If you're a big time gambler, might as well go ahead and click on something else (feel free to click on my Etsy shop if you've got dough burning a hole in your pocket, but be forewarned, I don't take tokens as payment) because this is going to be boring. I've never even been to Vegas (although, after clicking on that link, I can say I truly regret never having experienced a place that had Frank Sinatra as the Grand Marshal of the 1946 Helldorado Days Parade). Heck, I've never even been to a riverboat casino, and they are just about everywhere on the rivers these days (check it out-- 9 in Illinois, 10 in Indiana, 10 in Iowa where even the dairy cows must be gambling in order to keep that many casinos in business!).
I can tell you, however, that I have glimpsed the possibility for addiction in myself. Yep, and it comes in the form of arcade games with Chuck E. Cheese ticket bonanzas (go ahead, click it, you know you want the jingle "where a kid can be a kid" stuck in your brain for at least the next thirty-six hours). In case you've never experienced Chuck E. Cheese, let me tell you, it's like crack for kids. Uh-huh, addiction might be a theme here. By the way, you know how guys have this annoying habit of claiming they go to Hooters just for the terrific chicken wings (as if! just admit you're going to ogle the chicks, guys, and don't try to feed us baloney about chicken wings)? Well, just as Hooters might indeed have pretty good wings, C.E.C.'s does have decent pizza, all things considered (and when I say "all things considered," I mean that parents with kids in tow don't usually get to enjoy a fine brick oven pizza in a quaint little bistro).
What do parents do while their mini-me's play ski-ball and jockey for position in the line for the fake roller coaster "ride" game? Well, the first few times, you nervously tag along behind your offspring, feeding them tokens, carrying the soda cups in case someone clears off your table while you're up, and fending off five year old hustlers who target innocent newbie kids, asking nonchalantly, "You got a token I can have?". The nice thing about C.E.C.'s is that those little hustlers are really the biggest threat to your child and a fake smile accompanied by a "Does your mama know you're hustling my kid?" usually takes care of that problem. You see, parents and kids get matching numbered handstamps when they enter the place, and kids cannot leave the premises without an adult with a matching handstamp. There ya go-- temporary peace of mind for the price of a pizza. After a few more trips, you finally figure out you don't really need to follow the munchkins and wince every time they "waste" a token on a game that obviously isn't going to give up any tickets (tokens go in the game slot, play the game, win anywhere from one to hundreds of tickets, take tickets to cheesy prize counter at end of visit to redeem for cheesy prizes).
What's a parent to do while the kiddos play, then? Don't say call somebody on your cell phone, because you'll never be able to hear them over the din of all the games, shrieking two year olds, and Chuck E. Cheese's animated, fur covered, rodent robotic, rock band! You can try a book (I took along one about creating backyard attractions for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife this time), but chances are you'll find it hard to concentrate. Chances are, there will be some obviously seasoned C.E.C. parent veteran playing a game near your table, and you will become mesmerized by their ability to make the game spit out tickets, tickets, and more tickets. Hey, if you're gonna go, you might as well hope for lots of tickets, right? Sunday night, our table was right by one of those hit the button as a certain light is lit for a split-second kind of games. This particular one mimicked a dragstrip-- Corvette revving its engine (don't even ask how many decibels are possible on a mere game), announcer booming the countdown, and the peel of tires as soon as you hit the start button.
Wait a minute, Ang. Where in the name of all things strange does Zen come into this post? Hang on, I'm almost there. I sat there listening to the "announcer" over and over and over, as some thirty-something dad played that game for all the tickets he could get. He was pretty good, too. His back was to me, but I could tell how he was timing it from the slight movement of his right shoulder a second after the peel of tires. Oh, yeah, I had to try that. While the kids are away, the mommy will use some of their tokens and play!
Needless to say, the game wasn't as easy as that guy made it look. Hand-eye coordination being what it is, you must know I was handicapped from the get-go (go ahead, call me Grace, call me clumsy, call me just plain un-freaking-coordinated, it ain't news to me). I fed the game a token. Hit the start button. Tires peeled. Lights traveled down the strip. Damn. Missed it. No 57 tickets for me, just three measley tickets. Repeat about four times. Hmmph. Sit back down. Read about birdbaths and try to resist sneaking a few more of the kiddos' token stash.
Well, shoot, we paid for the tokens, didn't we? And the kids are gonna be happy if we add to their tickets, right? Of course, right. I grab five more tokens (we used the coupon deal that came with 100 tokens this time, so maybe James and Kate won't notice). Three tickets, stopped about four lights before the jackpot bulb. Four tickets, close but no jackpot. Here's the Zen part, guys. I could feel my arm moving, could feel the effort to make my hand press the button a split-second too early or too late. . .but the next time the tires peeled, my body almost felt as if it was floating along with the electric current and I hit the jackpot without even feeling as if I'd moved. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet! That right there, that had to be some sort of Zen moment!
Oh, do you have to ask? You know I took more tokens and tried it again. And again. Hope the kids don't notice too many tokens missing. Here, one more time. Aha! Jackpot #2. Still the sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet Zen moment. Same with Jackpot #3. Just in case you didn't hear me, it was swwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetttttttttttt!
I think I'm hooked. Anybody want to meet me at Chuck's for lunch?