In my Sophomore year of high school, I was the first amongst my close group of friends to get a driver’s license, and — more importantly — the first whose mom would actually lend out the car to them. Early on, I’d just pick up Nad and a few other friends, and we’d drive around throughout the early evening Phoenix streets with no particular place to go. Just good friends, good music, and people yelling out directions or suggestions. Apparently, in the late 1950s, it was popular to see how many people can be stuffed into a phonebooth 1although, having never met a single person who has ever done that, or that had ever even knew anyone personally who had done it, I remain skeptical … Continue reading, but it’s in high school that you come to find out how many people you can stuff into a 4-door sedan. More out of necessity than fun. Turns out : it’s 6 if you’re close friends, 8 if some of them are real small and you’re not going far, 10 if some people are cool with riding in the trunk.
One day, Nad and I were hanging out at the Paradise Valley Mall and were getting hungry. The food court at PV Mall was pretty sad at the time, and I kinda hankered to feel like an adult and sit at a restaurant. I remembered there was a Denny’s across the street and my recollection is that I’d recently (like within the prior two years) gone to a Denny’s with my dad and dug their Grand Slam action. I suggested to Nad that we hit up the Denny’s. My pitch was “the Grand Slam’s like two bucks” 2I had trouble verifying the historical prices of the Grand Slam, but I’m pretty sure it was $1.99 at the time. This commercial from the … Continue reading and he said “fuck yeah. I’m in!”. I remember sitting in a booth in the corner of the front room of Denny’s, staring out onto the huge green lawn outside the Denny’s, having my early-evening Grand Slam. I’ve made mentione before that few things feel so calm and serene as Phoenix in the late-afternoon/early-evening, and this was one such time. I said to Nad “we need to do this more often. Like… once a week, or something. This is great”. That’s kinda how Nad and I worked. We were, and still are to some degree, big on ritual and nostalgia. We have so many inside jokes after 20+ years of friendship that we’ve gotta censor ourselves so as to not alienate anyone around us. We decided that we’d start Friday nights with a late-afternoon Denny’s visit, and take it from there.
Every weird subcultural ritual has its simple beginnings — that was ours.
It’s important to note that Nad and I were the cool, older guys in our group. Most of the people we hung out with were die-hard grunge fan Freshmen. Our Sophomore classmates were, by and large, wildly different in their tastes. Also, we both relished the opportunity to finally be the Cool Guys of a group. It also helped that “we” had a car at our disposal.
Many Friday nights started around 5-6pm, before it got dark, and we were all hanging out at PV Mall. Nad and I would excuse ourselves to go to Denny’s and offer to meet up with everyone later. PV Mall wasn’t particularly huge as a mall, but the surrounding lot of land it occupied was (and still is) kind of fucking enormous – I still don’t know why they need almost a golf course worth of land for such a relatively tiny mall. The walk from outside the food court (which was the mall-sanctioned “smoking section”) to the Denny’s was about a 10-15 minute walk. By vehicle, it was more like 2-3 minutes. In a short time, we started inviting some of “the crew” over to Denny’s with us. The really special members of the crew (i.e. “the hot chicks of the group”) were allowed to ride with us.
In those days, you could still smoke in restaurants. The area near the front was the smoking section, and it also had the best view. To hang out in a restaurant and have breakfast-for-dinner (“brinner”) and/or just a coffee while chain-smoking was irresistible to 14-16 year olds. Hell, I’m 36 and only vape now and I still wanna hang out in the early-evening and vape and have brinner 3once I quit smoking and my taste buds finally returned, I came to realize how fucking terrible Denny’s food tastes, which I think explains the … Continue reading. The Denny’s pre-game ritual Nad and I had was starting to pick up.
