I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
January 19, 2007
Chuck E. Cheese.
The name alone is enough to strike fear and loathing in the hearts of parents everywhere. As if cramming a pizza place chock full of coin-eating video games and crappy rides weren’t bad enough, putting a rodent in charge of the whole shebang is just plain disgusting. The health department doesn’t allow mouse droppings in restaurant kitchens… Why on earth is it letting one greet diners at the front door?
With that in mind, I resolved when Baby was still in utero that she would never see the inside of what might be the world’s most famous rat hole. But before I realized what was happening, the damned rat had somehow gnawed his way onto PBS, following up every airing of Clifford, The Big Red Dog with a five-second lure that seemed designed specifically for my daughter.
“Chugga Cheezes. Chugga Cheezes. Chugga Cheezes,” she began chanting after a few viewings of the dirty vermin
“You don’t say that, Baby!” I shrieked, rushing over to turn off the television. “Those are bad, bad words!”
Chugga Cheezes. Chugga Cheezes! CHUGGA CHEEZES!” She laughed uproariously as I glowered at her.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” tsked one of my mom friends after I sadly told her of Baby’s latest obsession. “I’ve always said Chuck E. Cheese’s is a gateway to gambling.”
“What?” I said disbelievingly.
“The tokens. The tickets that you trade in for toys. The stage shows.” She counted each offense off on her fingers. “The Rivergate Chuck E. Cheese’s doesn’t even have windows, so you won’t realize that you’ve been playing Spider Squash for four straight hours!”
It was even worse than I had thought. I realized then that as a mom, I was duty-bound to penetrate Chuck E. Cheese’s sordid lair and investigate this so-called kiddie casino for myself. My daughter’s future depended on it.
And so last Tuesday, Baby and I agreed to meet two moms and their band of toddlers at Chuck’s place. But before we could get past the joint’s
velvet plastic rope, we had to schmooze with the bouncer, known in Chuck E. Cheese parlance as a Staff Cast Member.
“Welcome to Chuck E. Cheese’s!” she said in a tired singsong voice, stamping our hands. “This stamp will help us make sure that if you come in together, you leave together.”
“Darn,” I laughed. “There go my plans to unload this brat on someone else!”
The woman stared, openmouthed. I cleared my throat and went on inside.
While Baby squirmed with excitement, I bought some tokens, dumped them in a token cup, and entered the game area. Looking down at my daughter, I noticed with horror that already there were dollar signs where her pupils had once been. She ran toward the machines and flashing lights with open arms, choosing a dinky merry-go-round as her first target. Effortlessly, she learned how to put the tokens in the slot by herself and within a few minutes had learned a new mantra.
“More to-kens! More to-kens! More to-kens!”
Clearly, the child was well on the way to earning her seat at Gamblers Anonymous.
After exhausting every ride option on the floor, we visited the games section and tried out a few, which mostly consisted of me playing the game and Baby greedily grabbing the tickets that spewed out of the machine at the end. Unfortunately, Chugga Cheezes had instituted a no-violent-games policy, which sucked because I had really been hoping to give Baby some target practice on Area 51. Stifling a yawn, I led her over to the stage and saw something that will likely haunt my dreams forever.
In a DJ booth beside the stage, a six-foot-tall animatronic Chuck E. Cheese was crooning UB40’s version of “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” On a dozen television screens positioned around him, some sort of creature with a gigantic plastic chef’s head strutted down a runway to the beat of the music. I covered my ears and began to tremble before remembering that I had always turned down acid in high school. Breathing a sigh of relief, I grabbed Baby’s hand before any more damage could be done to her developing neural tubes and led her quickly to the “pizza” that had arrived at our table.
From what I could glean, the finishing process on a Chugga Cheese pizza involved running over it in a flatbed truck. The moms and I eyed the two-dimensional pie warily before divvying it up for the toddlers. I handed a piece to Baby, waiting for a horrified wail, but to my surprise she grinned wildly and began gobbling. Three pieces later, I had to place myself between her and the pizza in order to save some for the rest of the crowd.
Her eyes glassy, Baby sat back, burped, and resumed muttering, “More to-kens. More to-kens,” through a pizza sauce-ringed mouth. Oh sweet, merciful heavens. My precious child had been Chugga Cheesified. And it was all my fault.
Noting my horrified expression, my friend smiled grimly. “Gateway. To. Gambling,” she said, folding her arms. I stood up shakily.
