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CHUCK E. CHEESE'S
20 YEARS OF RATS and PIZZA


photograph (c)2002 "Silver" from SA Forums, used with permission

I haven't been to Chuck E. Cheese's since 1982, so when my 3 year old daughter asked to go there, I thought, "Why not...how bad could it really be?" I had the day off work, and we'd had a lot of fun so far, so a visit back to one of my favorite 80s video game hangouts seemed like it'd be a great way to end the day.

Chuck E. Cheese was founded in 1977 by Nolan Bushnell (the same guy who invented Pong and Atari). Apparently he was quite a LSD freak, because there's no other explanation I can come up with to justify anyone's dream to eat pizza with crazy robot mice and dogs yakking at ya.


Rats and Pizza go togehter like Biscuits and Gravy

What made Chuck E. Cheese's great back in the day was the kickass arcade game collection they had. CEC was THE place to go to play the latest stuff. The first times I ever played Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were there.

After some bitter competition from a rival ripoff restaraunt chain, "BILLY BOB'S SHOWBIZ PIZZA PALACE" (which they eventually merged with), and a massive decrease in arcade game popularity in the mid 80s, the Pizza Rat was nearly exterminated. But they survived, remarkably, to this day, over 23 years later.

We arrived at the Chuck E. Cheese on Arden Way in Sacramento, California. The first sign that things had changed was right at the front door. As Sierra and I walked in, both of our hands were stamped with flourescent ink. I thought it was clear that she was too young to buy alcohol (yes, the actually serve beer and wine at CEC, one of their few redeeming qualities), but I was told it was for security reasons, so nobody else would walk out with my kid. I'm convinced it's either genetic ink that forever labels you as stupid white trash, or a taste bud desensitizing drug to make you think the pizza tastes good.


Guitarist Jasper T. Jowels may not draw the crowds he once did, but the sex with animatronic groupies backstage makes it all worthwhile

As we waited for our pizza in the famous "Show Room", we were entertained by creaky crappily animated robots that make the decaying puppets in Disneyland's "It's a Small World" ride look like C3PO. This seemed pretty magical to me when I was a kid, but Sierra seemed pretty unimpressed. What you get is these animatronic overgrown Teddy Ruxpin toys "putting on a show" that consists of parody cover tunes that would make even Weird Al wince (instead of "Copacabana", you get a hilarious "Pizza-Cabana"). To keep the moldy plush covered robots from overheating (and perhaps going on a human killing spree) they "take a break" after every song and hide behind retractable curtains for about 5 minutes before they sing again.


"I am looking for Sarah Conner!"

Then came something they called pizza for us to eat. I forgot how truly shitty this stuff is. You could microwave a frozen Celeste pizza (Abondonza!), leave it in your backyard for a week and reheat it again, and have a better tasting pie than this Alpo and spaghetti sauce monstrosity. I had about a slice, and Sierra 2 bites before we decided that filling our stomachs wasn't important, if spending the next two days with violent stomach flu was the consequence.

Disappointing, but pretty much the quality you'd expect from a restaraunt with a giant rat as their mascot.

But going to Chuck E. Cheese to eat good food is like watching wrestling for the fine acting. You go there to play.

And play Sierra did. After climbing around in some crazy network of tubes and slides that resembles a giant hamster habitrail set (or Richard Gere's house), Sierra was ready to make use of the big cup o' tokens we had bought. The massive amounts of arcade games from my youth had largely been replaced by "games of skill" that let the kids win tickets that could be redeemed for "prizes". After about an hour of whacking alligator heads, stepping on spiders, and shooting rubber balls at clown teeth, Sierra and I had amassed about 140 tickets.

So it was time to bring them to the prize center (kind of like a welfare version of the Wheel of Fortue merchandise gallery) to cash them in.

It turns out there was quite a crowd there gathered to witness an amazing spectacle. Some 8 year old girl had saved up a humoungous trash bag full of tickets and was cashing them all in. After talking to the fater, I learned that this was no one day haul, but a collection of 2 YEARS worth of tickets that the girl and her cousins had saved up.

As you would expect, the crack staff at Chuck E. Cheese's was barely equipped to handle this sort of volume. Their normal process of taking a small metal bowl and weighing the tickets was taking forever with a large line growing behind the girl. Though I was impressed that the girl had saved up so many, I was getting frustrated at this horribly inefficient counting method, so I suggested that the employees merely weigh the entire trashbag full at once.

"We can't do that", the genius replied, "becasue the bag has weight, too. It'll give the wrong weight."


"Don't worry, I may be infested with lice and bacteria, but I won't touch your food...honest!"

Amazed by her stupidity, I told the employee to just deduct the weight of the empty bag when they're through, but I could tell by the glazed look in her eye that figuring that out would be akin to have her explain the Theory of Relativity, so I just shook my head in disgust.

The girl ended up having about 130,000 tickets by my estimation, and with the most expensive prize being about 5,000 tickets to get, she was clearly going to clean ol' Chuck out a few times over.

After a mysterious silence where the total was taken to "the backroom" to officially add up, this large fat black woman, who looked like Momma from "What's Happenin'" came out and pulled the father and girl aside to a table.

