So, she spent her money at the little gambling dens, the Hot Spots and pseudo coffee houses where the coffee wasn’t anything special, but where there was always a machine free.
None of these places allowed children inside the door. Many of them were situated in dead-end corners of old shopping centers. They’d taken over bankrupted chain restaurants and shuttered sewing shops. None of them were located next to anything vaguely considered child-friendly. The mall had not embraced boutique gambling. Old-fashioned wagering wasn’t welcome near a town park or pool.
Nobody had thought to put one in next door to the Chuck E. Cheese, which seemed like a natural fit.
The kids could go pump worthless tokens into games to earn tickets for merchandise they valued –fake mustaches, oversized pencils or maybe a stuffed, purple monkey. Meanwhile, parents could be next door, risking the rent money for a fabulous dream vacation.
No one had been so forward thinking as of yet.
The closest thing to a family-friendly establishment were a handful of gas stations and convenience stores, which kept a couple of old machines out back. They’d been grandfathered in or just ignored by the local authorities.
In theory, someone could bring their kids, send them to look for snacks and then pop off to the back to play a couple of dollars before they figured out they’d been abandoned to the care of irritable store employees who signed on to sell beer and cigarettes, not entertain and watch 7-year-olds.
“I don’t know about this, Grandma,” Dre said, finally settling on the pickles and cheese. He could make a sandwich out of that with the turkey. “Mama doesn’t like when you take me along on your trips out.”
“It’s not going to be like that,” she said.
He put the food on the counter, found the bread.
“Maybe I could stick around the house,” he said. “You could go out and I’ll just stay here and watch TV. I’m old enough.”
“If you were old enough, your mama wouldn’t have left you with me,” his grandma said.
Dre rolled his eyes. Oh, the injustice.
“I’ve got a new place,” she said. “They’ve got a couple of machines and a convenience store in front. We’ll go. I’ll play 10 dollars. I will also give you 10 dollars and drop you off next door at the Pizza Hut. You can get something to eat or play the video games.”
“They have video games?” Dre asked. “For real, they have actual, stand-up quarter eating video games.”
“I scoped it out,” she said. “They have two of them. One of them is called ‘Missile Command.’ The other is Gala-something.”
Dre liked the sound of that. Among other things, he considered himself a connoisseur of classic video games. His grandpa got him interested in that. There was an old-style video arcade in Parkersburg. They had about 50 games and another 50 pinball machines –all of them vintage. For 10 bucks and you could play all night if you wanted.
Then Dre remembered something else, a piece of information he’d saved from a long time ago.
“You said Pizza Hut?”
Grandma nodded. “Why, you give up on pizza?”
Dre laughed. That would never happen.
“No, I was just thinking of something.” He started to assemble his sandwich and asked, “Do you think we could stop by the drugstore on the way over? I need to pick up something for a class project –some glue.”
His grandma, noticeably relieved by the lack of resistance, said, “Sure, sure, sure. Whatever you need Andy.”