“I guess we’ve gotta go,” I whispered hoarsely. Baby made a few weak cries of protest, but she was too far gone to put up much of a struggle. By the time I strapped her into her car seat, she had fallen into a stupor and would end up sleeping six hours before waking in her crib and demanding another round of Skee-Ball. It would take months of Dr. Phil episodes before things were truly back to normal.
And so, parents, I urge you to do whatever it takes to avoid the lair of the pizza rat. No good can come from that place, unless you manage to score the 500 tickets necessary for a lava lamp. And even then, is a tacky lamp really worth the brainwashing of your precious peanut?
Don’t answer that.
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>You forgot one thing about the pizza. After they run over it with the flatbed, they run it under a grease-dispensing machine.But your description was otherwise accurate.
>Chuckee Cheese is the devil’s playground. I hope you dipped Baby in a vat of Lysol when you got her home. I was VERY thankful that the Big Rat scared the hell out of my oldest when he was younger. I did not have to find excuses for us not to go there. DS#2 unfortunatly is made of stronger stock and loved the furry germ passer. I continue to tell him that the only way we can go there is if we win the lottery. Wonder how long I can keep that charade up?
>This is THE funniest post you have written, in my humble opinion, and given the posts so far, I am saying a lot!My daughters love the rat and the cardboard grease that passes for pizza. UGH!We recently moved, and I told them (in the long line of evil parenting lies) that there were no Chuckee Cheeses in FL. Since none are in our daily path, they believed me, until, one dreaded day . . . . Register horror here.
>OMG! I hate that place- and whenever little one is invited to a party there, we don’t go! We have gone twice,(b/c daddy thought it would be fun) and I wanted to stick a fork in my eye!
>I’m so guilty of taking my kids there. Mine are old enough that I’m like, “Here’s your cup, once the tokens are gone – they’re gone – DO NOT ask for any more. When you are done, come back to the table and eat your ‘pizza.'”Then I go play, too. (Everyone has to do the sketch machine with me once, too!)Your show sounds wildly different than ours!!Probably not the healthiest place in the world. Or city. But they do like it, so maybe once a year we go.
>Haha, didn’t see your comment, Toni…By the time we need to leave, a fork in the eye actually sounds quite pleasant!
>Back in the good ol’ days, Chuck E. Cheese’s were Showbiz Pizzas. And it was wonderful. They had the ginormous ball pit that required no tokens and hours and hours of entertainment.Now, at least at our Chuga Cheez, the only ball pit is a 1×1 box fit for an infant… and everything else is Tokens Only.*sigh* Ah, the state of the world
>My husband was always amazed when he’d see a Chuck E. Cheese commercial come on right before Barney. “Man, those people know what they’re doing!” he’d exclaim.I gotta tell ya though, I love that place when it comes to entertaining 5 year old boys! I can’t quite get the gist of essentially paying $36 or so for a pencil eraser, though. 🙂
>Well thats just crazy. I love Chuck E. Cheese pizza. I love the games too. Hmm…must be that my parents didn’t take me often enough when I was a child so I’m still drawn to the place…I dunno. But, I love it.
>I forgot about Showbiz!!!! When I was really little, the show was all the characters in a robotic band, but they had real people walk around in costumes (not just Chukka). Now, we have a robotic Chuck who just introduces music videos…I do like that they have the thing where kids just stand in front of the blue screen and appear in the video, too.
>I am so proud of myself. My curtain climbers, at age nine and ten, have yet to see the insides of Rat hole like Chucky Cheese.We will be avoiding Gamblers Anon. I’m not bragging or anything.But they still light up when the see the Golden Arches. And is it bad that they think a Big Mac is a well rounded meal???
>This is hilarious!!! And thanks for the warning… I shall avoid that place like the plague!!!
>LOL Aw…as the parent of a video game-loving kindergartner, I love Chuck E. Cheese’s, especially on rainy or sweltering days. I look for coupons in the Sunday paper and buy 80 tokens for $10, then keep them stashed in the kitchen cupboard; I dole them out in batches of 25 and they usually last us several months. Of course, I’ve learned not to eat the cardboard pizza (or any of the other overpriced “food”) at CEC’s, we don’t usually venture into the darkened banquet room where the creepy characters are, and we usually go during the day on a weekday because the place is totally crazy on weekends. All the kiddo does is play video games and climb around in the Habitrail (!) when the tokens are gone. When I used to have a marble jar reward system for the kiddo, one of the prizes was a much-coveted baggie of 25 CEC’s tokens. Talk about motivation for a little one. ;^)
>My son is almost 4, and we’ve successfully avoided the big C. Keep your fingers crossed. I don’t know how much longer we can avert his eyes every time we drive past!
