We've all been through this day in our lives. For most of us retrojunkies it occurred in the 70's or 80's, but for some it may have happened as recently as the 90's or a long ago as the 60's or even the 50's. It is a life-altering event that literally changes our whole world. It is probably somewhat uncomfortable and maybe even a bit scary, in fact it made many of us cry. But every year since our parents and all our best friends have made a huge deal out of it. I am, of course, talking about the day you were born!! Ah the birthday, the most important and most anticipated day of the child's year. Do you remember the anticipation that came in those days leading up to that most glorious of anniversaries, that celebration of the day that introduced you to this world?
Sure there were other days in our childhood calendar which were very important, days which also brought the promise of candy, cake or presents, days such as Easter, Halloween and of course Christmas.
These were all very special days, but the problem was that most of us had to share them with some siblings or even some cousins. The birthday, on the other hand, had one thing that none of these holidays could offer, it was all about YOU!!!!!!
Birthdays were not without their stressors, however, for the setting of your birthday party would unavoidably influence your social status on the playground, the schoolyard and even among your neighborhood chums. That being said I now welcome you to,
The Greatest Birthday Spots of My Childhood
(And Maybe Yours Too)
For the first four years of my life birthdays were a family affair which included my immediate family, grandparents, aunts, uncles and maybe a few of the neighborhood kids. As time marched on, however, I eventually turned five years old, turning five leads to kindergarten and kindergarten leads to inviting all your classmates to the house to celebrate your birthday. This practice only went on for a few years before my mom realized that it would be worth a few extra bucks to take all us lovable cherubs to some local establishment and let us crawl all over their furniture, break their things and allow them to clean up the inevitable mess. Of course my mother was not the only one to catch on to this trend and thus I spent the next eight or so years attending many birthday parties in various locals. Now let me be you guide on a little trip down memory lane in which we will explore some of the more popular birthday party spots of my childhood McDonalds
While I was never allowed to have by birthday party in this local several of my friends did and so I attended many a McDonalds party throughout my childhood.
The Micky D's shindig was a surefire crowd pleaser but you really couldn't expect it to dazzle anyone. The major drawback was that you really didn't get to do very much that you wouldn't get to do on a standard trip to McDonalds. At these parties every kid was treated to a happy meal
and all the amenities that come therewith
Once we were done eating, singing the birthday song and enviously watching our host open his presents they would turn us all loose on the crown jewel of every McDonalds, the PlayPlace.
I included that above picture because that is the PlayPlace that most of us are familiar with today, but back in my day the McDonalds PlayPlace looked more like this,
Yes, they actually had a Fillet O' Fish themed ride
Yes, as opposed to the oversized popoids that grace the modern PlayPlace we basically got standard playground equipment with a McDonalds themed twist. And it was made of good ol' shin bruising, knee scraping, scar leaving metal (none of the sissy plastic stuff of today), and IMHO it was better that way.
These are popoids in case your memory needed a jog
The only real additions to the standard McDonalds visit was that you got cake for desert instead of a fried pie
Yes, they were actually fried back then, not baked!!!
and you got a party bag full of items that were even cheaper and more useless than happy meal toys (not that we didn't love and cherish these items at the time) Some of the items I recall from this package were a picture change hologram ruler (because there's nothing like getting school supplies as a party favors), a maze game called â€œHelp Ronald Find His Noseâ€ wherein you guided a small red ball thorough a maze to the center of Ronald McDonald's face, and a poster which was intended to be hung on the wall to measure a your growth. At each McDonnalds party you also got one of these nifty Ronald McDonald or Grimace party hats.
One thing that these parties did not include was an appearance by everybody's favorite clown; because honestly what would Bozo be doing at a McDonalds? But even more surprising was the fact that Ronald McDonald didn't even make an appearance at these parties.
False advertising much?
Now I realize that professional clowns get paid big bucks to perform at children's birthday parties so I didn't expect a complete clown act, but surely every McDonalds has a spare Ronald McDonald outfit and a hapless 16-year-old trainee to wear it. So I don't see why Ronald didn't at least come out to meet and great the kids.
I do, however, remember one incident in which a boy form my class, who apparently didn't understand the concept of birthday parties or of presents in general, became very upset when he found out that he did not get to take the present he had brought back home with him. He proceeded to throw a full on hissy fit from which he would not be consoled and ultimately had to be taken home early. And with entertainment like that who needs a clown anyway? While McDonalds may not have been the best birthday spot, it was an excuse to eat at McDonalds as well as an opportunity to hang out with all your chums in a non-school setting, two things I've never heard any kid complain about. Thus, it was generally a good time and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. All in all, it was hard to go wrong with the McDonalds Birthday.
