Monday, July 4, 2016
July 4, 2016
It was pouring rain halfway to Leesburg when I pulled into the Pizza Hut parking lot. There was only one car there, and the place looked lightless and shuttered. I got soaked making it to the front door that, to my surprise, was unlocked and opened into a totally empty restaurant. I sat unencumbered at a booth, watching the fat raindrops explode on the asphalt outside.
Why I was there is unclear. I didn’t want to be home, and I had not been in a Pizza Hut for more than a decade.
Earlier, Arielle and I had gone to the Independence Day Parade in downtown Washington, D.C. We sat on the curb with a thousand other spectators and waited for the festivities to start. We watched the people who were standing in the street and blocking our view, and at one point Arielle yelled, “There are children here, and they can’t see!” It was effective. The stand-uppers retreated a few feet. I looked at her in surprise, as moments earlier she had admonished me against yelling exactly in the same manner. “When a man yells,” she explained, “it’s threatening. When a woman yells…” I don’t think she finished the sentence.
A couple visiting from Estonia asked us tourist questions that we answered to the best of our abilities; motorcycle cops did figure eights in the road, and marching bands marched. At one point a young woman sat next to us. Judging from the scarlet of her face, she’d been drinking earlier in the morning. She laughed, said she was bored, stood up once and almost fell over, and then sat again.
It was a coolish, overcast day for July, a good temperature for marchers and spectators alike, and we saw color guards stride past, followed, inexplicably, by a giant Scooby Doo float held down by a dozen waving marchers. The balloon seemed to deflate as it progressed, and somewhere, sometimes, I will find existential meaning in this, but not today. Arielle and I debated the possibility of a book-themed float based on one of my future works. I thought it was a grand idea. She was not convinced.
I commented that one of the hallmarks of parades is that the marching bands are almost always out of tune, and was told to keep things positive. No carping allowed on July 4. We applauded the a float of American Sikhs who, turbaned and bearded, are often mistaken for Islamist Middle-Easterns and, according to reports, have been known to suffer the consequences. We sort of cheered for Miss America, clapped for a high school band whose song Arielle liked (and sang along with), and clapped again for a dozen tiny persons waving pom-poms. We applauded the Tonto-less Lone Ranger, and a mounted Black Jack Pershing. I wondered about young women in form-fitting silver dresses handling toy rifles, and was told to keep my thoughts to myself. We left after a couple of hours; Arielle had friends coming over, and as I drove away after dropping her off, I decided I did not want to return to my empty house.
I stopped by a hobby shop because years ago I used to build plastic models of cars and boats and miniature wooden planes that I crashed into trees at first flight. I looked and could not find a kite kit of the Wright Brothers’ plane. I munificently bought a small container of instant glue, chatted with store employees over the rising cost of balsa wood, impending drone-flying regulations, and the demise of wooden boat model kits. Then I headed out again.
Half-an-hour later, I found the Pizza Hut.
There are fifteen-thousands of them all over the world, but they appear to be vanishing from the more expensive suburbs, such as those found outside Washington. In China, they are considered luxury restaurants complete with tablecloths and real silverware. The franchise was started in 1958 by Dan and Frank Caner, and is now run by the Yum! Brands company.
My solitary presence there was vindicated by the delight of the hostess as I entered. “You’re our first customer of the afternoon,” she told me.
“Do I get a prize?”
“No,” she said.
I managed to drop just enough tomato sauce on a brand new tee shirt to ruin it, and at one point a slice of pepperoni made a leap for freedom and landed on my lap.