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Uncommon currency – Arcade Tokens

January 8, 2012

One of the things I love about Playland-not-at-the-Beach in El Cerrito is all the hidden treasures in the place.  Just like Disneyland, there’s obvious attractions, so many in fact it’s overwhelming.  Yet there are also little gems if you know where to look.

I was there with my friend Molly and a couple of her friends on Saturday, and we were helping run the carnival games, which is lots of fun.  We had a lull in the action and I took a closer look at the tokens used in the coin-toss game.  Turns out, these are tokens the Playland staff and Richard Tuck have collected from myriad arcades, amusement parks and other places.

Tokens are a kind of “currency of youth”.  Many probably remember visiting these arcades, most of which are defunct now.

I used to play at a few NAMCO stations up until the mid ’90s.

With the new Credit Card style pay cards common at arcades these days, these old coins evoke a sense of nostalgia.  However, a lot of places still use tokens, and the new cards offer new opportunities for generating some pop culture history.

Tokens of one arcade were often weighted to be different from other local arcades and chains, but if you took those tokens and used them in other “far off” places, they often worked (far off, in kid terms, was a few hundred miles).  When I was young, for example, most of my friends and I were basically broke (or just cheap bastards).  We looked for every edge to get a free game (or 10).  We learned that the tokens we got at Regency Game Palace worked in a couple arcades in Reno, Nevada, back in the last arcade heyday of the early 1990’s.  So we had a little trick.  During the Street Fighter II craze, Regency Game Palace in Concord, CA gave an unprecedented 11 tokens for a dollar!  So we loaded up at Regency whenever we knew a family trip was coming up, and we were able to live like kings in Reno.

Any one of these machines might have been that winning game that took down the local arcade hero, earned a high score or was the last token dropped before the arcade closed for good.  These tokens must have lots of old school stories.  I’ve never even heard of a “token designer”.  Was it a job for some?

The one on the far right is hard to read in this photo, but it’s “pin pan alley”, an arcade chain the mid-west, sold to Bally in ’83, and later to Hilton.  That was around the time of the first video game crash and there was a lot of consolidation.

The one in the upper right is from Casa Bonita!  That’s the famous (infamous?) restaurant outside of Denver Colorado that was the subject of a South Park Episode. The place actually exists, and I’ve been there a couple times.  It’s full of mazes, silly attractions, kid-sized tunnels and a huge waterfall in the center of the restaurant.  Basically a theme restaurant on steroids (and quite a few other illicit chemicals).  Cliff divers would leap from the top of the waterfall into a pool around 30 feet below every once in a while.

The food was horrible.  You placed your order in a cafe-style line.  Obviously it was overpriced.  You then went to another location where it came out on trays via a system reminiscent of the meat packaging machine at the supermarket.  There was a metal opening about two feet wide  through which you could see your tray sliding and bouncing down a bed of metal rollers from the kitchen and on to a conveyor belt.  This all seemed rather neat to me as a kid, until I tasted the food.  It was if the cooks were literally microwaving $1 frozen mexican tv dinners and putting them on a plate. In fact, most of those taste better.

When my father and I attempted to leave, we couldn’t find the exit because the layout was so confusing.  But despite the food, we sure had a lot of fun!

One Comment
  1. Kevin permalink
    April 9, 2013 8:42 pm

    Blackbeard’s in Fresno is still open.

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