An Oasis Called Pizza Hut

July 7, 2009

There was no such thing as air conditioning when I was a kid. It existed, but we didn’t have it – not in our house, not in our school, not in the family car.

The last situation made for tense times on six-hour drives to Western Pennsylvania for vacation each summer.

Perched on the couch the other night, the drone of the central air was comforting, lulling me into a drowsy state. I was still coherent enough to have a personal revelation during a television commercial.

As a kid, Pizza Hut was nirvana.

Sure, it’s mediocre pizza, but how many times have you run across pizza that was truly inedible – especially as a kid?

(I could probably count mine on one had)

My hometown had Pizza Haus as the one establishment singularly devoted to purveying pie. It wasn’t bad but hardly the place you rave to friends about years later in one of those mindless discussions that occur shortly after one in the morning at some bar.

It was pizza. It was greasy. It was ours.

(and a place where we enjoyed heckling the town drunks)

The nearest Pizza Hut was twenty minutes away in a thriving megalopolis of ten thousand best known for the tree which grew from the roof of the courthouse.

Times were catatonic.

But there was a Pizza Hut. It was air-conditioned and dimly lit. There was pizza. And, once I was in high school and my friends and I could procure transportation (usually without prior consent of our biological guardians) and escape there, the juke box was of great importance, too.

Those treks rarely ended without souvenirs. One friend had a dozen of those red, plastic glasses at home (I believe he told his mom that they were free with a purchase). We once even made off with a pan pizza pan which another friend’s father was surprised to find in his trunk.

As much as those antics were important in keeping my friends and I occupied, it was those family vacations during which the familiar architecture of Pizza Hut was salvation – a brief respite from hunger, heat, and the drudgery of the road.

The (usually) annual pilgrimage that occurred in 1981 was memorable to me as radio was a new interest and, thus, a new way to pass the time with an eye scanning the horizon for that familiar red roof.

Some of the songs I recall hearing on that trip…

Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
from Mistaken Identity

I wasn’t exactly taken at the time with Kim Carnes’ mysterious, new-wave tinged take on this Jackie DeShannon song. That was unfortunate because it was simply inescapable that summer.

Over the years, it’s grown on me considerably and I dig the raspy vocals of Carnes.. And, in a brush with semi-greatness, I once bumped into her at Kroger’s. She was hidden behind a large pair of sunglasses, but it was definitely her buying a carton of eggs.

Jim Steinman – Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through
from Bad For Good

I like Meat Loaf. He seems like an affable, eager-to-please fellow whom you could depend on in a jam. I think I’d like to be his neighbor

The reason I mention Meat Loaf is because it was singing the songs of Jim Steinman that brought him to global fame. Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through was on Steinman’s lone solo album, released during the long wait for Meat Loaf to follow-up Bat Out Of Hell.

It’s gloriously bombastic. If you’re going to go big, you might as well go Spectorian.

Journey – Who’s Crying Now
from Escape

I distinctly remember hearing Who’s Crying Now for the first time on that vacation and, by the time it finished, I was already surfing the radio dial in hopes of hearing it again.

I wouldn’t even hazard to guess how many times I heard it during that two-week stretch. I am certain that it must have been enough times that had my family bludgeoned me to death with the lid from the cooler and left me for dead on the side of the interstate somewhere in West Virginia, they would have been acquitted.

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, Foreigner 4 is a fantastic, straight-ahead rock record and I never really understood the critical angst over their records up through this one. Of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner on the radio was omnipresent.

Sheena Easton – For Your Eyes Only
from For Your Eyes Only soundtrack

I confess that the only James Bond movie that I have ever seen is A View To A Kill (it’s a rather shameful admission, I suppose). I like James Bond, but, if he was a neighbor of me and Meat Loaf, I can’t imagine he’d let us use his pool or go bowling with us.

Anyhow, Sheena Easton was a bit too unremittingly perky for me, but I did/do like For Your Eyes Only. Blondie actually was supposed to do the theme to the James Bond flick of the same name, and I like their song, too (even though it is an entirely different song).