As a 30-somethin’ who gives a suspicious side-eye anytime I’m carded, it was a surprisingly easy yes when I received an invite to a friend’s 40th birthday party at Frankie’s Fun Park. Your girl may not cave to rollercoasters, house parties, or large social gatherings in general, but when it comes to go-karts and video games, she’s in there like swimwear.
Come G-Day, aka game day, the constant threat of nonstop rain in the hours leading up to the 4 p.m. call time had me sinking deeper into the couch, confident the cancellation announcement was on its way. By 3:30 p.m., I knew the update wasn’t coming. Checking Apple Maps and seeing that Huntersville was a mere 20-minute drive away (compared to my preconceived 40-minute expectations) reinvigorated my excitement for adult playtime.
Upon entry, my spirits were lowered — literally and figuratively. Both my hangover and the need to drive home ensured that drinking wasn’t an option for me. And, as predicted, the outdoor attractions weren’t bustling with activity, which told me that the calls for rain had washed away any chance of outside fun. The weather wasn’t raining on this parade, however; all that meant was more indoor game time.
“It’s only water, I promise,” I said, nervously eyeing my 32-ounce Hydro Flask as the security guard ruffled through my bag. He laughed, unbothered. Don’t blink kids, one minute you’re turning 21 and trying to sneak in alcohol everywhere, the next, you’re convinced you’re going to jail over a water bottle when in reality, you’re so “old” that no one even cares what you’re doing.
It’d been years since I’d stepped inside a fun park, but on a scale of Chuck E. Cheese to Dave & Buster’s, Frankie’s is off the charts. Go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars, bowling, drop zone, laser tag, and arcade games?! What can I say? One adult’s nightmare is another’s wet dream.
The smell of cheap pizza, beer, and rebellious teen ganja hung in the air. Kids screamed and yelled as they aimlessly ran back and forth. Parents traipsed behind, relishing every sip of beer and counting down the minutes to bedtime. Adolescents chittered in the corners knowing mom was waiting impatiently outside in the pick-up line. Oh, the nostalgia.
When I located my crew, I thought for sure they’d be secretly sharing looks of distress or plans for an exit strategy. Instead, I found them feverishly preoccupied with trying to collect a full set of cards around a Wizard of Oz-themed game called a “coin pusher.”
Essentially, the goal is to strategically drop coins onto a moving platform with the hope of pushing existing coins, tokens, or cards off the edge of a fixed platform below. A full set of cards secures around 2,500 points redeemable for prizes.
“Well, that’s boring,” I thought to myself before sliding my card for $1.50 and taking 12 turns at the geezer game. Next thing you know, I’d spent $60 in half an hour. Laser-focused and sweating, I recognized immediately I had a case of slot-machine fever.
The last time I caught it was on The Big “M” Casino boat in Little River, South Carolina, and the loss that came with that fever was problematic to say the least. Mind you, not one single child approached this game or any other like it, solidifying the generational gap.
In retrospect, however, the game really should be called “drug pusher,” because it was highly addictive. “Maybe they shouldn’t let kids play this game, this is where pathological gambling begins,” I said with a nervous chuckle to a friend playing next to me — never averting my gaze from the target area. Finally, the Toto card dropped off the edge to complete my set.
Released from the game’s chokehold, I wiped my brow, took a deep breath, and checked my phone. It had been two hours! Fearful withdrawal would send me back to reload my game card (for the fifth time) and noticing that the crew was winding down, I traded one addiction for two others: pizza and the Jurassic Park arcade shooting game.
Sitting inside the game cabinet built for two, the Tyrannosaurus rex level to my front, weapons at the ready, and a slice sitting in the seat next to me waiting to be devoured between missions. This kid in a candy store looked more like Pedro Pascal in the Nicolas Cage meme, grinning manically every time someone spotted me in my dino cave.
I thought back to my mom saying, “Um, okay. You’re doing that for a 40-year-old’s birthday?” in a cautiously condescending tone.
“If only she could see me now,” I chuckled to myself.
*cues “We Are Young” by fun.*
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