McDonalds was by far not the only restaurant in which a young child could host a killer birthday bash. In fact, if there is one culinary treat that could possibly trump McDonalds in the smorgasbord of childhood treats it is PIZZA!!!!! And this is why the Make Your Own Pizza Party
was so popular among my pre-pubescent social circle. While I'm sure many other pizza joints offered this feature the two places that I remember most prominently were Pizza Hut and Pizza Inn.
In fact, the former was the venue that I chose to usher me into the double digits.
While the McDonalds party was always a good time, as I mentioned previously you really didn't get to do much that you wouldn't on a standard trip to McDonalds. The aforementioned pizza places, by contrast, offered a very unique experience; you actually got to go into the kitchen and make your own pizza.
How it was that the FDA decided it was somehow sanitary to take a group of drooling, cold infested, snot-oozing children into a restaurant's kitchen I will never know. But thank God they did!!!! I mean it may seem rather mundane by today's standards but to my 10-year-old self the idea of actually seeing a restaurant kitchen was rather exciting in itself, let alone actually getting to go back there and make some food.
Another feature that pizza places often boasted in the 80's was one or two cocktail table video games
to keep us entertained while we waited for our pizzas to cook. The Pizza Hut in my hometown had Popeye while the Pizza Inn had Galaga.The make your own Pizza party was always a blast and one that was assured to bump you up at least one more notch on the popularity scale for at least a few weeks.
I remember once attending a friend's party, also @ Pizza Hut at which some of the kids decided to mimic smoking with the birthday candles.
When the parents began showing up to retrieve their kids one of the moms asked her son â€œWhat did you do at the party?â€ This guy was actually dumb enough to reply â€œSmoked.â€ The last thing I remember was seeing my friend being dragged out of the store loudly protesting, â€œIt was only candles mom, I swear it was only candles!â€ While making and eating pizza with your friends was always and enjoyable experience
I would say the smoking incident was definitely the highlight of that party. Why do parents even bother hiring clowns and magicians for birthday parties? In retrospect is seems that the entertainment always had a way of providing itself.
Considering that my childhood years occured in the 1980's it should come as no surprise that I attended a good many birthday parties atThe Roller Rink
Yes, roller-skating was huge in the 80's so many a kid took the opportunity to impress her friends by treating them to a day at the roller rink. As most of my fellow 80's kids will remember the roller rink offered hip tunes, a variety of greasy foods, colorful lights and many even had a disco ball, thus giving it a natural party atmosphere.
In addition to strait up roller skating these parties also featured a variety of roller skating games. There was the â€œSpot Light Gameâ€ in which each child had to get under a light whenever the music stopped. If your light went out then you were eliminated. Another game was â€œFour Cornersâ€ which much like the â€œSpot Light Gameâ€ was based on stopping the music at random intervals. When the music ceased you had to huddle in one of the four corners of the rink. The attendant would then role a large fuzzy six sided die.
How many chronic gamblers can trace their addiction back to this game?
If the number corresponding to your corner came up you were out. If the number 5 or 6 came up then some combination of corners adding up to that number would be eliminated. I can remember one time huddling into corner #4. The die came up six and the attendant eliminated corners 1, 2 and 3. Even thought this was pure luck and could not be attributed to any skill or cleverness on my part I still felt like a real bad ass.
Then of course there was limbo,
what day at the roller rink would be complete with out skating under a bar to the tune of?
Some people were way too good at this game
I usually looked more like this
And then if you were really lucky you might just convince that special someone to join you in the â€œCouples Only Skate.â€
Such risky behavior in the age of cooties
For my part I usually took this time as an opportunity to grab a bite to eat or play a few video games, but to each his own.
Much like the McDonalds party you really didn't get to do anything out of the ordinary, but you got a free day at the roller rink with all your friends and to a child of the 80's that was hard to top.
Nothing says 80's like leg warmers and roller skates
While all of the above spots were available to anyone those of use who were lucky enough to be born during the summer months had a few more options since we were able to take our birthday celebrations to the great outdoors. To this effect I will start with that time honored outdoor festivityThe Pool Party
If you were lucky enough to have access to a swimming pool during your youth then you were at a huge advantage where the party scene was concerned. For me this opportunity came on my 11th birthday via a local country club at which my parents were members. Now before you begin conjuring images of Hillary Banks having brunch with her friends while Carlton is shot down by some snooty girl and Will embarrasses his Uncle Phil yet again, I assure you that this place was nothing like that. This place was by no means the swankiest country club it town, it was really just a little place where the upper middle class of the community could gather to play golf. But none of that amounted to a hill of beans as far as I was concerned; all that mattered to me was that they had a pool.
