Returning to the Rat

Last week I attended a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. It was my first time back through their doors since retiring my furry gloves. Yes, I was a costume character there from 1994 – 1996. It was my first job in high school. Besides suiting up as the popular rat, I also performed as Jasper T. Jowls, Pasqually and Mr. Munch.

Walking in with my family, I was immediately re-introduced to some old rules. First, because my daughter was with me, we had to submit our hands to “Kid Check.” That’s where the kid and parent need matching stamps in order to leave together… unless you wait til closing time. Then they really don’t care and you can walk out with any kid you want. Another rule that I forgot about is that you can’t bring in outside balloons. It really bummed out my daughter because she brought a special balloon for her friend. From a marketing standpoint, I can totally see how a Minnie Mouse balloon in a Chuck E. Cheese would bring the world of Showbiz crumbling down.

Like most pizza joints succumbing to the family friendly movement, the place was a lot brighter than I remembered… especially in the showroom. The dark and ominous showroom used to clearly delineate itself from the rest of the arcade and the rest of the restaurant. It was a cheesy (no pun intended) Vegas showroom vibe and it always excited me, both when I dined there as a child and when I performed there. Now the level of brightness consistently runs through the entire venue.

As we entered the showroom, I expected to see the familiar animatronic faces of the Pizza Time Players. Instead, I was greeted to a host of large television screens and one mechanical patriarch. While I was disappointed at not seeing the entire band, I could empathize with the restaurant’s employees in imagining how much easier it must be to clean up the showroom every night. My shifts back then always ended with wiping the endless amount of fingerprints and smears off of Mr. Munch’s organ or Pasqually’s drum set. My eyes went back to the multitude of screens to check out their onscreen programming. I was pleasantly surprised to see clips of The Aquabats! Super Show! It’s always great to instill some fun punk music into our nation’s youth.

Not much time had passed before the birthday festivities had begun. I had finally laid on eyes my past as the costumed rat approached the birthday girl with his “Chuckettes.” The official birthday song had changed. I may be saying this out of nostalgia, but the old song seemed a lot catchier… a tune that I still know by heart. The performance of the costume character him/herself was pretty impressive, as there is a lot more dialogue to mime. The show went on for a few minutes with the usual crowns and cakes before reaching it’s climax, involving the Ticket Blaster. This was my first time seeing this colorful capsule and I was a bit intrigued to see what was going to happen. Apparently the birthday child steps into the contraction, the store manager then locks the only way out. After a dramatic countdown, music begins to blare as prize tickets are blown about the chamber. Other kids attending the party are then screaming through the glass at the birthday child to grab the magic ticket, which is apparently worth 1,000 tickets. The birthday child at this party was a preschooler and so the whole experience seemed a bit much for her. After the first 30 seconds, she just tucked her head down and waited for the clock to run out. I don’t blame her. It’s a lot of pressure at that age.

There are obviously a lot of things that I miss about the old Chuck E. Cheese’s. However now that I’m a parent, I can appreciate the restaurant’s efforts to create a fun and safe environment. Once my daughter starts school, I’m sure Chuck and I will rub noses again soon.


One comment

  1. I really enjoyed this blog entry. I am in my early twenties, but Is till remember as a kid it looking exactly as you remembered it…before that is. That is quite sad about the band, besides the games itself that was my favorite part! As for the stamps, I went there with my little brother about 5 years ago when I think they just started the stamping thing,and I must say when I went they seemed diligent about it, but I could easily see how it is a tool to save their a$$es more than anything with all the abductions that have happened involving good Ol’ Chuckie cheeses. I loved your take on the new style of it, and I am sure I will agree with you once I see it again.

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