Throughout the school year, more and more of our (increasingly larger) crew started showing up to Denny’s. Sometimes before Nad and I even got there. Some kids would go straight from our high school to Denny’s by way of a ride from their parents, or taking the school bus as far as they could and walking the rest of the way. This Denny’s had a big lawn out front, so after our respective brinners we’d just hang out on the lawn like it was some kind of weird backyard BBQ. The Denny’s started imposing limits on who could hang out on the lawn, and started limiting it to customers only. They later had to impose limits on what constituted a customer. They eventually had to limit how long customers hung out on the Denny’s property.
Because of these restrictions, after a few months, the crew would start out at PV Mall and just hang out on the enormous lawn across the street from Denny’s — which was still on PV Mall property and therefore free and clear of Denny’s restrictions — before coming over to Denny’s for the amount of time they were “allowed to hang”. The grassy area at PV Mall came to be known as “Scotland”. No one seems to have an answer as to who came up with that, but I know it definitely wasn’t me. The grassy area surrounding the Denny’s, by extension, came to be known as “Ireland”.
That summer, it got even more nuts. With no restrictions on what night was “party night”, you could head to that Denny’s on any night of the week and there was a party inside and outside. I was first introduced to LSD — by way of meeting people who were tripping on LSD — on the Ireland lawn. I met people from miles around, who had heard mention of the Denny’s and Ireland and Scotland. Even a few older, out-of-high-school, people would come out and party with us. This was where you got whatever drug you were into. Where you made plans for the night. Where you met up with everyone with whom you had made plans. It was a whole subculture. A phenomena.
Nad and I would go there in my mom’s car, pick up a car full of people, drive around and play “follow someone’s car and try to scare them”, head back to the Denny’s, pick up a new group of people, and do it all over again. For years afterwards, that Denny’s remained a popular hangout spot for every alternative-style kid from our high school, even though it was a good 5-6 miles down the road. It’s why I mentioned going there during Fry Fest. Even as late as 2001, I stopped into that Denny’s while visiting Phoenix and still saw people I knew from high school sitting in those booths.
Once I moved to a new high school, I picked a Denny’s closer to my home, which also had a coffee shop in the same lot called The Mean Bean. That area experienced a similar “party every weekend, and also just about every night in the summer” phenomena, but it never reached critical PV Denny’s levels. The owner of TMB was a cool enough guy, though he refused to employ anyone who was part of The Crew that put that place on the map, and eventually he started making rules about how long us kids could loiter on his property because it just got too damned insane for him.
The Mean Bean closed shop right around the time I graduated high school, more out of the coincidence that fewer people were partying at TMB than anything to do with me. The PV Denny’s eventually shut down as well and was replaced with an In-N-Out burger sometime around 2003 4don’t quote me on that, I can’t seem to get a firm date on it.
I still wonder if we really fucked with their accounting books in the mid-to-late 90s. By throwing so many impromptu parties on their lawn and driving up their sales records, we may have scared off any regulars who would’ve otherwise gone there but moved on to a different restaurant instead. Then, once we all moved on as well, they’d never recover those regulars they once had since 4-5 years to young folks is like 6 months to us older folks, and the older past-regulars would think “oh yeah, that Denny’s is insane, we’re not going there ever again”. Subsequently, that may have helped the Denny’s corporate management decide “fuck it, sell it off” when In-N-Out came knocking.
Frankly, we probably had no impact on them at all. But they had a huge impact on us.
|↩1||although, having never met a single person who has ever done that, or that had ever even knew anyone personally who had done it, I remain skeptical as to the actual popularity of phonebooth stuffing. It was probably the year-long “planking” of its day|
|↩2||I had trouble verifying the historical prices of the Grand Slam, but I’m pretty sure it was $1.99 at the time. This commercial from the mid-80s could’ve held sway into the early 90s and, since it’s still only $5.99 today, I feel confident in my recollection. I’ve now wasted your time in telling you any of this|
|↩3||once I quit smoking and my taste buds finally returned, I came to realize how fucking terrible Denny’s food tastes, which I think explains the decline of many shitty restaurants in a post-non-smoking America|
|↩4||don’t quote me on that, I can’t seem to get a firm date on it|