An ol' pal turned 30 today. Pac-Man. I've spent a lot of time with him, his missus Ms. Pac-Man and all the while always accompanied by another friend, Bud. A few years out of college and still spending a little time at the classic "Tavern" in Chapel Hill, I fell in love with that game. I wouldn't even know of this landmark birthday if I had not Googled something today. The Google Doodle today is a Pac-Man screen that you can actually play (!). Go play.
Once moved to California--in the middle of Silicon Valley to be exact, working in a serious job and thirty, for God's sake--the addiction held strong. There was a neat bar in Palo Alto that had four of those vertical machines. Always busy. There was a sign-up sheet and you had to play against the current winner. Sometimes for the price of a beer, sometimes for the cost of the game, and always for the pride and honor of being a great player.
There were some great players! Human machines that had set routes around the maze, that became enmeshed, like muscle memory, in their brain. They always followed the same route. I've never seen such focus. Remember, virtually every great company in the Valley had/has game rooms for the software writers and Pac-Man ruled, along with Foosball and air hockey. The Pac-Man game was called "eating corn" by the hard core player. "You wanna eat corn for a beer?", someone might ask.
I was over matched with those Geeks (aka millionaires) and I was extremely pleased when Nolan Bushnell, the Atari founder and Godfather of computer games (Pong) opened a "wholesome" little bar and arcade place (actually quite spacious) called Zaps. There the yups played shuffleboard, pool, every new game available, pinball and of course Pac-Man. This was a childish bar in retrospect, where the salesmen and reps of all the various start-ups would congregate on Friday night with their dates after some hot shot dinner somewhere; it was all very non-competitive. It was hard to be balls out with a happy high chilling you out. I could win there.
Zaps didn't last long. Even Nolan's cache and big bucks couldn't keep it cool. Oh well.
Pac-Man hibernated for a long time within my psyche, once in a while exploding out when a console would be found in some odd spot. And then one Christmas when the boys were young, Santa found a $9.95 Pac-Man game that plugged in to the TV, resplendent with the red ball atop the toggle apparatus. That was the big hit that Christmas and the boys played almost all day. Now, as young men they still on occasion will out of the blue pull out that little mini console, plug it into the television and yell out "Hey, Dad. You wanna eat some corn?"
Happy Birthday, old pal. Let's eat a little corn. Maybe one day we can go 256 boards without losing a life like Billy Mitchell did back in '99.