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for the last few years marty has organized a large regional girl scout retreat. she first took it on during bella's short-lived stint in a troop. but even after bella stopped going, marty had formed a fondness for the mission so stayed involved. if i'm remembering correctly, alex attended more of these weekend adventures than bella has—it surely never hurt that all the girls found him wildly adorable and kind (exhibit 1). now, any and all of my parents, especially parents of multiple children, out there know what a hit the at-home parent feels when you're down a (wo)man. the first few times this occurred (as it didn't happen often at all) i took a very casual approach to these events under-estimating how challenging single parenthood was. it didn't take many failed weekends for me to change my thinking because, to borrow a line from dennis miller, i got beat like a narc at a biker rally.

so here's what the saturday, our only full day without marty, looked like.

i woke at 8:00 a.m. and spent my usual hour recording the prior day, planning the next few and making notes and observations about recent happenings and needs. i call this my life window.

after seeing to my mental health, i jumped on the bike in the 9:00 hour so i could give some necessary minutes to my physical well being. i rode a hard and fast ten miles in our nearby park.

i returned from my ride a little after 10:00. before showering i instructed the boys to (a) dump out our large coin jar, (b) pull out all of the quarters, (c) divide them into four equal groups and (d) put them in four ziplock baggies, one for each person.

after my shower and the quarter-sorting, we jumped in my car and drove north towards chicago.

here i need to do a quick aside. i met a guy a few years back working at becoming a world-ranked pinball player. whenever i would see him i would ask about recent happenings in his life as you don't meet too many fellas like him. in our talks i learned of a guy who lived in central illinois who collected old-school arcade games. he had a warehouse full of them and opened it up once a month to let people play. right then i knew i had to go but anthony was quite young at the time and knew it would be a a non-starter, or not very enjoyable at least just yet. now that anthony was older and we had a free day i thought the time seemed right. so i looked the fellow up and found he has a proper storefront now in the small town he lives in called Arcadia, America's Playable Arcade Museum, in McLean Illinois. This is where we were headed.

i had kind of assumed bella would not be joining us but before my bike ride she asked what time we were leaving. i told her i didn't think she'd want to go. she confessed she didn't have great interest in the video games but found our adventure intriguing. you can imagine how this warmed me. so me and my three kids jumped into my 91 bmw which doesn't get driven hardly enough and set forth. as i told the kids we were looking at a two and half hour drive, each kid had packed a book or music or an audio book but given they had just done twenty hours to utah a month earlier this proved child's play to these seasoned travelers.

upon arriving in the super quaint town of mcClean we quickly found out spot and headed in. here's what i knew:
  • that i would enjoy re-experiencing the games i played as a kid.
  • that my kids would find the games lacking but get that it was something i wanted for them.
  • i would feel good supporting someone who took the time to put something like this together.
what i did not expect is how neat it was to be in a fully functional arcade again. i kinda thought we would be the only people there. but we weren't. there were people drifting in and out. playing games, watching others play games. it had been decades since i've experienced this sort of casual, relaxed arcade ambiance. i mean it had everything but someone coming up and resting a token somewhere on the playing console to mark they had next play. and me and my crew were bouncing about sampling the games. my one rookie move of the day was not making sure everyone had pockets to carry their quarters. so anthony's baggie was in the back pocket of my tattered jean shorts (which were almost as old as the games we were playing) and while i was playing my games i'd often feel him cram a hand down there to grab a quarter before racing off.

bella had about thirty minutes in her before her interest waned at which point she gave her remaining quarters to the boys, got her book out of the car and sat by the front reading. the boys and i quickly exhausted our remaining quarters.

another aside, the fact that i used quarters from a big coin jar i keep on my dresser held a double-boon. first off, marty would be thrilled that, in the name of protecting her budget, i used coins we had on hand instead of losing count of the twenties i sent through the change maker. and just a few week's earlier anthony asked why i had the coin jar and what i did with all the coins. now i had both a happy wife and a good answer.

when our supply of quarters were exhausted, the experience came to a natural conclusion. no whines for more quarters, just a clapping of the hands, a "that was great" and we headed for the car. once in and back on the highway people shared stories of favorite games and high scores. anthony liked a dr. who game the most. alex's surprising favorite was an old school, mono-chrome racing game that had surprisingly real manual shifters. bella absolutely rocked a shooting sniper game filling seven of the top ten scores before she was done. as for me, i'm holding out for marble madness, a game the man owns but had in storage when we were there.

while we were playing i asked a young couple if they new where we could get a horseshoe. a horseshoe is a meal that seems specific to central illinois. i had one many years ago when i did some work in the area. a horseshoe is a piece of texas toast, topped with some kind of meat, topped with a load of french fries, topped with a cheese sauce and topped with optional toppings like spring onions, bacon, or the like. the college-aged couple told me that a place in springfield il, d'arcy's pint, had the best ones. fortunate for us we had to pass through springfield on the way home and we would hit there right at dinner time, or thankfully just before, as we were all quite starving. so with some help from the iPhone we found d'arcy's pint and it's good we were there a little early, around 4:30 as there was already a thirty minute wait for a table. but we waited and got seated and that young couple i talked to was right because the horseshoe (or pony shoe, smaller version) was ridiculously good.

we then saddled back up and headed home. now on the way out, about forty miles out of st. louis we passed an antique mall that had an ice cream stand in front of it. it will catch your eye because the ice cream stand is in the shape of a giant ice cream cone. i had made mental note of the exit number and as it turned out, our perfect day just got a little more perfect as we had just the right amount of time to digest our dinner and stomachs were ready for a small soft serve cone served out of a giant soft serve cone house.

we got home about 45 minutes after that and there was still enough daylight left bella asked if we could go on a bike ride as the five hours of driving had left her with some bonus energy. so bella and i jumped on our bikes and were going to do a quick seven miler. we arrived at our biking park right at dusk and it seemed the world had gone home because after our first seven mile lap we hadn't seen a soul, which was highly unusual. bella commented on this and said, oh we totally gotta do another one of those, so we did. after after the 2nd lap she said it was hard to say when we'd have the park all to ourselves again like this so should take advantage. we did, ending an amazing day (that started for me with a ten mile bike ride) with a 25 mile bike ride.

after i got home i asked the kids what we should watch for movie night. bella and alex thought on this but anthony said, "but mom's not here". i confessed knowing this but said we could still have our movie night. he corrected me saying that it was called family movie night and if mom wasn't here our family wasn't here. i asked what he thought we should do. he said people should be able to watch stuff on their own but that we couldn't call it family movie night. i respected his position and turned the boys free to watch something on their computers while bella and i got an early jump on our saturday movie ritual by watching good will hunting.

before bed the boys were asking when we could go back to the arcade place again. i said i didn't know. bella said said thought we should do it every few months. i turned to her surprised saying i thought she didn't like it since she stopped playing early and read her book. she agreed saying the arcade games weren't so fun, but it was a good adventure.

i enjoyed the sweet luxury of going to bed knowing i just experienced a day for the books.




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