Chuck E. Cheese’s 1984: Where a kid can fight off teenagers to play arcade video games

For my 9th birthday in 1984, my parents took me to an establishment new to the Pittsburgh area that had plenty of games for kids and plenty of pizza for kids to eat.  Chuck E. Cheese’s was my funhouse as a child, and it looks nothing like the place I knew growing up over thirty years ago.

Each location in Pittsburgh had different activities for kids, and I appreciated the location west of town near Bridgeville.  Sure, they had an awesome ball pit and they had a cool and scary twisty slide (It would have been deemed unsafe in 2017, that’s for sure), but the real draw for me was that the Bridgeville Chuck E. Cheese’s had the best selection of arcade games to play under one roof.

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My favorite arcade game

The original Chuck E. Cheese’s had the same types of games that are found in today’s locations–skee-ball, whack-a-mole, wheel of fortune and other games where the object is to earn tickets which are then redeemed for cheap toys.  Toys that might cost a few dollars elsewhere, but at Chuck’s they could be obtained with the tickets earned from $10 worth of skee-ball games.  Today’s locations have many more of the “ticket games” than actual arcade games.

At my old age, I was curious as to why the old Chuck’s had so many cool arcade games.  I discovered that Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc. was actually one of the original owners, and wanted the video game arcade to showcase many of the titles that Atari and its parent companies released.  What transpired in the arcade section of Chuck’s in the mid-1980’s was wonderful chaos.  In a place that was marketed to children ages 3 to 12, teenagers and college kids were lining up to play video games.

The arcade section was set up the same as other arcades in the 1980’s.  They were usually found at malls and amusement parks all across America.  Token machines were stationed throughout Chuck’s.  One token was worth twenty-five cents, and the majority of people playing the arcade games at Chuck’s would simply walk in, bypass all of the pizza and dinner theatre themed areas for the kids and spend $10 to $20 on the thirty to forty arcade games lined up in a U along the walls on one side of the main play area.  Some of the bigger cockpit-style video games were in the center of the floor, including two (TWO!!!) Pole Position games.

All of the games were not Atari games.  It seemed that Bushnell wanted whatever was hot to increase traffic and boot profits.  Many of the companies I remembered were very big names in the video game industry then and well represented at the Bridgeville Chuck’s.  In addition to Atari, they had Nintendo, Data East, Midway, Konami, Sega, Namco and Gottlieb.  Gottlieb was the video game equivalent of a “one hit wonder”, being responsible for the legendary game Q*Bert, which is pictured above.

By 1986 traffic declined at Chuck’s due to the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  Previous home systems were mostly crude  versions of the arcade games, but the NES combined fun games with better graphics.  Teenagers and college kids could buy an NES, play games at home all day and not have to worry about running out of money to play the machines at an arcade.  Even though there were less people playing the games, for a few years the machines stayed at Chuck’s.  Toward the end of the 1980’s, the Bridgeville Chuck’s had the following games in one location:

Donkey Kong, BurgerTime, Bump ‘N’ Jump, Rampage, Defender, Joust, Gauntlet, Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Q*Bert, Frogger, Centipede, Paperboy, Marble Madness, Zaxxon, Out Run, Mario Bros. (The original, not Super Mario Bros.)

Chuck’s had other arcade games besides these, but I remembered these games well.  They were fun to play and I even enjoyed watching the older kids play them because I would learn the game before spending my money.  The 13-25 age group that hogged most of the games taught me which ones were the best to play so I could spend my $5 a little more wiser than I would have.  And sometimes, the older kids let me in on the action.

At my brother’s 8th birthday party in 1986, the Bridgeville Chuck’s got a multi-player Gauntlet machine.  It would allow for up to four players to run the game at once and team up to beat the enemies on each level.  I was 10 at the time and while I was walking through the arcade, a teenage boy about 15 years-old asked me to be player four on Gauntlet.  I agreed even though I had no idea what I was doing.  The two other players with us were his friends, also around high school age.  During the game he taught me how to use the buttons and what areas to focus on attacking.  By the time we completed the game (We got about halfway through the game before we all ran out of money), there were a few other teenagers watching us run through the beginning levels.  Before the next batch of guys tried the new game, they were asking my new acquaintance and I about the game play features.  Not him and his friends–him and I.  Me, all of age 10.

