Monday, November 15, 2004

Happy Birthday, Sam!

Chuck E. Cheese is one of those one-of-a kind places, a formulation of design and implementation that has heretofore not been duplicated – although many have tried. Most adults do not understand it, but those who do have created a gold mine that exploits children and families for the maximum profit imaginable. The promise of a stress-lessened, provisioned party has been proven, once again, to produce a logistical nightmare akin to standing in the midst of a cattle stampede – holding a birthday cake. Although the warning signs are clear to those that would observe them, this appears to be a lesson that each nuclear unit has to experience for itself. This assures the CEC franchise a long and prodigious future.
We were victimized last Saturday, and the fact that we did so willingly and without reservation – actually we had reservations for 10 kids, a cake, party favors, pizza and tokens – makes it all the more disturbing. My duties as Dad consisted of policing Sam’s little sister and taking a few pictures, which was exhausting enough. Mom bore the brunt of the inattentive, immature, and at times, incapacitated staff. Her aplomb never ceases to amaze me when it comes to taking care of our children. I was ready to get back in the car and drive it into the ocean, before we even got in the front door.
I do not know what reason could possibly compel you toward another "Rat Palace", as my brother-in-law calls them, after reading this. IF YOU DO, please understand that probably every other grandparent and divorced dad with his kids for the weekend is going to head there WHEN IT RAINS. I am not the type of person who loves crowds to begin with, and I would rather eat rolled tacos in my car than wait in line for more than 20 minutes outside any restaurant. I digress – back to our story.
Our plan was simple: invite our young guests a half an hour before our reserved table at the feet of his Chuckness was scheduled, allowing them to "be a kid", as promised. We, arriving even earlier, found a line trailing out of the front door. As the manager explained, they were at capacity, and, because there was and is no time limit – he did not say that the limits lie only in one’s bank balance and ability to absorb noise - that no one was to be admitted until some of those inside had had enough. He attributed their success to the rain that, fortunately, had passed through earlier. When pressed by those of us holding cakes, presents, small children, and reservations, he admitted that we would be admitted 15 minutes prior to our pre-arranged time. This set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. "Being a Kid" in a parking lot isn’t nearly as much fun.
Shifting your attention, I would just like to say that I was filled with gratitude that I had not selected the career of managing one of these franchises as my life’s work. I do not know what that poor man earns; my sincere hope is that he’s involved in some short of profit-sharing program. "Middle Management" only begins to describe his predicament on this, the anniversary of my son’s birth. Caught between irate parents and the befuddled youngsters in his employ, swirling in a sea of token-toting midgets with tickets trailing, lines inside and out, door alarms sounding, shoes littering the floor, beer-swilling post-adolescents to keep an eye on. . . I have to admit it brought a cruel smile to my lips every time I saw him bustle by.
The kids got in, they got pizza, cake, goody bags, tokens, and I think a decent time – 7 and 8 year olds kinda thrive on the chaos for a while, anyway. I took pictures, helped serve a little pizza, got to hug my Mom &Dad a couple of times, and exchange a few sentences with the inlaws and outlaws. All of the hassles of putting on a party at home or the park were just crammed into an intense 3-hour melee in a big, noisy room with 10 other families and their closest friends. I did get to see Sam’s face when he got the present that he wanted, and it made it all worthwhile.
We just won’t ever do this again, unless, of course, Emma wants one. On a Tuesday. In July. Maybe. If we can’t talk her out of it. I’ll even offer Legoland. Please just don’t make me go back there.