>I got very lucky…DD is very sensitive to noise. So I just tell her that a place is very noisy and she doesn’t want anything to do with it. This worked for years. Our first visit to the Rat Hole didn’t occur until this year when her new friend invited her there…and guess what? The Rat Struck out! DD didn’t like the cardboard pizza, she didn’t like the games that don’t give as many tickets as the Family Fun center, and she absolutely HATED that the Rat’s chicken friend had the same name as her beloved doll. DD wrote a very nasty letter to the Rat telling him to change the chicken’s name. LOL! We won’t ever have to go back. BWAHAHAHAHA!
>By the way, girls, it’s okay if you like the Great Pizza Vermin. I figure we need a few radical Chuck E. Cheesists to really get things going..
>Heehee. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been to Chuck’s place. I hope to avoid it awhile longer, but my son is the same age as Baby and is exposed to those non-commercial PBS commercials too.. Soon you’ll be able to add The Cult of Chuckie to your list of people you’ve pissed off. Hooray for Lindsay!!
>I too suffer this same fear. I WILL NOT take T.D. to this devil’s den. I was petrified of this place as a kid. Those creepy animatronic clowns and band playing old Pop songs freaked me out. I actually heard a friend of mine remark the other day that the pizza was “quite good.” Heaven help us!
>When I was in highschool our marching band went to Atlanta every year at least once for an away game.We’d decend upon Chuck-E-Cheese for dinner, and I always felt bad for the employees getting beseiged by 150 high school students. It was great 🙂
>Not to mention that you have to take out a second mortgage to go in the first place!
>you’re my kinda mom.
>My mom and I used to go there just to play Skeeball and Whack-a-Mole. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that we did this until I was around 17 years old. We would always give our tickets away, though. Back then it was called Showbiz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese was a mere wing man to Billy Bob the one-toothed bear.
>When I was four, I lost my first tooth in “the balls” at Chuck E. Cheese. My mom panicked and had them searching through that toddler-germ infested mess to find my tooth. I still have flashbacks of that day…
>I remember Showbiz pizza too. I’ve taken my kids a few times, but even from the youngest days, pizza is eaten first, then tokens are distributed. Once they’re gone, that’s it. No crying or we don’t ever come back. I only freaked out once when Elle ‘got lost’ in the crawly-thingy. I had to go up after her. My knees were bruised for a week.
>I can’t handle that place anymore. Every time we go, my kids come down with something obscure, like the hanta virus or SARS. When my stepson asked to have his birthday party there last year, I told him that the big rat had tried to kill Santa, and it would be treacherous towards Santa, forcing him to skip over us.
>OMG, tears are streaming down my face – I feel exactly the same way. Have you ever heard the song “Chuck E. Cheese Hell” by comedian Tim Wilson? It’s about being a “bouncer” at a Chuck E. Cheese – you have to hear it! I’ve avoided the place with my 4 year old so far, but she’ begging to go and I’ll cave soon, I know it. We went once when she was about 2 2/2 – she took one look at the place (it was crazy that day) and literally climbed up the front of her Grandma!
>Thanks for the warning. I was actually surprised to see one in the town we now live in. I had thought that they were a part of the whole 80s scene and had gone the way of skating rinks. I was sad to find out I was wrong.
>There aren’t any CEC near me, but I remember going to one when I was a kid, and it was a VERY scary experience! I mean, I loved most of it, but I still get shudders remembering how I almost “drowned” in the ball pit twice in one visit when I was 4. I got burried, and all sorts of kids were stomping and running on me, and my mother was no where to be found to save me. Some employee had to rescue me. A few minutes later, I tried it again and had to be saved again. I learned after the second time.
>Burgers made by a clown,pizza made by a rat and what does a sailor know about fried chicken? Eat at those places and people better be saving up for bypass surgery instead of college for their li’l darlin’s..
>Amazing. I did a post on Chuck E Cheese just yesterday. Yes, a whole post. That place has a life of it’s own, and sadly, I lost what little bit of cool I had left last night while there. (BTW, in case you’re wondering who I am, I used to be Pickalish…….)
