All credit for the idea behind this post goes to my brother Andrew for bringing it up in a random conversation and my classmate Rachel Rounds for reminding me that now would be as good a time as ever to write it. Here’s to you, hope you enjoy this little humor piece:
The air is alive with a cacophony of flashing lights, tinkling bells and garish electronic music. At each machine stands a mesmerized patron performing their mindless routine: slip the coin in the slot, follow the directions, hope for the best. Suddenly the bells chime infinitely louder, sirens blare, shouts rise from the back corner. The jackpot! Someone’s won the jackpot! All of his friends cheer and laugh and pat him on the back while the other players harden their faces with envy and keep feeding the machines. Their turn will be next, they’re sure of it, if not with this machine then with the next one down the line.
Welcome to Chuck E. Cheese’s.
They say Chuck E. Cheese’s is a family fun center, a place where a kid can be a kid, but you only need to step through the cheerfully colored doors to realize that “fun center” is just their way of saying “kids’ casino”. The friendly attendant stamps your hand with a special ultraviolet ink and you’re in, free to roam the rows of shiny, dinging machines. But wait, first you have to exchange your money for gold tokens; after all, it’s much easier to part with your coins when they’ve got a mouse stamped on them instead of George Washington.
Now that you have your tokens you’re ready to start gambling, and there’s a dazzling array of slot machines – er, games – to choose from. You could try to hit the jackpot slot on the spinning wheel of the Smokin’ Token (never mind that it’s half the width of the token itself), or engross yourself in the tantalizing Wheel of Fortune. Stop the spinning lights with the touch of a button and you just might win the grand prize! In fact, all of the games scream in pixilated yellow digits the staggering number of tickets that you could be lucky enough to win. Hit the jackpot on Big Cheese and you might be able to get that fuzzy lobster you’ve been ogling over at the prize counter, and if you’re really on a roll you’ll score the Tower of Power Bonus Prize. With that many tickets you’d never have to work another day in your life.
The best jackpots, however, can be found on the Skeeballs that are lined up in a long row against the back wall. All day long the rattle of the wooden balls on the slanted runways and the plunking sound when they bounce off the point baskets drones in the background. The regulars stand by for a while to observe. Which machines are consistent winners? How long has it been since the last jackpot? Is the one thousand point bonus basket easier to land on machine two or machine five? Once you choose your machine you’ve got to stick with it. It takes twenty-five tickets per token to break even, and you’ve been averaging eighteen, but you can’t quit now. This machine’s just a few tokens away from a jackpot, you can feel it!
If you can tear yourself away from the games for a moment there’s even more to experience at Chuck E. Cheese’s, like the dining area. The pizza may not be your typical casino fare, but their prices rival those of any steak dinner. Every half-hour or so the curtain over the stage in the front slides dramatically open to reveal a host of robotic puppets for your mealtime entertainment. They sing, they dance, they tell bad jokes; if they weren’t animals (and they didn’t tilt their heads at such disconcerting angles when they talked) they could pass as stage performers at Caesar’s or Blue Chip.
At the end of the day you gather up all your hard-earned tickets to cash them in and see how much of a profit you’ve made. With any luck those twenty dollars of tokens will earn you a prize worth twice as much, maybe even that giant remote control army tank on the top shelf. You hand the attendant your slip from the ticket counting machine and she scans it at the cash register. “You’ve won a hundred and fifty tickets,” she announces cheerily. “You can take any prize from these bins over here, or even two from this one down here.”
She gestures to several boxes of sour liquid candy and one-inch-tall plastic ninjas, and your hopes sink. “I think I’ll save those tickets for next time,” you reply dejectedly, accepting the slip back from the attendant. It should only take a month or two of mowing lawns and babysitting to save up enough money for another crack at the jackpot, and then you’ll return to try your luck again. You can stop whenever you want, of course, but you don’t want to yet, because it only takes one lucky day to win it big at Chuck E. Cheese’s: where a kid can be a problem gambler.