When It was Still Called Friendly

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.

* Friendly Ice Cream officially became Friendly’s in 1989, I stopped working there soon after.


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. #RESIST
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39 Responses to When It was Still Called Friendly

  1. Found you on Yeahwrite. I’m hooked on your writing. We had a Swensen’s ice cream where I grew up – my mom was a young mother trying to make ends meet there. I was the lucky kid who sat in a booth coloring all day and eating free hamburgers and ice cream clown sundaes. It’s now a upscale restaurant but it still has the train track running around the top – though the train has been retired. I hate that they tore down Friendlys, but your vivid recall of this place is excellent.

  2. commutefromhell says:

    Friendly’s was the “original diner” before I even knew what a diner was! My sister and cousin would frequent the Friendly’s out in Commack, Long Island, where we would spend a lot of time in the summers. My favorite memories are of us burnt and crispy from spending aaaaaaall day long in the pool, hair still wet, getting a ride from my uncle to the Friendly’s and all of us talking in the car about what we were going to get in our Jim Dandy! Thanks for making me remember those days! 🙂

  3. Jennifer Worrell says:

    I haven’t seen a Friendly’s in ages. What a cool memory!

  4. IASoupMama says:

    What a great memory! My teenage summer jobs were nannying, and I really think I’d like to forget those years, ugh…

    • My sisters both did the childcare gig for many summers. There were lots of perks, but just as my sister couldn’t handle waitressing, no way could I have handled babysitting for that kind of long-term gig. More power to you!

      • Andrea says:

        You’ve got that right, I always admired (and still do) the fact that you lasted so long working at Friendly’s. Despite the fact that I only lasted 3 months as a waitress there, I was still quite upset to find it turned into a TD bank. Sigh. Thanks for the blast from the past.

  5. Lenore Diane says:

    Friendly’s and Farrells – two fantastic neighborhood joints. Though I never worked at a Friendly’s, your story brought back many wonderful memories. This was excellent, KD!

  6. Friendly’s was one of my favorite places to get ice cream when my family moved from Oklahoma to Vermont. We grew up on Braum’s Ice cream and Friendly’s because our Vermont Braum’s!

  7. Flood says:

    Great summer memories! I worked in a coffee shop as my first job and your descriptions made me remember some of the best things about it. The walk home, when you and the night are best and only friends is a warm feeling in the chest. As an adult, it sneaks up on you every once in a while, when you have to cross the parking lot of the grocery store before closing.

    • I really do think of those times as golden. And I worked there year-round, but the summers were the (ironically) slower times of leisure and curb-sitting. Thanks for the comment – sans typos!

  8. Mayor Gia says:

    What fun teenage memories!

  9. Robbie says:

    what descriptive memories of a job you really enjoyed.

  10. I loved the feeling of competence and mastery that exuded from this post. I’ve had jobs, but very few where I had that feeling of everything in its place and a job well done. Thanks for the yarn.

  11. raisingivy says:

    I love “swamps of sticky leftovers next to full water glasses.” Decades ago I worked the ice cream counter at a deli in Baltimore, and to this day I don’t like ice cream. Wonderful and evocative post — it brought a lot back for me.

    • Thank you for picking out that line! I played with it a bit, thinking it was too much. But then I realized it was accurate! I remember having to snowplow the “swamps” onto a plate because the dishcloth would almost disappear into it. Ewwww.

  12. Just as the others have said, this brought back memories for me as well. Summer nights. How much time I had to THINK back then. Pre-marriage and kids, OH that quiet, reflective, selfish in a good way time. Breathing in the night, walking around with friends, smoking, pocket full of cash. All of that. I worked at a tanning salon of all places. Come on, a tanning salon? But I loved it. It was easy. Thank you for the strong imagery! I enjoyed my own trip back 🙂

  13. I loved reading this. Made me think about my summer jobs. Summer is a wonderful, carefree time. That description of you walking home….put me right there. Outside in the dark on a warm night — listening to the crickets. **smile**

  14. I always envied people who worked at ice cream shops. Would you have given me free sundaes? 🙂 I was bummed that it turned into a bank. That sucks.

    • Sorry! I had very high morals about comping stuff. My sisters still complain about that. I was bummed too – for the local credit union that was next door as well. They used to take all my rolled up tips and deposit them into my very own account. 🙂

  15. tara pohlkotte says:

    you took me right to the summer night feeling. tired, yet soaking in the night. great write!

  16. dberonilla says:

    Wow. I really enjoyed reading this!
    I loved your descriptions of everything from the customers, to the heat of the summer. You definitely took me back with you.
    I think the line that hit me the most was “They even tore out the parking lot and its curb.”. Something as simple as a curb that you gave so much life to when you described it as such an important part of your after work routine.
    Great job!

  17. Kerstin says:

    Great post, love that feeling of nostalgia.
    One of my first jobs was at a Fast Food restaurant in Germany and after I moved to the States when I was 19 I worked at Chick-Fil-A before I started going to college. I remember the smell and the stickiness…

  18. Bridgette says:

    Wow, teen jobs – what memories! I worked in a deli where one of my jobs was scraping mold off things that were patently too old and still SELLING them. I was 15 and I needed the money. That’s a lovely evocative post.

  19. Anna says:

    I had no idea it used to be Friendly! I have many a happy memory of going there, and to Bringham’s when we traveled up north. And Newbury Comics, oh the hours I’ve spent there…

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