Sometimes I forgot to turn off the red sign at closing, so we’d be bathed in a softly suggestive light as we sat, decompressing, on the curb of the Friendly parking lot. This late in July, many families had escaped from Suburbia to Martha’s Vineyard or somewhere on The Cape. It made for slow, humid nights of hand-packed quarts of black raspberry and Jim Dandy sundaes shared by eleven-year-olds who left swamps of sticky leftovers next to full water glasses, handfuls of change mocking us from the watery bottoms.
It didn’t matter. Working at the Friendly’s in this town was an imagined badge of honor. Whereas many other teenagers’ working summers were spent at the town beach or being a mother’s helper at a vacation house, this was work shared by full-time, I-pay-my-rent-with-my-paycheck colleagues. It was blue houndstooth polyester dresses and white nursing shoes. It was elbow-high ice cream stains that left a sour smell after an eight hour shift. It was cocking an eyebrow and waiting for the girl who sat in front of me in Latin class to decide which greasy meal she wanted her date to pay for this time.
And all that melted away once the doors were locked. When just the closing crew remained, it was all business – often with a few laughs. As supervisor, I did whatever needed to get done. The dishwasher and I were good friends. The grill was scraped down, the scraps emptied, and the oil changed. The ice cream tubs were shaved down and cleaned. If there was only a bit at the bottom, we changed over to a new tub. Soups were emptied, syrups were filled, salts were cleaned and topped off. Life was made as easy as possible for the opening team – especially when one of the closing team would be returning to open. All business.
Occasionally, perhaps once a week, there were the nights without a final rush. Usually, the closing crew would be three – a supervisor, a waitress, someone on grill. Two friends and I were often the closers. The best nights were when we’d turn off the sign two minutes before ten and lock the door a minute later because we knew the Vokes Theatre had just let out, and dozens of dessert lovers were about to stampede through the doors with little cash and no patience for neatness. They were the patrons who became angry that the hot fudge wasn’t hot enough or the coffee tasted old. This was before Starbucks had hit the East Coast, so burnt coffee wasn’t acceptable yet. The nights we avoided the tornadoes of last-minute customers that left destruction in their wake were the nights we finished closing in about ten minutes – and then we’d drink that old coffee, do a whippit or two, and make shots of mini-sundaes in tiny paper cups.
After leaving the restaurant, we’d attempt to air out our uniforms under the humid night sky. We’d sit on the curb and smoke for a while; sometimes we’d just sit. After decompressing we’d make our way to our homes, pocketfuls of one dollar bills with change heavy on each side. We’d make the journey on foot or – if someone with a car hadn’t gotten high – on wheels.
My walk home, especially on those dark, humid nights in July, was quiet, still, oddly comforting. Some nights, after a full shift, I’d carry home about one hundred dollars, a fortune. I’d think about how to spend that at Newbury Comics and how much I should stash away for college.
In those days, Friendly Ice Cream was a neighborhood place, a fun place, a more simple place to work. Years after I stopped working there it became a Finagle a Bagel – different, but still a recognizable landmark. Just over a year ago the building was torn down and replaced with a TD Bank. They even tore out the parking lot and its curb.
The Vokes Theater is still there though. I wonder where patrons go now after the shows.