Growing up in the Northwest, coffee was a big part of my life from an early age. I remember rainy mornings in school when the teacher would walk around with a kettle. If you wanted a cup, you stuck out your mug and she would give you a word to spell. If you spelled it correctly, you were rewarded. If you were incorrect, she tipped the scalding beverage onto your outstretched wrist.
Of the many cups of coffee I enjoyed as a small child, my favorite place for coffee was Peppy Polly's. Some of you may remember Peppy Polly's. There were a dozen locations in Portland and surrounding areas. My neighborhood Peppy Polly's was located across from the Hollywood Transit Center, where the eyesore Trader Joe's is now.
Peppy Polly's was for coffee what Chuck E. Cheese's was for pizza. It had arcade games, skee ball and tickets that could be redeemed for prizes. Peppy Polly's bought most of the commercial airtime during the after-school television blocks. I can still hear the jingle.
Polly was a jittery animatronic wolf spider. Six of her hands held steaming coffee mugs; the other two held cigarettes, from which she took long, deep drags. Twice per hour, she and her arachnid friends would perform covers of pop songs. The black widow, for example, would croon Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man." The scorpion did "Rock You Like a Hurricane." The showstopping finale was a rendition of Andrea True's disco hit "More, More, More," during which coffee was half-price.
When I was 10, my friend Mickey Mafron and I got into some mischief at Polly's.
We hid in the restroom stall. After the place closed and we were sure all the staff had gone home, we emerged and made a huge pot of very strong coffee. But the novelty soon wore off and we grew restless.
Everything was turned off—the animatrons, the arcade games, the lights. Eventually, we stumbled into the control room. Here, we pressed every button in the hopes that one would turn on the arcade games, but sadly none did.
We did, however, manage to turn on the animatrons.
This turned out to be a terrifying mistake. Whereas previously it had been creepy and quiet, suddenly the reanimated arachnids were singing and dancing and intent on ambushing us. While during the day their revue was festive, at night, when everyone was gone, it took on an unmistakably sinister tone.
We climbed atop one of the tables as if it were our life raft. "The spiders cannot reach us here," I repeated over and over to Mickey, trying to comfort him. But it was no use. A timid child, he was ill-equipped for our ordeal. At one point, I dozed off, telling myself that we would be rescued in the morning. I was awoken later by screaming. I opened my eyes in time to see Mickey leap off the table and flee into the darkness.
We later learned that in his panic he had run headlong into one of the spider's nests and had become entangled. He was discovered the next afternoon, and the fire department had to be called to free him from the web.
It is a shame that all of the Peppy Polly's franchises are now shuttered. They have been replaced by so many nondescript hipster-owned-and-operated coffee shops and roasters that offer the same generic experience. A shame, but certainly not a surprise that something so unique could not survive in New Portland.