all say the same thing: a Friendly's would never survive in NYC. I don't understand why! We have every other awful chain here, why not one that serves mediocre food and delicious delicious ice cream desserts? But apparently they were right and I was wrong, as the whole franchise seems to be going under.

I am not ready to say goodbye to the SuperMelts, the Fribbles, the Happy Ending Sundaes (yes, that's what they are called) the crispy chicken salads, the place mats you can color on in crayons at any age, and of course the free refills of soda. I will never be ready to let it all go. The news has brought back a flood of memories about my favorite little chain restaurant where, as the slogan says, "The Ice Cream Makes The Meal." Damn, right it does. Let me share with you a few stories...

* As a little boy out at Friendly's with my family, I decided I would not get mint-chocolate chip ice cream in my sundae as I always did. I informed my mother I would try another flavor. For some reason, she discouraged me. Perhaps she thought that as soon as it came out I would turn my nose up at it and request the MCC? But I relented and told the waitress when it was time to order dessert that I would have the mint chocolate chip. She said she was sorry but they were out of mint-chocolate chip. My mom then made some off-hand remark "that I must have ESP" and that's why I was fine with going with another flavor when my favorite wasn't an option. I spent the next several decades believing I had some low level amount of ESP, looking for signs of superior mental and believing that it was always strongest whenever I was in a Friendly's. 

* There was a time in maybe 10th grade or 11th grade when my group of friends was at Friendly's and I faced off with my friend Becky as to how much soda we could drink in one sitting. Friendly's gave free refills, which only seemed fair since the glass was filled 85% of the way with ice. So I know I had root beer, and I think Becky did too, but Becky might have had coke or diet coke. That's not really the point. The point is that I got sick off the root beers. I didn't throw up or anything. I just was not feeling good at all during the late stages of the Refill Challenge. I was not meant to be a competitive eater/drinker just a constant one. I think we both stopped tied at 5 or 6 sodas. This was with a full meal. And we probably stopped not because we were so sick, but because we both acknowledged we would need room for dessert. How I was not a fat child and never had a cavity is a mystery to me. Also, I never learned my lesson with free refills. I will drink and drink until my stomach and bladder are ready to burst. This is evidenced by two Pink Lemonade Ordeals in Disney World (each one several years apart, same on-site restaurant though. I'm SO classy on Disney vacations.) and also just recently during a heat wave when again I could not get enough Pink Lemonade here at home before I made myself physically nauseous. But that one time in Friendly's with the root beer challenge started it all.

* My absolutely favorite dessert is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae. I take mine with mint chocolate chip (as noted earlier). Some people find the flavor of combo of mint and peanut butter an unpleasant prospect but it's my FAVORITE, especially Friendly's peanut butter syrup and their own MCC ice cream. My friend Sandi who I met during HS also loved this combo, and if you find someone who likes the same somewhat off-beat dessert as you, I swear you've probably met a friend for life. I know I did! :)

(picture this with mint ice cream and we're good to go. If you don't it sorta looks like someone mashed up a calico cat and stuck it in a sundae dish. It doesn't look that way with mint chocolate chip ice cream!)

* In college, there was a Friendly's within driving distance of Wesleyan. I didn't have a car, so I didn't go their often with friends. Occasionally I did. I remember a sign language dinner there that was particularly fun - and actual deaf people came over to talk to us! But mostly I saved my Friendly's visits for when my Dad came to visit. He hated Friendly's. He always wanted to go to one of the nice restaurants around campus. I didn't care. I was getting my Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae and he was picking up the tab! Now before you judge me too harshly, bear in mind that he was coming to visit on some occasion that had to do with celebrating ME. Like it was around my birthday, or he was coming to see a show I was in or something. If he came during his birthday, I might have gone  somewhere else.* I at least made reservations for the family at Tuscany Grille for when I graduated. See, sometimes I was thoughtful.
* - This is a lie. My dad's birthday is my half-birthday and I would've claimed half-birthday privileges to go to Friendly's. I know I'm a monster.

Usually my phone conversation with my dad before he came up to visit went like this:

Dad: Where do you wanna go out to eat for dinner?
Owen: Friendly's.
Dad: WHAT? NO! Not Friendly's!
Owen: Yes, FRIENDLY'S!
Dad: We always go there! I want to go somewhere else!
Dad: Aahhhh.... shit.

It's not like I chose to go to Wesleyan because there was a Friendly's nearby, but it sure didn't hurt its chances in the selection process either. Anyway, one time Dad came up and I think I was in a show, this must have been spring of my Junior year, and he took me and my girlfriend Gracie to Friendly's before seeing the show. I remember I was REALLY sick with a fever that day, but I refused to say so out loud because I had a show I had to do that night and I really wanted my sundae and would sit through dinner in order to get it. (Oh, side note: I keenly remember Friendly's having a smoking section that was not separated by ANYTHING. It was the same air. Now smoking is outlawed everywhere.) So I'm not feeling well and I open the menu to choose between the two entrees I always get and I notice there is a new item on the menu. This was amazing since the menu at Friendly's was basically the same for the last 100 million years. The new item? A Fishamajig.

(to this day, it's hard to look at a fishamjig without my stomach getting tied in knots.)

That's right. A thing-a-majig made out of FISH. And the name was registered name no less! So basically it was mystery fish blended up and served with melted cheese. I can't remember the rest of the description. I just know that at the time, the idea of the fishamajig made me want to puke all over my coloring book-style place mat. My Dad and Gracie are talking about all sorts of things and I'm just sitting there trying not to throw up. Finally, I pull it together, close the menu and wait for the waitress to take my order as a cold sweat from the fever runs down my brow. The waitress stops first at the booth directly behind me and what does the person sitting there order? You guessed it! A FISHAMAJIG! So not only would I have to think about a fishamjig, i was going to have to smell it all throughout my meal. Somehow I made it through. I kept my mind focused on the peanut butter cup sundae that awaited me  and held my nose and got through it. My dad and Gracie didn't know how bad off I was until I told them about it later. Such a good actor I was! And of course my performance later that evening on stage was equally sublime.

One last short tale before I wrap up. Several years ago I was on my way to New England to share a nice weekend away with some friends at their families house. His mom picked us up at a train, I think (the details are kinda fuzzy in my head) but I know it was late and we were driving through CT and we were relatively close to the Friendly's near Wesleyan and I somehow convinced everyone it was a good idea to find it and eat a late dinner there. I don't know how I did this. Maybe I just kept saying "FRIENDLY'S" really loud over and over again until everyone thought the only way to shut me up was to go there. Of course we got lost and went well out of our way from our actual destination, but I'm pretty sure my friend's mom eventually got us to a Friendly's, even after I was more than ready to give up the quest. The rest of the weekend was lovely, don't you worry.

So as you can see from this small spattering of stories, Friendly's holds a special place in my mind, in my heart and in my stomach. So many fun memories of youth and early adulthood. If this really is the end... well, please don't let this be the end. I'm not ready to sing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables at a Friendly's memorial service. Will someone at least show me how to mix a Fribble before they all close their doors for good? I don't want future generations to grow up in a more un-Friendly world... and I need that peanut butter cup sundae....

1 comment:

Randa said...

I LOVE that you are as disturbed as I am that Friendly's is closing. I've told a number of people since I heard and no one has show the appropriate amount of despair for me. Maybe we should plan a trip?!