Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

I remember when I was a kid, a new pizza place opened up in our area. It was about half an hour away, but we’d heard it was really good, so we made the trek to try it. It lived up to the hype: their delectable pan pizza was completely different than the same old genuine New York–style pies at all nine Italian- or Italian-American–owned pizza/sub shops in our tiny New Jersey hamlet of 15,000 people. It was also expensive, but it was so delicious that we’d drive up Route 46, every few months, to take advantage of that wonderful place called “Pizza Hut.”

A few years later, they opened another store—their second, in my young mind—about 10 minutes from our house. Now it was easier to get there, though our weekly pizza night continued to come from locals like Cosmo Bella or Bachagaloop’s. Still, when the craving came, we’d still head out to Totowa to get a Pizza Hut pizza and a side of cheesy garlic bread. Definitely great stuff.

On the other side of the coin were burgers. Sure, we could always go to our local McDonald’s or Burger King; we could even get some really good char-broiled burgers from a local favorite like the Anthony of Wayne or the Hearth. But every once in a while, we’d go to this tiny, beat-up place down on the Clifton/Paterson border, a place so small that they just had two doors connected by an aisle where you could place your order. Still, it was always insanely busy. I don’t remember the line ever fitting inside; it was always out the door and across the parking lot, and Dad would wait in line for 30-45 minutes to get our food while Mom waited in the car with two increasingly bored kids. (Thank goodness for Walkmans.) Despite all this, we’d go back time after time for the delectable taste of White Castle.

The point I’m trying to make is that, as a kid, these now–extremely commonplace restaurants were incredibly special to me, but these days, it’s just not the same. I’m sure some of that comes from the romanticism of childhood, but some of it is the fact that it’s just not special anymore. Ironically, Pizza Hut is still 10 minutes away and White Castle is still 20 (although admittedly, the latter is available from Walmart, a mere three minutes away). But they’re still so incredibly normal that we don’t often take advantage of them.

Last night, for example, my daughter Leah’s school had a fundraiser at the local Pizza Hut. We went—even took the missionaries, since we were scheduled to feed them, anyway—but it just wasn’t the same as when I was a kid. It was still enjoyable; just not special. I attribute this to the number of times Anna and I had Pizza Hut when we were first married and it was convenient food after a long day at work. (We did the same with White Castle, which was much closer, then.) Even though that was 14 years ago, the magic is permanently gone.

So what do you think? Does familiarity really breed contempt, or at least apathy?