“CIN” Relives Racing Glory Days

My glory days aren’t exactly the ones Bruce Springsteen refers to in his iconic song.

I wasn’t a high school softball champ or a beauty queen, but once upon a time I consistently placed in the top three on the Pole Position arcade game in the SUB (Student Union Building) at Spokane Falls Community College.

For those unfamiliar with 1980s arcade games, Pole Position is a racing simulation video game that was released by Namco in 1982 and licensed to Atari, Inc. Wikipedia refers to it as “one of the most important titles from the golden age of arcade video games.”

So. That’s how old I am – ancient enough to have been there for the “golden age.”

I’d play between classes, using my tip money from my waitressing job at Pioneer Pies.

The game features a steering wheel, a gear shift for all two gears, and a gas pedal. No braking needed – kind of the way my dad said I drove in real life.

For most of 1984, “CIN” (my video game moniker) consistently placed high in the winner’s circle. I also loved pinball. The bling! The bang! The gaudy, glitter glory of Flash Gordon and Medusa!

When Derek and I married in 1986, I was waitressing at the Grill (formerly The Men’s Grill) next door to the Apple Tree restaurant at Frederick and Nelson’s downtown. As newlyweds and college students, we couldn’t afford fancy dates. Every couple of weeks, we’d take my tip money to a North Side arcade or the old Lilac Lanes Bowling Alley on Division and play.

Obviously, we were early adapters to home video game systems.

My brother bought our boys a Nintendo 64 to keep them entertained at Grandma’s house. Guess who would go over to play it after the kids were in bed? Guess who beat Super Mario 64 first?

I was less enamored with the Game Cube; however, the Nintendo Wii stole a lot more hours than I’d like to admit. They were supposed to be workout hours with the Wii Fit, but, well, Super Mario Galaxy had to be conquered.

Imagine my delight when my sons told me I could relive my glory days at an arcade without hauling a bagful of quarters?

When the Jedi Alliance finally opened at their new location on Broadway in March, my boys checked it out and then encouraged us to go.

After one visit, Derek and I added it to our list of favorite date night destinations.

For a $12 ($15 on Friday and Saturday) contribution, guests can play 120 arcade and pinball games as many times as they’d like.

Contribution, because the Jedi Alliance is a registered church, and owner Tyler Arnold is an ordained minister through the Universal Life.

“As far as I know, we’re the only physical Jedi church in the world,” owner Arnold said.

“Church is a community – a place for people to belong.”

That’s just what he’s created. While the gaming is great, there’s more to experience. Arnold has housed his eclectic pop-culture collection in the 7,400-square-foot building.

A shrine to one of his favorite bands, The Ramones, has a home on the second floor along with dozens of one-of-a-kind movie props. A collection of life-size scary clowns mingled with Star Wars characters. vintage games, movies and collectibles are available for purchase.

On a recent visit, kids from 6 to 60-plus reveled in the old-fashioned fun of games without handheld controllers or headsets.

“I teach kids how to play pinball all the time,” Arnold said.

As to his own favorite game?

“My favorite is the newest one I got.”he 1980 Black Knight pinball, held his attention at the time of this interview, but he planned to have a QBert game up and running in December.

Meanwhile, Derek found he hadn’t lost his Ms. Pac-Man chops and I reconnected with Phoenix, a fixed shooter arcade game.

Of course, there was Donkey Kong, GoldenEye pinball, and so much more, including a couple of cool Terminator games that wore out our trigger fingers.

And of course, the pinnacle of my glory days – Pole Position. Alas, my arcade driving skills have grown rusty with disuse and CIN didn’t place anywhere near the top.

“Maybe you should try the cockpit version – it has a brake,” my husband advised.

As if.

At any rate, our visits provided me with a New Year’s resolution I hope to achieve. It may take a lot of visits to Jedi Alliance, but someday I hope to make it into the top 10 in Pole Position again.

And I don’t even need to save my quarters.


Workouts offer a Wii fit of frustration

Knowing that every year my New Year’s resolution is the same (to regain the figure I had at 21) this Christmas my husband thoughtfully provided a gift to get me going in the right direction. No, I didn’t find a personal trainer under our tree, nor did I discover a gift certificate for liposuction. Instead, Derek bought me a Wii Fit Plus.

Wii Fit is an exercise-themed game made by Nintendo. You step on a balance board and it measures your weight, tests your balance and tells you your fitness age. The Wii Fit Plus is an enhanced version of the original game. I think the “Plus” means extra frustration at no extra charge.

Our 10-year-old technology expert set up the system for me. Following the instructions, I stepped on the balance board. Within seconds a message flashed on the television screen: “Unbalanced!”

As if that weren’t offensive enough, what followed was worse. My Wii Fit age? Forty-nine. Since that birthday is still five years away, I’m afraid I’ve muttered some uncomplimentary things about my Christmas gift.

I felt better when I discovered I could create my own personal trainer. I named him Sven. He’s a little pale and pasty and his lips don’t move when he talks, but he says positive things like, “Wow! You’re good at that!”

Of course, he said that when I was doing the deep breathing exercise, but it’s nice to have one’s skills appreciated.

The feedback wasn’t as encouraging when I proceeded to some of the more strenuous activities. The program lets you play a variety of games to work on areas like balance, strength training and aerobics.

As my children howled with glee, I attempted to head soccer balls without getting beaned by panda bears or shoes. I missed almost every soccer ball, but was repeatedly struck by the objects I tried to avoid. I think it’s disrespectful for children to laugh at their mom when she gets hit on the head with a soccer cleat.

So, I stepped off the balance board to tell them that. When I resumed the activity, a message flashed across the screen, “I know you took a break during this exercise, but don’t worry, it will get easier.”

That’s just disturbing.

The kids stopped laughing when I aced the step aerobics workout. Jane Fonda and I mastered this routine in the early ’90s. They were also somewhat subdued when I demonstrated my Rhythm Kung Fu competency.

But then I tried Rhythm Boxing. My audience distracted me. If it had been a real match I would have been KO’d in the first 10 seconds. I didn’t fare any better at Hula Hooping, and the Yoga routine exhausted me. I decided to take a break for a couple days.

Not a good plan.

An even worse idea was checking my fitness age at 10 p.m. on Sunday night. The stupid game said I was 62! I’d aged 13 years over the weekend. I blamed it on my kids being home for Christmas break. Well, that and Christmas cookie consumption.

But I didn’t give up. Sven and I are working out every day and the kids aren’t allowed to watch. I just wish my Wii trainer would get a tan and some new exercise attire. Still, he seems pleased with my progress. Yesterday, he said, “Well, persistence isn’t a problem for you, now, is it?”

That persistence is paying off. My latest fitness age is 38! I may never again have the figure I had at 21, but I won’t stop until my Wii Fit Plus tells me I’m 29.

I wonder if I can get that on my driver’s license?

This column first ran in the Spokesman Review, January 7, 2010. Sven and I broke up shortly thereafter.  But I’m pleased to tell you we’ve reconnected and are back to monthly workouts.