Friday, December 29, 2006


Grace and her dad frequent Chuck E. Cheese (CEC). They love going to CEC.

Yesterday I suggested that we visit CEC. It had been years since I had set foot in one, the first and last being in Fairfield. It was on our way back from the family compound in Lake Tahoe. We needed a place to eat, it was late and CEC was an easy access off of the interstate.

There weren't a lot of kids at CEC that night. It was quiet. We ate. The kids played a few games. Chuck danced around the stage. We left. No big deal.

When we walked in the door the little hostess girl said, "Hi guys." and Candace said, "We'll there's one guy here and two girls. What does that make us?" Oh boy, here we go.

We ordered lunch. A small pizza for Grace and I with two toppings. A salad for Candace. Some french fries. Three drinks. 40 game tokens. 36 bucks.

I looked at one of the game tokens closely. It said "Where a Kid Can be a Kid". That along with what I just paid for a meal and game tokens should have been a clue for what was in store.

It was a little after 11 and people with their handfuls of kids started streaming in. Watching parents and grandparents spend their hard earned money at CEC for food and tokens reminded me of watching people who gamble at the local Indian casino: They're the ones who can least afford it.

We ate. The pizza was like cardboard -it had no soul like real pizza should.

Candace's salad for close to 5 bucks was a total rip-off. It was the smallest of disposable bowls - like made for a cup of soup.

Candace and Grace were soon off to play games while I sat content to guard the left over food, the purse and the jackets all the while watching mankind doing what mankind does best - co-mingle with other members of mankind.

Every once in a while Grace would race back to the table, tickets in hand, shouting, "I won, I won!" The tickets that are won can be cashed in for prizes. Grace was very proud of herself.

Our table was near the front door and where food was ordered. I could see first hand the initial responses of children and adults to the Chuck E. Cheese experience.

#1 Kids threw off their shoes as soon as they hit the inside of CEC. I guess this is part of being a kid.

#2 A few families bought one "all you can eat" salad dish along with a pizza. As one adult finished eating their salad the plate was wiped off by another member of the family. That person then scooted over to the salad bar to fill the plate up with another helping of food. Resourceful, I thought.

#3 CEC brings out the hyperactivity, attention deficit side of all kids, even adults. At CEC, they all act like their nuts. Kids, adults running from game to game, waving tokens and tickets as they move. Yelling, screaming, babies crying, games clanging/gonging/bonging - the noise, ohhh the noise!

#4 Some of the 20 or 30 something male adults still think they're teenagers. Hats worn backwards, pants below their butt cracks, adolescent gestures, shoes untied (what's that all about?), all trying to look cute. Mostly they looked unemployed and were not cute at all.

#5 A few of the moms and dads did what I did and observed the chaos from a safe distance. We were the smart ones.

#6 Other smart parents knew better than to eat at CEC well knowing the value of their hard earned money should not be spent foolishly. They bought a few game tokens, turned the kids loose and sat until the tokens had all been expended.

#7 You have to endure kids even though you're sitting at table away from the action. I had a set of twins sit right behind me with their mother and grandmother. They stood up and sneezed and coughed in my direction all the while pulling on the cord controlling the window blinds. I moved to the seat across from the table and immediately another mother sat behind me with her crying infant on her shoulder. There's no refuse for any living being in CEC.

#8 In some cases the games require little or no skill. You put in a token, pull a lever and you either win or lose.

Off handedly Candace has said to Grace more than once that she would have her February birthday party at CEC. As she sat down at our table to sip on her soft drink before leaving CEC Candace offered that there would be no February party for her at CEC this year or any other year. There were more than a few tokens left of the 40 purchased. Candace said that enough was enough and that she was ready to leave.

Grace could have kept going as long the tokens held out and didn't want to leave. I offered to leave her there and said to Grace that her mother could pick her up after she was finished with work. At four years of age I knew what her answer would be to an offer that I didn't plan on following through on.

I thought back to younger years and considered if my age had colored my opinion about the Chuck E. Cheese experience. At ages 15, 25 or 35 would I have enjoyed a CEC visit? I don't think that I would have. Sensory overloads have never sat well with me.

If nothing else, Grace enjoyed herself. I hope she will always cherish the memory of the one and only visit to CEC with her grandparents because there sure isn't going to be another.

Word to the wise if you must visit CEC: Most CEC's open every day at 9 in the morning. Hit it while the day is young and it's not yet too noisy or crazy. You'll be glad that you did.

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Whiskeytown Lake, Very Northern California, United States