If you don’t remember the store Media Play, you missed out on what was probably the coolest store of all time (“all time” meaning if you were a teenager growing up in the 90s). Looking for a new CD or DVD? Maybe the latest video game? How about a poster for your bedroom wall? Perhaps a book or magazine? A t-shirt of your favorite band, or a bumper sticker, or an action figure? Pretty much everything that my siblings and I were into circa 1999.
My younger sister Val and I were members of Media Play’s illustrious Rewards Club. It’s not an uncommon idea now, but at the time it was a bit more innovative: you get a club card that keeps track of your purchases and racks up points every time you buy something. Once you get X number of points, you can get coupons for free stuff. The best part? Once every few months Media Play would host a V.I.P. night where the store stayed open late for members only and you earned triple points on everything you bought. They also had free snacks and drinks, and they even brought in a live band a couple of times to really make it feel like a big deal.
These V.I.P. nights debuted right as three other stars happened to align: I had my driver’s license, I got my own car, and I was able to drive after 9:00 p.m. This opened up the whole new world of possibilities that came with not having to ask Mom and Dad for a ride anymore. Any time a letter came in the mail informing us of an upcoming V.I.P. night (that’s right, they notified you by mail – nowadays it would surely be an email or a text alert sent to your phone), we would clear our schedules and start making a list of what we wanted to shop for.
I’m not sure when the first time was that we invited our little brother Josh to come along as a “special guest,” but he quickly became a staple of our MP outings as well. Being able to be out somewhere, just the three kids, no adult supervision – at night, no less! – was a real thrill. Sometimes we didn’t even buy anything if money was tight or nothing caught our interest that night (it was rare, but it happened). Just the fun of going out and doing something was enough to make it exciting.
Media Play just happened to be right next to Friendly’s, so the tradition of getting ice cream for the ride home was quickly added to the routine.
The other recurring outing for the Dimino kids was Pizza Hut Lunch Buffet. This one was harder to coordinate because they do not do the buffet on weekends, so it would have to be done on a day off or half day from school. We took Pizza Hut Buffet very seriously. All the pizza, pasta, and breadsticks you could eat (and salad, but let’s not kid ourselves, we weren’t there to eat salad) for like five bucks? This was not just a good deal, this was an opportunity we had to take full advantage of.
Timing was critical. You wanted to get there right at the start of the buffet so the freshest pizza would be available and you would have the maximum amount of time to eat. Pacing yourself was key, though. Down too much food right out of the gate and you were bound to hit the wall too fast. We would often remind each other to take breaks, using the downtime as an opportunity to scope out what new pizzas may have come out in the last few minutes. We had to keep a special watchful eye out for the elusive “plain cheese,” as that was the one and only pizza that Josh would eat. On the ride home we would compare notes on who had eaten the most, tallying up our total slices consumed. (By the time we got home the triumph had usually turned to regret as we all began to question why we had eaten so much, but that last part was forgotten by the time the next PHB outing rolled around.)
I look back on this era of MP Nights and Pizza Hut Buffets fondly. In many ways, this was when Val, Josh, and I stopped being just siblings, and started to really become friends.