Vick

In the summer of 1977, I met a boy named Vick at the grand opening of the original Chuck E. Cheese’s in the Town & Country shopping center in San Jose. We, and other kids, were there with our parents for some pizza, soda, and fun.

Back to Vick in a moment.

Pizza Time Theater, as it was originally called, was a brand-new hot spot. Founded by Atari cofounder, Nolan Bushnell, the restaurant was his idea of a family-friendly home for arcade games, drinks, and food — as well as an outlet for Atari products.

Inspired by the talking parrots in the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, Bushnell decided on animatronic characters for the restaurant: Crusty the Cat, Mr. Munch, Pasqually P. Pieplate, and of course, Chuck E. Cheese. These characters performed at 8 minute intervals, and were primarily used to entertain parents while their children were pumping tokens into the arcade games.

Success came and went. Rapid growth, changes in ownership and leadership, bad partnerships, and lawsuits proved to be too much to weather. And by 1983, the novelty wore off. Visitors came to the restaurant less frequently, opting to come only for annual birthday parties or other special events.

In the end, a copycat competitor bought Pizza Time, and today there are about 600 stores worldwide.

The original restaurant, where I met Vick, no longer exists. In fact, the entire shopping center was demolished, replaced by higher-end stores and restaurants, in what is now Santana Row.

Because my dad was habitually late to events like this, everyone was already there by the time we arrived. All of my dad’s friends’ kids were off playing games. All except one: Vick. I took the seat across from him, and introduced myself. After devouring a couple of slices of pizza, I asked him to join me in the arcade. As we walked to the game room, I said, “What‘s your name?” He said, “Vicky.” I found it a little odd, so I asked if I could call him “Vick.” He said, “Sure. A lot of people call me that.”

Vick and I became fast friends, and had a wonderful time at the restaurant, so we did what all kids do: we came up with a plan to continue to hang-out. I walked over to Vick’s aunt and uncle to ask if he could come over to my house; Vick walked over to my dad and asked the same thing. Each acquiesced, and he and I played into the evening.

As we said our good-byes at the end of the night, Vick’s aunt said, “I’m glad you and my niece had a great time.” I was dumbstruck. And then I thought back to what she had said just a few days before, “My niece is coming to join us for pizza this weekend. I think you’ll really like her, she’s a tomboy.”

I was little embarrassed — especially since I asked her if I could call her Vick. Before I could apologize, Vicky walked up to me and gave me a huge hug. I was both relieved and elated.

I never saw her again, but she left such a positive impression on me, that I always hoped to have a tomboy. I never got one. My two beautiful daughters were girls from the start.

Today, the phrase “Play like a girl” is no longer an insult. It’s a message of self-confidence and a compliment. When I see it, it often reminds me of Vicky. Years after our day of friendship, I learned that she grew up to be a fascinating and attractive young lady. And while she was no longer a tomboy, she continued to play like a girl.

Thank goodness for that.

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