Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shooting Up Cars and Hunting Spys

It was the early '80s.  My brother and I, whenever dragged to one of Allentown, PA's various malls, would beg and plead to be taken to Chuck E. Cheese.  You know, that place where a kid can be a kid.  (Incidentally, my first date with the woman who would later become my wife, was to a Chuck E. Cheese.  I thought it would be funny.  The staff apparently wouldn't let a punk rock guy and girl without a kid in tow partake of the fun, so I, in my usual subtle manner, promised to return later and "but the place to the ground."  Excellent first date.)  If you've never stepped foot in a Chuck E. Cheese, just know it's like a kid's paradise ... but without hookers and blow.  There are arcade games everywhere.  Pizza is served by harried staff, and prizes are to be won.

My brother and I always sought out the latest arcade games.  One day, as we walked around taking in the sites, we heard the electronic Peter Gunn theme (not knowing what it was at the time).  We were drawn to it like frat boys to an unconscious girl of questionable age ("It's my first grown-up party.").  There it was.  Spy Hunter.

Could a game be more perfect?  No.  You drive around in a car and utilize various weapons to destroy other cars.  Machine guns.  Oil slicks.  Missiles.  You could even pilot a boat!  Of course, your enemies, with their weapons and spikes that shred tires, were out to get you, too.  It was perfect.  It was magic.  It was something we fought over tooth and nail.

As soon as we entered Chuck E. Cheese, we would start for the game at the speed of light.  My mom would ask, "What do you want?"  Our answer was always "pepperoni pizza," but since we were running and screaming it probably sounded more like, "arghghghghghghgh yeyeyeeyeye!"

Quarters in hand, we'd dodge kids, hoping nobody was at the game's steering wheel.  If it was empty, it was a race to see who could get their quarter in first.  Often this ended in much shoving and banging of one's head on the game.  The loser of this gladiator-style brawl would then have to wait patiently for the other to use up his supply of cars.  If you were the loser, it was okay because watching someone play the game was just as much fun as playing it.

My brother and I fought over this game many times.  Despite that, however, when I was lucky enough to locate a sit-down version of it, I clued him right in.  "It feels more real," I told him.  It didn't, but that didn't matter.  It was Spy Hunter, and for months nothing even came close to catching our attention on its level.

Did I ever go back and burn the pizza place down?  No.  But while I was in there I swore I heard that familiar music ... and for a second I was a kid again.

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