Where were you in '62? If you were a teen-ager in lower Montgomery County or upper Northwest Washington, on a Saturday night, the hot spot was the Hot Shoppes.
Last Friday night, it was Shoppe till you drop, at a reunion at the Pooks Hill Marriott of '60s survivors who used to frequent the restaurants in Bethesda and Silver Spring and on Connecticut Avenue in the District.
"This is 'American Graffiti' all over again," said a bemused Joseph Cuttriss, whose Bethesda-born wife Barbara Wagman was one of 400 ex-Hot Shoppes devotees, now in their mid-thirties, who gathered for a night of french fries and nostalgia. "I haven't seen my wife this excited in years."
"It was like -- what's that place on 'Happy Days'? -- Arnold's. You know, you got your daddy's car and you drove around the parking lot 10 times before you finally found a parking place," said Al Kodoux, who cruised all the way from Dover, Del., for the party.
"It was the place to go: In those days, it was just about the only place to go," said Jane Forman Fairweather, a Silver Spring native whose "Where is So-and-So" dinner for 40 old friends last March provided the inspiration for the reunion.
"One of the steering committee members, Lenny Greenberg, hung out at the Silver Spring Hot Shoppes so much that he finally bought it," she said.
In the years between the drag cruisers and the bell-bottom bluesers, when JFK's star was waxing and the Wurlitzer's waning, the Hot Shoppes were the extracurricular center of junior and senior high life.
As much fad as food, Saturday night at the Shoppes was an institution that crossed school lines, forming a kind of fraternity of the fries.
Among the reunion participants, most of whom frequented the now-demolished Hot Shoppes on Georgia Avenue, were alumni of Montgomery Hills, Sligo and Eastern junior highs, Northwood, Blair, Springbrook and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high schools, Bullis Prep in Potomac and the Maret School and Paul Junior High in the District.
"It was the beginning of car dating -- if you had a date; and if you didn't, you went with your girlfriends," Fairweather recalled. "Everybody ate the same things: a Mighty Mo, french fries with gravy, onion rings, an orange freeze and hot fudge ice cream cake."
And, for $30 a head ($35 at the door), that's exactly what they ate, this time washing down their double-decker Mighty Mos with refreshments from a cash bar.
Straight from the Marriott kitchens, dinner was the most authentic part of the evening. Although the music was period -- '50s and '60s golden oldies from Jr. Cline and the Recliners -- and the dancing circa early "Hullabaloo," the clothes were strictly mixer: some dress-for-success, some braces retro-prep, some pin stripe, some sequins and even some West Coast leather.
The leathers came draped around Coolidge High alum Jeff Haymon and his British wife Nuala, who flew back from their home in Encino, Calif.
"Why?" Haymon shrugged. "Curiosity. I haven't seen these people in 20 years. My God!" he yelled, bear-hugging a former soulmate.
As the night wore on, partygoers swapped stories of parking lot rites of passage.
"I had my first lesson in making out behind the one in Bethesda," confided one woman, and her friend laughed. "I had my first -- and only -- blind date," she returned, shuddering.
And for Paul Danzinger, "Hot Shoppes" is the answer to the Question of the '60s: "I was at the Hot Shoppes on Connecticut when [President] Kennedy was shot," he recalled.