Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Sally Seeking Redemption

I was searching for something in one of the kitchen cabinets the other night when I came across a jar that was stuffed with prize tickets from an arcade called Joe’s Playland at Salisbury Beach.

I sat down and counted the tickets. There were 5,581 of them. Immediately, visions of all the great prizes I could redeem them for ran through my mind.

I was in high school when I first started saving prize tickets from the Midway Arcade and Joe’s Playland. Back then, 500 tickets could be redeemed for a nice prize, like a portable radio or a microscope. But I wanted to save for something even bigger and better, like a portable TV or a stereo. So I never redeemed any of my tickets. Then, I guess I just forgot about them.

I won most of my tickets playing skeeball. Later, I graduated to a rather primitive poker-game machine. The object of the game was to roll five balls into holes that had pictures of cards on them to determine the poker hand. Usually, I was pretty lucky, but one day, I couldn’t win a hand no matter how hard I tried. Determined, I kept stuffing money into the machine.

“Uh, how long have you been playing with only four balls?” I heard a voice behind me ask. I turned around to see one of the arcade’s attendants standing there. He checked the machine and found the fifth ball stuck up inside. I was so embarrassed for being too dumb to realize it, my face nearly burst into flames.

Fortunately, the guy took pity on me and let me play a bunch of games at no
charge to make up for my stupidity and his crummy machine. I won about 200 tickets that day alone.

Later, the arcade installed real slot machines, which paid off in prize tokens that could be redeemed for tickets. I played those for hours, mainly because they required no skill whatsoever and therefore, spared me from any further humiliation.

The other night, as I was sitting at the kitchen table and carefully stacking my tickets, my husband walked in and asked what I was doing.

“I have 5,581 tickets from Joe’s Playland at Salisbury Beach!” I said. “Do you think we can take a ride there this week so I can turn them in for a prize?”

“I don’t think Joe’s Playland is even in business any more,” he said.

The man sure knew how to burst my bubble.

So last Tuesday, we headed to Salisbury Beach to find out. During the entire ride, all I could think about was what I wanted to get for my prize tickets. “I think I’m going to get a DVD player,” I finally said to my husband. “Everyone has one and I want one, too.”

“If that old arcade is still there,” he said, “the prizes probably are so old, you’ll be able to redeem your tickets for a nice butter churn…or a manual typewriter!”

I laughed, but to be honest, he was worrying me. If Joe’s Playland had indeed gone to that big arcade in the sky, then I had spent over 40 years collecting tickets for absolutely nothing.

We finally turned onto the main drag through Salisbury Beach. My heart sank. The place looked like a ghost town. Gone were the amusements, the acres of game booths and even the landmark Surf Club and its huge ballroom. In their place were empty lots. Never had I been able to see so much of the ocean from the street.

But there, near a small pizza joint and a discount souvenir shop stood Joe’s Playland, its doors open and its colorful lights beckoning from inside. I allowed myself to exhale.

We found a parking spot directly in front of the arcade and I bolted inside, heading straight for the prize counter. By the time my husband caught up with me, I was smiling with satisfaction. “There it is,” I said, pointing to a really sharp-looking DVD player in a case behind the counter. “There’s my prize!”

A young employee approached and asked if he could help us with anything. “Yes!” I said as I dug into my purse and pulled out the big wad of tickets. “How many tickets is that DVD player?”

“It’s 28,000,” he said.

My husband, sympathetic soul that he was, burst out laughing.

Did I cash in my tickets for a prize I could afford, like a crock-pot or a salad-bowl set? No, I was too upset. I brought the tickets back home and stuffed them into the jar where I’d found them.

I figure if I keep them long enough, they’ll become antiques and I can sell them on Ebay.