The Gauntlet experience at Chuck E. Cheese’s taught me not to be afraid of unfamiliar environments.  Sometimes the people that seem intimidating end up being helpful, kind and welcoming.  If I would have said, “No, I don’t know how to play”, an early shred of confidence gained would have been missed out on, and it would have affected me going forward in life.

That fall, my friends at school wanted me to go out for the basketball team.  I never played before, but I remembered playing Gauntlet with the older kids, finding my place on a team and learning that new experiences didn’t have to be scary, unappealing situations.  I tried out for the team, made the team, and by the end of the year had become one of the better players.

So as you can see reader of this post, there is a lot to be learned from playing video games.  Happy 40th birthday Chuck E. Cheese’s, and thanks for the awesome place to learn the meaning of confidence.

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December 7, 1966 — My Father At Pearl Harbor

Today is the 75th anniversary of one of America’s darkest hours, the attack on Pearl Harbor naval base by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The attack killed over 2,400 Americans and wounded nearly 1,200.  It destroyed almost the entire American fleet stationed in Hawaii, which led to the United States entry into World War II.

My late father was in the United States Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor between 1966 and 1968, which allowed him to be there during the 25th anniversary of the attack.  Dad remembered that day to be a Sunday because he had no obligations at base during the early morning hours on December 7.  Being a history fanatic and understanding the weight of the day, he decided to walk alone around the base when the attack would have commenced in 1941. Dad didn’t think his fellow mates would show the same level of reverence as he did.

At 7:48 a.m., Dad looked out to the mountains to the north, where the first wave of Japanese planes were detected.  He then turned to the south toward Iroquois Point and Mamala Bay where many of the 353 planes approached when the attacks were launched in two waves.   Dad couldn’t believe that twenty-five years prior he would have been standing in the middle of absolute hell.  It was a sunny morning in 1966, a clear blue sky with the usual amount of activity that he became accustomed to there.

Dad told me he did a lot of standing around that morning, staring into the skies above and the land around him, trying to imagine the nightmare in his own mind.  He had three senior officers on base who were at Pearl Harbor on that infamous day when they just started out as seamen in the Navy.  They lived that nightmare.  Dad didn’t know them and he wasn’t going to search for them in hopes of hearing their own personal accounts of December 7, 1941.  It’s certainly a day to remember in America, but maybe those officers would have liked to forget that day.

Today we remember those Americans we lost 75 years ago.  I give thanks for the active military members we have today and the countless veterans that served over the years.  Their dedication to the United States, duty as a service member and their dedication to serving their communities post-military (Police, Fire, National Guard, etc.) is greatly appreciated by me and my family.

Sending E-mails To My Late Father

A few years back, my father suddenly passed away.  Compared to other father/son relationships we had a typical bond but we were certainly two completely different minded individuals.  Despite this slight disconnect and as I found out later a lack of transparency, Dad and I always had great conversations about the day-to-day activities in our lives.  In those moments, Dad gave me great advice and peace of mind even though he struggled finding his own peace of mind for most of his life.

In the first year after his death, I often found myself talking out loud to Dad about many different events that occurred in my life since I lost him.  I found it very therapeutic when I sought his advice even though I knew I wasn’t going to receive a straightforward answer from beyond.

Shortly after Dad died, my wife gave birth to our son, which would have been his first grandchild.  I always brought my son up in the conversations with the air around me, hoping somehow that Dad could listen to what I was saying.  Life became busier and tiresome when constantly attending to a newborn baby, so my conversations aimed at Dad waned.

Two years ago this month on the day which would have been his 71st birthday, I decided to send an e-mail to Dad’s old America Online account.  I loved how he hung on to that account years after we all had those ubiquitous AOL addresses in the middle of the 1990’s.  With an e-mail address like that one would think Dad had no idea how to transition into the digital age.  He shall not be judged; Dad was a “Napster Master” at the age of 56 and later in life he loved his fantasy football online.  Dad drove my mom nuts with his hours of roster moves every week during the NFL season.

