I mentioned last week that we were taking the boy to Chuck E. Cheese for his birthday. I have to admit it was just as much an idea for my own enjoyment as his. I only got to go there once as a child that I can recall. I was more of a Mr. Gatti’s patron. They aren’t very different places. You go, you eat pizza, you play games.

But the best part came at the end of each game, when the machine spit out a big string of tickets. You had to balance your winnings in your pockets, along with your golden game tokens.

When it was time to go home, or when you ran out of game tokens, you’d take your winnings to a prize counter to be counted. While they were being counted you would behold and study all of your different prize choices. Big stuffed animals for 1,000 tickets, dinky plastic toys for 200 tickets, a tootsie roll for 20. To be honest, I can’t remember what the prizes actually were or what prize I ever got. I probably left with the dinky prizes most of the time.

But, I won’t ever forget that feeling of great excitement that I got from watching the tickets spill out of the game machine and I won’t forget the wonderful pressure of having to decide just how to spend those tickets. You had to ask yourself if you wanted to go for the bigger prize and spend all your tickets on one thing, or whether it was the smarter move to split the tickets among several smaller choices.

I couldn’t wait to watch the boy experience that same fun that I’d had as a child. But when we got to the restaurant I noticed something was awry. We ordered our pizza and drinks and then we had to pick how we wanted to play games. Would we rather have play points or play time, the lady at the register asked?

What’s this? I want tokens! I thought to myself. But I told her we’d take play points. They gave us a card that had to be swiped at each game. While we waited for our pizza to cook, we played games.

The first game had a little motorcycle you sit on and I think there was a gun to shoot. When the game ended what did I see? Well, it wasn’t tickets shooting out of the game if you want to know. What it was, was nothing, nada, zip, zilch, jack squat. Apparently, the card just keeps up with the points now.

There’s no tangible stack of little white tickets that fold into each other. There’s no responsibility to keep up with all of these tickets. There’s no great sadness when you realize you’ve lost a few somewhere along the way. Just a card.

The card does create a new pressure for parents, because it is costly and if you lose it you’re done. One grandfather in particular that day at Chuck E. Cheese was not pleased as he tromped around the entire place looking for the card his grandkids had lost. The kids, which were oblivious, had just as much fun running around hitting buttons.

Before we ran out of points I wanted to make sure I got to play the one game that I find quite addicting. It’s the one with all the quarters or tokens (I’ve played both ways) hanging from a ledge and you have to try to knock them down with the coin you put in. I swiped the card and low and behold, a token came out. I strategically put the token in. It pushed all the tokens inside closer and closer to the edge. I gave it another go. I swiped the card, and a token came out. That old thrill came rushing back. I put the token in and boom! Millions and millions of tokens fell over the ledge. I could hear them falling to the bottom of the machine where I would retrieve them and play this game until the cows came home.

But, no. Nothing. The coins did not come out of the machine, and I knew nothing would ever be the same again.

The boy, along with little sister who much enjoyed roaming around and taking balls from various games, had a great time. Poor things didn’t even realize, as Michael and I did, what they were missing out on.

Danielle Wallingsford Kirkland is a former Sentinel staff writer and correspondent. She can be reached at danielle.w.kirkland@gmail.com.

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