I remember a time before a McDonald’s sat on every corner. No Arby’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Subway. There were restaurants in my hometown, but no chains and none were open on Sunday. We went out to eat every Saturday night, usually within a 30 mile radius of Rock Valley. Mom cooked all week after she got home from work and she was bushed, but I rarely heard her complain about making supper every night.
My first experience with something I’d never tried before was in 1964. I was 13 and old enough to run around town. I now spent much of my free time at Rock Valley’s 6 lane bowling alley, and I don’t ever remember bowling there. That’s odd, right? The front section of the bowling alley was huge. A long counter took up one wall plus multiple tables, pinball machines, and a great juke box. There was no reason to go back by the actual bowling lanes unless you needed to use the restroom. A nice lady named Fran managed the kitchen, made the food, served the food and ran the register. I don’t know how she remained sane or coherent after football or basketball games. The place was packed with nearly everyone from school. (Our high school probably totaled 225 back then, which included 4 grades). There was barely enough room to move. Pinball machines dinging, jukebox rocking out The Beatles, Beach Boys, Elvis, Johnny Cash, The Turtles, Neil Diamond, The Dave Clark Five and the rest of the greatest music ever written, played or sung. And everybody wanted food. Poor Fran. A lot of nights after games my boyfriend (now Hubs for half a century) would hop behind the counter and make malts, shakes and sandwiches to help her out.
Well there was this edible creation Fran made that I’d not tried before. It was flat and about the size of salad plate. Gooey, stringy melted white cheese, capable of producing a blister on the roof of your mouth or on your chin. On top of the cheese was browned crumbled (seasoned?) hamburger. Fran browned all the hamburger earlier in the day and I remember John telling me she rinsed the hamburger with hot water after it was browned to get out as much fat as possible. (That woman was making healthy choices for us way back when). Awwww. There were some spices visible and I distinctly remember tiny oblong seeds that were a bit spicy, giving it just enough zip. Pizza. The cost of this delicacy was 60 cents. Another dime bought me an RC Cola.
In all truthfulness, I think our school’s hot lunch program offered a menu item every few weeks called pizza. Being savvy teens, we were not so easily fooled. It was not a ‘Fran’ pizza. It was browned hamburger mixed with tomato sauce/ketchup plopped on a thick bread-like crust with a slice of America cheese on top. It didn’t begin to resemble real pizza. And I had not yet ever had pizza from an authentic pizza parlor yet. Be still my heart. Soon young one, soon.
As my world began to expand, most of our ‘big date night’ destination was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about 40 miles west. Compared to Rock Valley’s population of 2,000, Sioux Falls was humongous with about 60,000 people. K-Mart, Lewis Drug, a brand new chain called McDonald’s, with downtown shopping to die for, including Woolworth’s, Penney’s and Shriver’s (Mom’s favorite store). Huge, fancy movie theaters. It was just such a hip city.
Depending on our financial situation for the night was the engine determining what kind of fare would sustain us. We could each get a shake, cheeseburger and fries and get change back from two dollars at McDonald’s if money was tight. Or opt to walk around K-Mart for an hour, stop at their own little deli and buy a couple of their foot long sandwiches (the precursor to Subway). Piled high with cheap bologna, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and yellow mustard. I don’t remember the price but it wasn’t much, maybe 39 or 49 cents. (Of course we did dates on five bucks most nights which included food, movie, snacks and gas). But if our budget was an iota more for the night we’d always-always spring for pizza. Sioux Falls had 2 or 3 restaurants JUST for pizza. The one we really liked was downtown Sioux Falls and it was called The Pizza Palace. While Franny’s pizza was awesome, The Pizza Palace offered a variety of ingredients like pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms and better cheese. (In Fran’s defense, I’m sure The Pizza Palace did not rinse their browned hamburger to keep the fat content down for us).
As I remember The Pizza Palace was not a super huge place but was always busy. One memorable night, after finding a parking place we walked into a packed house and finally spotted a small table. (Most trips to Sioux Falls usually ended up with us double dating with another couple but on this occasion it was just Johnny Wayne & Neese). We ordered our pizza and pop, talked about what movie we should see while we gazed into each other’s eyes, drooling because the place smelled incredible. We devoured our pizza pie like malnourished inmates, both my arms tightly protecting my turf, just in case he thought I wouldn’t finish what was on my plate and he could snag leftovers. As if. I had my eyes on every slice he ate in case he left that one inch edge of crust (my favorite). But no, we each scarfed every crumb that was offered and then sat there, sated, fat and lazy. Carb coma, my favorite. While John paid the bill, I used the restroom. Towards the back, in the middle were 2 swinging doors. After going through, one direction was the lady’s restroom, the other way was the men’s.
I left the restroom and headed to the saloon doors and discovered John leaving the men’s room at exactly the same time. With just our heads barely poking over the swinging doors we each pushed one open and were greeted with loud gasps, guffaws and snickers. Everyone in the restaurant was staring at us with a mixture of amusement, shock and nervous laughter. I could feel myself blushing but I didn’t know exactly why. Hubs seemed fine.
It must have looked like we were doing something illicit in one restroom (together, duh) instead of going our separate ways. All because of our inopportune timing. By the time realization hit how questionable it looked, I honestly didn’t think I could make my feet move towards the front door. Think of it. I was 15. Mortified. Humiliated. And there was absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Ho man, it would be several weeks before I let John talk me into a return visit to our own little house of ill repute. Statistically, it was highly unlikely the same customers/workers were going to be there again-patiently waiting for the sex-crazed teen couple to start swinging-just out of sight-behind the saloon doors…