I need to get my haircut.
Sounds good to me, where to?
Just downtown, West Gate shopping mall.
Alrighty, lets go.It was a quiet Thursday evening
, as my girlfriend and I got in the car and headed out. The long summer day showed its age as it slowly receded into twilight.Is this it, should I turn in here?
Yes, just park anywhere.
We pulled into the vacant parking lot, the time showed seven twenty on my Casio. Only four back in California, I thought to myself as I slid the shifter into park. I was back east visiting with my girlfriend's family. Her mother had the day off work, so we jumped at the chance to grab the car and get some errands done.What is this place, is it even open?
Mmhmm, don't worry, I won't take long.
Yeah, I knew that one. It was going to be awhile. We walked up to one of the glass door entrances that lined the side of the mall. There was a Subway as soon as we went in. Seemingly untouched since the nineties. Fake potted plants hung from the ceilings as we crossed the derelict establishments.Ok honey, I'll be in the salon. Just walk around, I think they have an arcade around here.
Sure thing babe, enjoy yourself.
As she left I took in my surroundings. The solemnity of the place reminded me of a church rather than a mall. The air itself felt old, undisturbed. Down the long lonely hallways walked a pair of teenage kids. Why they were here was beyond me. I figured their parents dropped them off at the wrong mall on mistake, and they were forced to occupy themselves till their ride came back.
I soon noticed there wasn't much around. Vacant retail spaces abounded. The few stores that were open hadn't an employee in sight. I looked back, the teens were gone. The arcade I was told about wasn't in site. There wasn't much hallway left, just one little strip ahead. As I walked closer I saw lights sort of dancing on the reflection of the tile just outside the last opening. I made my way over and heard novel electronic sounds.
Then I saw it.
What horrors lie ahead?I walked in the arcade.
It was silent. Of course it was beeping and blooping like an arcade bleeps and bloops. But it was a different kind of silent. No kids running around, no screaming, no yelling. I walked around the electric cathedral. I couldn't recognize any of the games. As I looked for the Street Fighters and Crusin' Californias, all I discovered were odd novelty games. The cabinets were all shapes and sizes, but the games...
I examined them.
Nothing rung a bell. All the machines were one of a kind. Unique relics of some bygone era. Racing games with screens so blurry it looked like you were peering at an Indy car zooming down the track from behind a waterfall. Some games had no apparent objective. Just a glass case, no buttons. Odd designs lavished the room. Images of cartoon animals flourished. Seemingly drawn to resemble something more familiar, but in a way to avoid blatant imitation. The room must have been synchronized.
It was quiet, then as if almost on que, the whole room would blurt out. "Lets play Fun E Ball!" followed by this odd descending tone. Several of the other machines would let out their desperate cries to me. Begging for quarters. The floor was littered, so I knew people had been here recently.
There was a single bench in the middle. Most likely put there for parents to rest as their kids enjoyed the amusements of the Westgate Family Fun Center. Places like this didn't exist in California. If it didn't make money, it was quickly removed. But not so here. Not just the arcade, but the whole mall was an economic curiosity. No way could it make a profitable revenue. It was like a small forgotten patch of rain forest that loggers somehow overlooked. A place meant for activity and happiness. Westgate just never realized it's potential. It was brought forth with all the best intentions, then abruptly forgotten. Like a newly hatched chick, lost as its mother was chased off by foxes. For a place so small, I found many items of interest.
But one in particulate really captivated me. Along the back wall, in the far left corner hidden behind a large gaming cabinet was a small game. Little Red
, as I affectionately recall it. An odd little prize dispensing skill type of game. It had barely any prizes left to give. A small orange extension cord, one of the many that littered the floor, ran up behind it. Giving life to the tiny box. Of everything I remember, I remember Little Red the most. A forgotten game in a forgotten arcade in a forgotten mall.I left Little Red alone,
and diverted my attention to the walls. There was a very odd sign that read No one over 12 without adult supervision. I stood, neck cocked and a feeling of stupor fell over me as I tried to make sense of it. Were only kids allowed to wonder Westgate Family Fun Center by themselves while older ones needed a parent? Even though it didn't make sense in a literal way, it made perfect sense at Westgate, where nothing was as it seems. There was a sign on the wall that bordered the glass.
It had a piece of paper taped over the laminated plastic sign. In a sloppy, rushed script was written a number for returns. I had half a mind to call it. Just to speak to someone who knew more about the arcade. So many questions I wanted to ask. What was this place, when did it start, where was it going. The mystique of Westgate was getting to me.As I was going to make my way to a peculiar quarter machine ride in the likeness of Thomas the Train, my girlfriend came in.
I looked at my watch. 20 minutes. It felt like 20 years. Would she notice the gray hairs? The hobble in my step, the creases on my forehead?I knew you'd be in here, I'm all done, ready?
Yeah, I'm ready. You look nice.
And then we left the arcade. We walked down the long corridor. I took one last glimpse at an oddly placed plant box. Then realized it wasn't oddly placed. It was positioned in the most perfect way possible. Absolutely perfect.We made our way out by the Subway, and found the car.
And I drove out the empty lot, to resume my life, or something like that.
I haven't been back there since. But it left a lasting impact on me. There's still magic left in the world...if you know where to look.
So just remember, when you exit the browser, and go on about your life. Picking up groceries, cleaning, working. Westgate is still there, lost in the shadows, still operating as it always has. Fun-E-Ball is still buzzing, Little Red, silently waiting for some soul to enjoy it's prize.
So if your ever around nowhere Pennsylvania and want to visit, just take the lost dreams exit and make a left at forgotten ave....
Welcome to WestGate. Your family fun center.This article is dedicated to Piglet. We hardly got a chance to know you. I'm sure you would have been great.