The news this morning reported the venerable and historic Malibu Grand Prix in Redwood City was closing its track, put-put course, and arcade forever this week. Gone will be the place where many of us drove a “real” car for the first time other than that time when we were playing in Grandpa’s 53 Edsel and accidently (honest!) kicked the parking brake off and we rolled out of the garage, through Grandma’s petunias, across Big Jim the neighbor’s prize winning hybrid fescue-sensimilla lawnscape, over Aunt Edna’s mailbox, through three hedges, to land unceremoniously in Fred the Barber’s Koi pond. Gone will be the put-put course where golf greats such as Al Czervik , Shooter McGavin, David Simms, Ty Cobb, Roy McAvoy, and Danny Noonan all got their starts. A young Steve Jobs, Tony Stark, and Bill Gates battled each other in the arcade playing cutting edge games like Pong, Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Frogger. We spent hours enjoying the fine cuisine of neon orange nachos, steamed to perfection hot dogs, and fountain sodas by the gallon. All these activities and memories will be swept away this week to be replaced by who knows what; probably more empty office space, another retail strip mall with the 623, 975th Starbucks next to an ATT Wireless store and a Chase bank branch or an empty lot with weeds sprouting up from the cracked pavement of the once great race track. Are our memories and pursuit of fun worth trading in for more coffee, smartphones, and banking options?
With the demise of the Shadowcliffs waterslides I wrote of last week and this horrible news today, I began to ponder where has the fun gone? When I was growing up in the South Bay, I was able to feed my fun diet a steady stream of drive-in movies, bowling, indoor ice and roller skating, Farrell’s ice cream pig trough birthday parties, endless rounds of put-put, or as I called it, Goofy Golf, and dancing at clubs that allowed under 18 patrons. There were four bowling alleys within 5 miles of my home. We had two Goofy Golf courses close by with Malibu Grand Prix an adventurous drive up 101. A roller rink and ice rink were side-by-side so you get your skate on both Tanya Harding style and Rollergirl Heather Graham style (but with more clothes on). We even had under-18 dance clubs where you could wear your best Member’s Only jacket and AirFlight pants and groove to Depeche Mode, the Smiths, and Psychedelic Furs. We could stuff three friends into the trunk and four more in the back seat of Dad’s 69 Pontiac Firebird and only pay $5 to get into the Shoreline Drive-in and that was for a double feature. Birthday parties were celebrated at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor or Swensen’s Ice Cream. Farrell’s offered the Pig Trough, a riot of ice cream, nuts, cherries, fudge topping, chocolate and strawberry sauces, and mounds of whipped cream goodness. It was brought to the table on top of a stretcher by two waiters to the wailing of an ambulance siren. Even 10 pre-teen boys were often not up to the challenge of the trough. Needless to say, we never wanted for fun diversions growing up. We met up with our friends and ventured forth to partake in all the aforementioned pursuits, laughing and making memories I still hold dear to this day.
What choices are offered our children today? We have mega-cineplexes, and the odd Rock & Jump or indoor go-cart racing establishment. Going to an indoor movie theater with your friends is not a very interactive experience let alone an inexpensive one. Going to the drive-in allowed us to bring our own food and drinks and talk and laugh throughout the movie. We interacted with each other. The bowling alleys in the area all seem to be struggling with many opting to play Wii or Xbox Bowling. Are we becoming more insular, closing ourselves off from the outside world, afraid of contact, and content to only interact with our friends and family via electronic means? We are the places where our children can gather to socialize, interact, and have fun. We have downtown landlords forcing out businesses that cater to children and opening new businesses not necessarily hostile to kids and teens, but certainly not particularly attractive to them. We wonder why our children seem to be lost in their social networks living their lives in a virtual realm. Maybe it is due to there not being many venues for them to live and experience life and have fun outside of the digital domain.
The realities of running a business today whether it is a Malibu Grand Prix, an ice cream parlor, or a put-put golf course must be daunting as you watch your customer base choose to stay home, eat Costco ice cream, and play Wii Bowling. Have we lost the desire to meet our friends in a physical space outside of our homes possibly surrounded by diverse peoples or have the opportunities and locations for those meetings disappeared into the dust bin of history? Let’s challenge ourselves to push back against the loss of these fun diversions. Take a drive up to the Concord Drive-in, stuff the kids in the trunk (not for the entire drive, just for the entrance), go play Goofy Golf at Boomers in Livermore or Golfland in Castro Valley, roll a few balls down the alleys in Dublin or Livermore, or enjoy an ice cream at Coldstone in Dublin or Loards in Livermore. Electronics from smartphones, tablets, and game consoles all have their place, but there are plenty of pastimes worthy of exploration where you can leave the wall charger at home and have some good old fashioned fun playing in 3D.