"I got a pocket full of quarters and I'm headed to the arcade…" is how the song Pac-Man Fever starts out. Other than the chorus, the first line is about the only one I can remember from the song. If you had asked me in 1982 when the song came out I could have quoted it to you verbatim. Back then it was more than just a song to me, it was an anthem.
Nearly every Saturday without fail, I'd take my five dollars, jump on my bike, and head down to the arcade.
When I first started playing video games, my money would only last a little while but as my prowess increased, the five dollars would last me later and later into the day.
That wasn't really my first taste of freedom, my parents let me roam on my bike for hours at a time (something that's almost incomprehensible for a kid that age these days). But there was definitely something intoxicating about being in a room full of kids your own age, with next to no adult supervision, playing video games.
I hadn't thought about that place in a long time, but as I was going to Subway the other day, I noticed that they were tearing the bowling alley down and all of those memories came flooding back.
For me and a lot of my friends, Uncle Jack's Saloon (I don't know where the name came from) was a big part of our lives. At first it was video games and pinball, but as we got older it became the place to hang out, shoot pool and flirt with girls. Even later in life we'd go down to bowl and drink beer.
It wasn't the prettiest of places, the carpet was a ratty brown color that looked as if it had never been new. There were patches on most of the walls where something or other had went through them. It smelled of old cigarette smoke and stale beer, and it always seemed as if about half the lights were burned out at any given time. But for a number of years, this was the epicenter for teen activity, at least as far as we were concerned.
As we got older, started driving and got girlfriends, we spent less and less time there. Life inevitably seeps in and you grow up and move on. But as I was driving passed the other day, and saw that gaping hole where the bowling alley used to be, I realized that another part of my childhood was vanishing.
Evolution is the way of life. Old things are replaced by new things. A new generation of kids is making memories as I write this. Thus is the course of nature.
The actual building that housed the arcade is still standing, but the demolition of the bowling alley seems representative of the death of the arcade as well, even though it's long since been gone.
For the kids of my generation that spent countless hours in that dingy smoke filled arcade, that hole where the bowling alley used to be reflects the hole in our collective heart. Eventually something will fill that space on Ludington Avenue, but for those of us in the know, the spirit of what used to be will always linger. I imagine that on a quiet night, when the moon is just right, and the wind is just so, you may just hear the ching of the quarter sliding into a game and the laughter of the generation of kids who grew up there. It may happen so quick that you'll think you imagined it, but you didn't. There are ghosts everywhere if you just take the time to pay attention.