Mention Chuck E. Cheese's and I get apoplectic. The thought of the noise, confusion and the challenge of keeping up with two wildly energetic kids makes me wish for a long vacation on a deserted island.
Don't get me wrong. I like kids. I like fun. I spend a lot of time entertaining kids. And while it seems that going somewhere that features built-in entertainment, food, and a safe, clean environment should be a welcome chance to entertain and relax at the same time, I've found it a quite different experience.
First there's the noise. When it comes to ear-piercing, mind-numbing sound, two hundred kids (a conservative count, I'm sure) can rival Times Square at Midnight on New Year's Eve. After five minutes, I'm looking for my Bose noise-canceling earphones!
Then there's the frustration of all those entertainment attractions that don't work. My eye caught a terrific one - an electric train that sent me back remembering afternoons in my childhood watching my American Flyer circle the track in my bedroom. I put in a token and grabbed the throttle, and... nothing. The train sat lamely on its track. No playing with the train, and no tickets won. We moved on to the next exciting distraction, a horse that went slowly in a little circle. Another 20-cent token and Payton went on the ride, which lasted about two minutes. Oh well, it could have been worse.
Of course Luc figured out how to get tickets to pour out of one of the machines. Soon, he had gathered 600 points, which I thought would make him relatively rich, as things go at Chuck E. Cheese's. Satisfied with that assurance, I decided it was time to go sit down and do what we came for in the first place: wish Cole a happy birthday. So for a few minutes I got to sit down and do something truly Grandpa-like - watch a little boy opening presents. Eating cheap pizza and birthday cake, I enjoyed the incongruity of the moment. Then it was over, all too soon.
Time to go. Kind of. First it was time to get in line and wait an eternity to get the chance to cash in on those abundant tickets we'd won! Forty-five minutes later we actually left, with a handful of really cheap toys that barely survived the ride home. But as we arrived at the house, I walked from the car proudly, strong in the knowledge that I had made it through another of life's more demanding and challenging trials, the experience known as Chuck E. Cheese's.