Goodbye to Gigglebees

If you’ve ever been to the house of someone who’s recently passed away, you know the feeling. As soon as you walk through the doors, you get the sense that time has stopped. For the house, it has. It’s ceased to exist in the way it had always known, owned and cared for by someone who is no longer alive. Nothing will change unless forced upon by an outside source. Instead, everything stays frozen, waiting to erode.

Gigglebees.This past Saturday, we attended the auction at Gigglebees, an old arcade that had been a local institution for as long as I can remember. It had gone through several names and several owners, but the internal mechanisms always stayed the same: a robot coyote named Wilbur, a set of bumper cars and skeeball alleys to rival nowhere else in town, a collection of new and old arcade games, all worn smooth by the touch of thousand (if not millions) of kids.

Like the homes of the deceased, Gigglebees stood empty for several months. Frozen in time, unable to stay open, bought by someone with no sense of history, ready to be razed for a new office complex. Its guts were to be scattered around the region, auctioned off and sent away. And we arrived to see those guts doled out.

It wasn’t just to bid on old arcade games, though. While justifying the cost of an auctioned copy of WWF Wrestlefest was easy (a machine went for $70 at another auction, according to my Internet search) the space issue made the purchase improbable. Instead, we showed up as lookie-loos, anxious to grab one last look at the building before it was sent into the ground.

We weren’t alone. A large group gathered as the auctioneer sold pizza pans and whisks from the kitchen and concession area, but most people were simply walking around, soaking in the atmosphere. It was a free-for-all. The machines were all opened, allowing attendees to simply reach inside and tally up credits. Skeeball took just a flip of a finger. Tickets were free for the taking. The bumper cars smashed and jostled and when they ran out one person simply needed to hop out and run behind the counter to get it started again.

Lines of people huddled around arcade games. Machines that hadn’t been used in what seemed like years – games that were either too outdated or too expensive for the relative enjoyment value – found new life, suddenly longed after for lack of space around the more popular games.

I looked around at the building; the games, for the most part, still stood in their original positions. One set of skeeball lanes had been sold ahead of time, and in their place stood a wall filled with animatronic characters. It looked like the place had been ransacked, like the original owners had taken the tokens and ran, leaving the city with a dying arcade, but other than that everything seemed in place.

Frozen in time. Preparing to be razed.

Sure, there was a group of people who showed up for the auction. They stood close to the auctioneer, trying to decide whether or not the set of plastic glasses they just purchased was really worth $5.

But most of the attendees were there for the same reason we were. For the memories. For one last look. They filed in and gravitated toward their favorite games, searching out for the machine that had been like a beacon among rocks. Every person who showed up had a memory, of birthdays, or of cashing in a positive report card for free tokens.

They weren’t here to buy a piece of Gigglebees. They weren’t here to help scatter the guts. They were simply here to pay their respects, to an abandoned arcade that, chances are, they didn’t appreciate enough when it was around but, now that the end was near, would do anything to bring back.

They were here for one last look. One last whack-a-mole. One last skeeball game. One last round of air hockey. One last ride on the bumper cards.

One last time. Then they would leave, saying goodbye to Gigglebees forever. And in doing so, they said goodbye to a little piece of their childhood.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 28th, 2008