>I think it’s kinda’ cool that my kids are petrified of the man (or girl) in the rat suit. Chuck E. Cheese is the anti-christ. None of us want to admit that we go there.
>My grandmother used to take me and my cousin to Show-Biz Pizza when we were kids. Same thing. Matter of fact, Chuck E. Cheese bought out Show-Biz. The difference was the Show-Biz gave lots more tickets for each game, had better prizes, and the pizza was the best.But that was from the perspective of a 6-year-old. Now, I wouldn’t set foot in one of those places if you paid me.Heh.
>Agreed that it is a gateway to gambling.I’m ashamed to admit, I’m bribing my son with the promise of a visit there if he can get 20 “good listener” stickers at school
>We have a place called “Bullwinkles” here, which is considered an “upscale Chuck E. Cheese”.Don’t believe it.Loud, smelly and nasty – and run by a cartoon Moose.
>When my kids were little Chuckee was brand new, so the kids being little and all, we thought it was a neat, new concept. And then we discovered they sold BEER there, too.Yep, we used to take the kids there a LOT.
>Chuck E. Cheese’s is as classy as the DMV–only with bad pizza.
>Oh shudder.And what the hell is PBS doing airing COMMERCIALS!!!Maybe I’ll put off tv for another year…Thank the gods for DVDs. From the library. So there won’t be any damned ADS.
>The only time I’ve been to Chuck E. Cheese was in 1995 when I had my 30th birthday party there. The really unfortunate part is that I’m not even kidding. I guess we thought it would be fun to celebrate turning 30 by eating greasy cardboard pizza and acting like toddlers. File that one under WTF was I thinking?? ~Monica
>LOL, a very timely post because I just survived my first Chuck E. birthday party (not for my child, but for one of her classmates.)I am no fan of those places, but I will tell you this: They know how to do birthday parties. The CEC party host takes care of everything so the parent can “relax” and “enjoy” themselves. I was impressed by the hosts’ amazing calm and efficiency in the face of the special kind of chaos that only 15 seven-year-olds hyped up on some kind of sugary red drink can create.
>I’m so glad we are past that!!LBC
>I honestly have not been in that place since my little sister’s birthday party 16 years ago. Our older 3 have gone with birthday parties, but that’s it. After watching one little boy whack my sister’s head instead of the mole that was popping out of the game (that he budged ahead of her to replay again), and just witnessing sheer chaos, we vowed we wouldn’t take our kids there. Anytime we go by the one around us, all you can see is wall to wall people in the windows, and the parking lot is packed!
>The Mrs. takes the kiddo when it’s a 3 day weekend, preschool is out, and she is the one taking off.My kiddlet loves it. My Mrs. is neutral.The think I despise is how the desperate housewives of Williamson County feel entitled to ignore their feral beast-children, chat with their friends or cellphones and ignore the warcrimes their kids are committing against toddlers/small children.It drives me crazy everytime some future serial killer shoves my kid out of the way WITH ME STANDING RIGHT THERE while there mom is yacking it up considering it a 2 hour vacation from the kids during the day.
>Show biz pizza? I didn’t know what it was called but we went to one when I was little. Funny when we finally went to a Chuck E Cheese I was thinking of that mechanical band I saw so many years ago when I was so little and only once!I did consent to having 2 birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese which were both for my youngest. I do not like any arcade of any kind but for the rare occasion I would allow it. Both times were enjoyable due to the parents who brought the children had to stay (entrance stamp issue) so I was not alone in watching 15+ children running rapid on a sugar high from soda, ice cream and cake. There was no ball crawl in the one we had the party. There was a mechanical Chuck E Cheese next to the stage but there was also a live Chuck E Cheese who came out to do the dances with the children and even did the macarana, hokie-pokie, conga and a few dances obviously made up by the establishment. I had hired three teens and made my two oldest promise to help out at the party. Due to the assistance of the staff and parents were not allowed to just drop off their children the hired teens and my older children freely played on the games made for difficulty. The tickets they won they freely gave to the children around them. The two parties were great but would I go there if it were not one of my children’s birthdays? No, and again No and NO WAY! It was fun for my children but I will only sacrifice my sanity for one of their birthday parties and now that we did it I never have to go back. Huge cleansing sigh of relief (Ahhhh)
>Oh my goodness, we JUST had to go there this weekend. It was Hell on Earth. With Beer.