A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Arcade Adventures.
New Jersey’s shore towns are like a necklace of sparkling jewels, with fans of each convinced that their jewel shines brightest. The towns share good-natured competition, so we welcomed this week’s challenge – making sure a girl named Avalon enjoyed the heck out of her visit to Cape May.
Avalon, New Jersey, is a lovely town that has been a fashionable resort since the 1890s. But Avalon, the town, is a bit quiet for Avalon, the teen, so we brought her to Cape May, where the weather was gorgeous, a guitarist played on the promenade, and teenagers crowded the arcade. Clearly, Lady Luck was with us.
Arcades in the Victorian era housed shops. Today, they house the descendants of the carnival midway – redemption games and pinball. Cape May has two arcades on Beach Avenue – one near Howard, and one near Jackson. Change a $20 bill into quarters and choose your challenge. Traditionalists play Skee Ball – the summer version of bowling. For 50 cents, you get nine chances to roll a wooden ball into a designated hole and rack up points. Variations on Whac-A-Mole allow you to beat up on crocodiles or sharks. Simulators allow you to drive a race car or battle aliens. Games of chance teach lessons about odds better than a trip to the casino. Pinball adds the bells and whistles. Avalon went for the modified basketball games. Success is measured in the length of the strip of tickets the machine spits out.
Redeeming those tickets for prizes is the highlight of the night. All the treasures of childhood are on display – Chinese finger traps, vampire teeth, yo-yos, bouncy balls, boomerangs, and that perennial favorite, the whoopee cushion. Some people save their tickets over the course of the summer for a bigger prize, like a piggy bank or a lava lamp. There are even more valuable treasures, like a tabletop hockey game, but we’ve never met anyone with the patience to save up for one of those.
Because you’re playing with quarters instead of tokens, it’s easy to feed your parking meter if you can’t tear yourself away. Ice cream can be bought with quarters, too – ten quarters gets you a cone. Kiddie rides are available in front of the arcades, so you can watch the toddlers as you eat your ice cream. Old-fashioned photo booths let you create silly souvenirs of the night.
Step right up! Visit the arcade!
Next week: Kayaking with the Kids