In the e-mail I talked about how I love my family, that I was proud to be his son and a few personal family details that Dad and I could only have a conversation about.  When I sent the e-mail, I could still hear his voice offering advice on the phone or when I used to visit home more often.  It turned out the e-mail address was still active because I did not get a delivery failure message.  I’d like to think he still checked his e-mail somewhere close to my presence.

Since that first e-mail I’ve sent four more in the last two years.  They’ve all kicked back to me so it seems Dad’s AOL account has been taken off of the grid.  Unless ALL of AOL is off of the grid!  But it doesn’t matter to me if Dad can’t read the messages I intended for him, what’s important to me is the peace I get in composing those e-mails.  Collecting my thoughts and sending them to Dad remind me of the nights we talked in my bedroom about the challenges of growing up while watching the old 12:30 Late Night With David Letterman show on NBC.  They remind me of the phone conversations we had when I first moved out on my own.  They remind me of the time when he found out he was going to be a grandfather.  Tangible words on the screen that I would have said to Dad in person.  Words that were fading from my consciousness due to a lack of sleep, an increase in children’s television viewing and the inability to simply find time to relax.

I miss Dad, but I was blessed to have him in my life all of these years.  Occasionally I will get a hint that Dad is watching me from afar but at the same time close by.  Other times I don’t.  I assume he’s downloading free music somewhere when he’s not around.  Pretty soon I’ll send him another e-mail since his grandson is going to turn 3 in less than a month.  I’ll talk about a variety of topics and ask him a few questions about the problems I’m facing in 2016.

If I don’t get a reply to my questions I understand.  It’s the start of fantasy football season.

WARNING: Parenthood may result in “fluffiness”

(BLOG NOTE:  Since I’m watching my son more often over the next several days, I’ve decided to post a “fluffy” tale before delving into another mind-bending post of what the kids would call “awesomeness”.  You’re welcome.)

A year before my son was born, I was still pretty active despite venturing further into the dreadful 35-44 age bracket.  This age group is the transitional period between hanging onto your youth and the new challenge of realizing your body’s limitations.  Up until my early 30’s, I could go several days without exercising and not lose results.  I had no problem keeping up with where I left off.  Now at 40, forget it.  Now as a parent, really forget it.

I’m not a total mess.  Yet.  I still have three pairs of mesh shorts that I purchased in 1996.  They are now stretched out to the point that they won’t fit me when I lose the weight, but I have to say we had a good twenty year run (I have shorts older than some of my readers).  I still manage to follow the main guidelines of the Pittsburgh Yinzer diet, which consists of the following food groups:

Milk, Meat, Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Fried Food, Soda Pop, Coffee, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Doughnut, Birthday Cake, Catholic Fish Fry Friday and Fire Hall Wedding (rigatoni with meatballs, fried chicken, macaroni salad, some type of potato dish and rolls with butter)

When my son was born, many healthy aspects of my life became a low priority, and rightfully so in my eyes.  Obviously sleep became fractured, I consumed WAY more caffeine, I chose snacking over having a real dinner and I also chose catching up on sleep instead of using any leftover spare time to exercise.  These four factors led to my chest becoming boobs, my waist showing a small beer belly, my legs becoming thin and my face looking a little rounder than before.

Even after two bouts of kidney stones (due to too much Mountain Dew soda pop) and all of the illnesses acquired from day care the last few years, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Being a dad is the best thing that happened to me.  My son loves it when I chase him all over the house, when I take him for walks around the neighborhood, when I pick him up if he needs a hug and when I sit with him reading, playing with toys or watching television.  He’s getting heavier and I carry him for at least an hour each day.  At least my arms and shoulders are still somewhat beefy.

I’m a new dad, recently unemployed, out of shape, scared about the future and frustrated.  To remain positive, it could be said that I’m a hipster stay-at-home dad who is weighing his options before embarking on a new career path.  I’m also self-aware of life’s everyday challenges and that the path I have walked until now has not been in vain.

Hey, whatever.  I’ll figure it out.  Somehow, I always do.