Intrigued, I walked over there to find out what was going on (and everyone else was very interested in the official count as well), and she asked quite rudely, "Excuse me sir, can I help you?" I told her "No, I'm just eavesdropping.", and she grumpily went about her business.

She starts grilling them with suspicions that they may have stole those tickets from their trash, or perhaps found a secret way to cheat at Skee-Ball. You could just look at the little girl's eyes and tell there wasn't anything funny going on.

Then things got evil...

"What's Happenin' Momma" tells them that she can't accept the tickets, they'd have to bring them back next week when the official manager is in, and she would only let them spend 500 tickets that evening until things got straightened out. 500 tickets barely would get you a Chuck E. Cheese rubber ball.

The crowd got pretty upset and were shouting that they should let her spend her tickets.

I even shouted, "THIS SUCKS, DON'T RIP HER OFF!" But "What's Happenin' Momma" was set in her ways.


So many tickets...so much crap to choose from

How fucking lame is that? Though I have to admit, I'm not sure what's more pathetic, the face that Chuck E. Cheese wouldn't let her cash in her tickets, or that she actually saved them for 2 years straight so she could buy toys so shitty, I would barely accept any of them in my house for free.

At least Sierra was oblivious to all of the fuss, and with her 140 tickets, picked out 2 lovely pens in the shape of a fish, and some green vampire teeth. $10 worth of tokens to buy about 58 cents worth of crap.

It's sure going to be a lot longer than 20 years before I go back there again.

 

-Robert
webmaster@retrocrush.com


Over at the forums in Something Awful, Silver (who also took and is in the photo on the top of this article), posted a wonderful cool story about his time actually working as Chuck E. Cheese in one of their restaurants. 

I was Chuck E. Cheese. I worked there for about 1 year and 8 months way back in the day when I was 18. I worked in the kitchen, the showroom, the game room, and even the ticket counter. Stories, well I have a few. I apologize in advance if my story telling abilities are not up to par.

Children.
There are a few different types of children that frequent CEC. You have your absolute hoodlum, whose only goal in life is to grab Chucks nose and wrench on it for all their little muscles are worth. There are those that are kind and sweet, and just want a hug or some tokens and leave happy. Then there are those that will scream so loud, everyone’s ear drums in a 10 foot radius should explode. These kids act like Chuck is about to rip their moms head off with his 2 fucking teeth, then stuff them inside and kick them out the door. BTW this only happened once and it was a really bad day for me (not really).

We will start with the little bastards. Parents, the man inside the Chucky head is strapped in. Its like a football helmet, you have your head piece so it doesn’t flop around, and you have your chinstrap so that it doesn’t fall off. When you see your child violently grab chuck’s nose and start wrenching it back and forth, please call a face mask penalty and put them in timeout. Now being Chucky I have seen these types of kids more then I wish to count, I can see it in their eyes, the way they look at the nose, like its their end all be all, and if they can grab it their life will be complete. Its fucking scary. Think of a 3 and a half foot tall person, coming at you with crazy wild eyes. Breathing as such that it sounds like “heee, heee, heee, heee, heee, hoooo” in a rapid staccato that never stops. Now think of this little person grabbing your nose. Squeezing, twisting, and wrenching it back and forth. Welcome to my world. I am
Chucky Mother Fucking Cheese, and my nose is a magnet for wonton destruction.

Now most of the nose grabbers I can avoid, I see the eyes, I know what is coming and I stay away. Only one time have I gotten sweet sweet chucky justice. This little fucker I could not stay away from for anything. Anytime I bent down to see another kid, there he was, holding onto my fucking nose. Now in other theme parks, and even in Chuck E. Cheese’s now, the guys in the stuffed suits will have body guards. A showroom person looking out for Chuck’s well being, and little rat bastards that will twist your fucking nose. Not in my day, it was fend for yourself. Every now and then a showroom person would walk by “aww be nice to chucky” they would say. As they walked away though, the torture would continue anew. Now this little shithead had been following me around for 20 minutes or so, with a few show people telling him to leave me alone. Finally I took matters in my own hands. Literally. As I was bending down to hand out some tokens or pat some kid on the head, here he came again “heee heee heee heee hooooo” and latched onto my nose. Now I did something most Chuckey’s should never do, I reached up and grabbed the hands holding my nose, and I squeezed, hard. I heard the most satisfying sound, it went something like “OW! YOU DUMMYHEAD” then he hit me on my chucky snout, and I never saw him again. I win you little fucker. With any luck, from that day forth he was nice to Chuckys all over the world, as well as taught his children to be the same.

One other story, this didn’t happen to me but to a friend. He was walking around in the Chucky suit one day, and unfortunately this Chucky head did not have a chin strap. He approached what he thought would be a nice kid, looked sweet, eyes looked ok, but no. This kid was one of those late screamers with a fight or flight reflex of amazing proportions. As he bent down to wave and say maybe give a hug, this kid let loose with the most fierce uppercut that any 5 year old has ever unleashed. The kid got Chucky right in the nose and the helmet popped up so high that my friend said he could see the bottom of the mask at eye level. Then the kid went nuts screaming and crying and chucky ran awa
y. I hope that kid became a boxer, as his uppercut at 5 years old was amazing.

-Silver (c) 2002, reprinted with permission

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