The pool party offered a variety of opportunities such as a chance to take in a good game of Marco Polo, to get some long overdue revenge by luring some pesky twerp into the deep end and giving him a good dunk,
and perhaps most importantly a chance to show off your sweet diving skills in front of your peers.
Um, I said SWEET diving skills
Yes, if you could pull off the single back flip you were sure to be the most popular kid on your block until, well until some showoff came along and pulled off the double back flip (man I hated that guy!!!) But regardless of your diving skills swimming pools are the site of many a cherished childhood memory and thus the pool party was always a winner.
Another popular Birthday spot in my hometown was the local Amusement Park
Now I'm not talking anything on the scale of Six Flags or Disney Land, but one of our local parks had an area where the kept some standard state fair type rides including The Tea Cups,
The only time I've ever gotten excited over a tea cup
The Merry Mixer, The Carousel,
and my personal favorite the Tilt-A-Whirl
I'm sure many of you are familiar with these kinds of rides and that you rode them at some point during your youth. Normally when you visited this park you had to buy tickets in order to gain admission onto the rides. Rides typically cost anywhere from one to three tickets (and believe me any ride you could get on for one ticket was pretty lame), thus making a day at the park rather expensive. The thing that made birthdays at this park particularly awesome was that you and each of your guests got a special bracelet that served as an all day, all access pass to every ride.
I realize that filling children full of cake and ice cream and then turning them loose on a bunch of spinning rides may not seem like the best idea ever, and I will not deny that the occasional regurgitation did occur
Uh no, not posting a picture of that
Nonetheless, it was a great way for you and your buds to spend a day and for the most part a good time was had by all.
In addition to the cake and ice cream that was provided with the party package for a few extra bucks you could treat yourself to a few other tasty snacks
and if you were one of those aforementioned weak stomached kids you could take in some skee ball while you waited for you stomach to settle
For many years this was considered the #1 birthday spot in town. If you were lucky enough to have your birthday here then you were guaranteed to be the most popular kid in your class until the next kid had his party there. And then you were right back to square one. But at least you got to enjoy a few weeks of popularity.
But then one day it happened. They opened the birthday spot to end all birthday spots. It was a pizza place, it was an arcade, it as a rock concert, it was a zoo (sort of). IT WASShowbiz Pizza Place
I remember it clearly, the year was 1982 a friend's parents had invited my brother and I to join them for lunch at a new pizza place in town that was supposed to feature some kind of show. It sounded kind of fun and it was an opportunity to eat some pizza so we gladly accepted the invitation. However, nothing could have prepared my 7 year old mind for what I was about to experience, the lights, the shows, the music, the food, something to tantalize all the senses. This was the Shangri La of childhood, the kid's equivalent of Vegas!!
As I mentioned above my birthday fell in the summer and thus I was able to have my parties in the outdoor venues mentioned above. Due to this and that fact that my mom had a strict policy against hosting a birthday party in the same place twice it was my brother, whose birthday falls in the dead of winter, who got to play host to his friends in this childhood paradise. It seemed unfair at first but it wasn't so bad when I realize that I still got to reap all the benefits. And what were the benefits of the Showbiz Party? Well first and foremost this was a pizza party which is always a good thing. Sure the pizza wasn't as good as that at Pizza Hut and Pizza Inn and you didn't get to make your own pizza, but it was still a decent meal. After the pizza we were treated to what I consider to be the worst cake ever contrived my mankind. I suppose this was what in today's world we call ice cream cake, but believe me the science had not yet been perfected. For one thing there was no icing to be found anywhere on this cake as the ice cream pretty much took the place of the icing. NO ICING ON A BIRTHDAY CAKE?!!! WTF? ITS BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR PETE SAKE, I DON'T CARE HOW MUCH ICE CREAM YOU PILE ON IT I WANT MY ICING!! ESPECIALLY SINCE THIS IS A BIRTHDAY PARTY AND I WAS GOING TO GET ICE CREAM ANYWAY!!! SOMEBODY OWES ME SOME ICING!!!! But long story short the cake as BAD, and I wasn't gong for it. So maybe the food at these parties wasn't the best, but the truth of the matter is that it didn't have to be. Why? Because everything else that this place had to offer would make you forget all about it. In addition to the food Showbiz offered all the latest video game titles of the time
As well as a few other popular arcade staples
Then there was the thing that made Showbiz Showbiz,
Upon any visit to Showbiz your Master of Ceremonies was a hillbilly bear named Billy Bob
who was apparently moonlighting form his day job as a gas station attendant. At least that's what I always assumed since the backdrop of his stage was a gas station for some reason. They had a gimmick going for a while where the birthday boy or girl got to approach the stage, talk to Billy Bob and shake his hand. I remember attending one birthday party in which another friend and I decided to approach the stage with the birthday boy to see if we could get a word in. Well when the bear extended his paw to shake hands with the birthday boy my other friend asked if he could shake his hand too and Billy Bob happily complied. So naturally when he was done I extended my hand only to have that bastard retract his paw. That's a right folks; I was snubbed by Billy Bob. It was quite a blow to my self esteem at the time but the bear would later be replaced by a rat (that Showbiz is now a Chuck E. Cheese) so I'm satisfied that he eventually got his comeuppance.
