Herbie called to ask if I wanted my first driving lesson in the parking lot. Lorraine wanted to know if I was going to wear my famous plaid slacks and parka. It was Friday night, and we were all going to the Gallatin Street Hot Shoppes.
The memories of Herbie, Lorraine, Shirley and others came flooding back when the invitation from Washington found me in Los Angeles.
It invited me to a reunion this weekend of all the former "diners" of that Hot Shoppes at Georgia Avenue and Gallatin Street NW.
The world may not know, but should, that it has been 25 years since the restaurant closed its doors and that Washington is about to mark the occasion.
For seven years, I and hundreds of others ended our Friday nights there. That was the night we came in groups, wore casual clothes, sat in boohs, preferably by the windows, where we could see the parking lot and spot those who were arriving, drank root-beer floats and ate chocolate hot fudge cakes. Young visitors from out of town came to be looked over, sized up and judged.
The juke-box played Tommy Dorsey's "Opus One," Harry James' "It's Been a Long, Long Time" and Nat King Cole's "Sweet Lorraine," a number my girlfriend Lorraine had to hear about five times in one evening. That was a lot of money at a nickel a time.
The Shulman twins sat in the back trying to decide whom not to invite to their annual Halloween party and whom to match up on the scavenger hunt.
My mother never minded my later hours on Friday; she always knew where to find me. She knew I would be safe and that either Bobby or Stanley would walk me home.
We hung around in our groups outside even in rain and snow, only to drift into the restaurant as if it were an afterthought. I never knew who the manager was or who was in charge. It didn't matter; we eventually ordered, and no one was rowdy, and nothing got broken except a few hearts.
Relationships began and ended there. My own husband claims he first spotted me across a tuna-fish sandwich.
It was like a temple for some cult with a variety of rituals. It was our club; it was our home; most of all, it was important.
We dressed basically in the same type of clothes: loafers, button-back cardigans, long pearl necklaces. We wore our hair the same: long, loose and usually with a wave over one eye, like Veronica Lake. We went to the same high schools, belonged to the same clubs. We were one big family, and we all grieved together when Allen died of leukemia, Shirley's brother got shot down over Germany and Erwin got crushed in his father's junkyard. And we rejoiced when Joel got a scholarship to George Washington University and Rita was picked as Queen Esther.
Of course, Saturday nights were completely different.
No one went to the Hot Shoppes that night without a date. High heels, seamed stockings, mouton lamb coats, even corsages in the hair or on the shoulder were the rage. If you didn't have a date on Saturday night, you stayed home. Movie dates ended there even if we went to the Capitol Theater on F Street. You could then go across the street to the Mayflower Donut Shop -- but we didn't. We took the streetcar up Georgia Avenue to the Hot Shoppes. If you went duckpin bowling at the Penn, or to a house party or a school dance or on a hayride, it ended at the Hot Shoppes.
I've now lost track of Herbie and so many others, but quite a few still live in and around Washington, and Lorraine lives in Chicago. I'm going to try to make the reunion this weekend when they all get together. It's a long way to go to talk about hot fudge cakes and Harry James, but anyone who has spent as many Friday nights as I did at that place on Georgia Avenue must see the crowd once again.
My deepest regret is that we won't be gathering at the Gallatin Street Hot Shoppes. I think I still have my plaid slacks.