How many 80's kids are still in therapy due to this incident?
Always at Billy Bobs side was his best friend Looney Bird
.....ain't that right Billy Bob
who was essentially the town drunk. Remember these were the days before the PC police took over America and when alcoholism was still considered a form of entertainment and so they could get away with this sort of thing. Looney Bird liked to hang out in an oil barrel and would periodically pop his head out to ad lib Billy Bob's statements with quirky quips.
At center stage was the house band, The Rock-afire Explosion who mostly did covers of popular rock songs both classic and current.
The band was led by the rotund Cajun gorilla, Fatz
Fatz' shtick was making jokes about his girlfriend, Esmeralda and responding to wisecracks from his band mates with threats of physical violence. Fatz was always my favorite member of the Rock-a-Fire explosion. One thing I will never forget is when he uttered his famous line "I can't wait to sit my big, fat, lazy behind under that magnolia tree." To the 7-year-old mind it was pure hilarity.
Other members of the band included guitarist, Beach Bear, a polar bear who ironically enjoyed spending his down time on a warn beach. He was your typical California surfer dude, and was also a bit of a smart ass which made him the most frequent recipient of Fatz' threats.
Mitzy, the only female member of the band, was mouse who donned a cheerleader's outfit. She took lead vocals whenever the band covered a song by a female artist. Otherwise she just kind of danced, waved here pom-poms and did some backup vocals.
The band's drummer was a dimwitted canine named Dook (yes, it was actually spelled like the slang term for excrement) who fancied himself a space explorer. This absent minded mutt was known for getting distracted and missing his cues, and his catchphrase was a very drawn out and confused sounding "What?" Based on his aluminum space suit and hat I'd assume he spent most of his free time in his grandmother's basement uncovering various government/alien conspiracies with his Commodore 64.
At stage right was comedian/ventriloquist Rolfe the wolf and his sidekick/puppet, Earl.
"Hey Rolfe, is the Rock-afire Explosion getting a new drummer?"
"I don't know Earl, why do you ask?"
"Well, I passed Fatz on the way back from the restroom and he said he was about to go drop a dook."
It was never quite clear if it was genuine contempt or just good-natured ribbing but Rolfe was known for making the Rock-afire Explosion the butt of his jokes primarily by insulting their talent. Whatever the case it often put him at odds with Fatz. In their act Rolfe played strait man to his partner Earl. Despite being a puppet Earl had a mind and personality of his own (which really calls into question Rolfe's ventriloquist skills). Earl's shtick was antagonizing Rolfe and taking lead vocals on songs only to forget the lyrics.
Our local Showbiz was rife with rumors of some unnamed kid(s) who had once gone between the curtains and found their way into the control room (which naturally was completely unguarded and had no one working in it) taken control of the animatronic animals and treated the audience to an off color comedy show that would put the likes of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor to shame.
Among the children in my hometown Showbiz was considered the ultimate birthday spot and would win you instant popularity among you grammar school mates for many a semester to come.
Now there is one more birthday spot that I would like to review before I sign off. And that would be The Mini-Golf Course
This was never considered the most popular birthday spot in town but it was still a very special one for me. Why? Because it was the site of my 12th birthday. At the time the only golf course in my town was located at the local Taco Johns.
Yes, Taco Johns of all places actually had a mini-golf course appropriately named "Taco Turf." Unlike many of my previous birthday parties this was a rather small affair, to which only the kids form the neighborhood and by best friend from school were invited. As it turned out this was to be my last childhood birthday party. I did not receive any notoriety or popularity for this party, and there were no bells or whistles. Instead it was really just a good time with good food and good friends. This event very appropriately ushered in my teenage years, as hanging out with good friends is what those years would be all about.
This concludes my retrospect on childhood birthday spots. I hope you have enjoyed it and that it has brought to mind some special birthday moments from your own childhood, or perhaps just some memories of other good times spent with friends and family in these sorts of places. Chokeslam signing off. Until next time here's wishing you and yours