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Is it game over for pinball fun in Parkdale?

I was just about to do a post this morning about my trip to The Pinball Cafe earlier this month, when I read a rather ominous-sounding article at blogTO regarding the future of the trendy Parkdale establishment. Apparently, the owners are in the middle of an effort to be awarded a zoning variance as the cafe is currently operating in violation of  General Zoning By-Law No. 438-86. The by-law prohibits “places of amusement” in the Parkdale area from having more than two pinball machines on its premises. While it certainly is worth questioning the wisdom behind starting this process after opening your business, I do wish owner Jason Hazzard success in his effort to keep the cafe open. I had a chance to visit The Pinball Cafe with my girlfriend shortly after it opened earlier this month (see post below), and it’s certainly not the kind of place I imagine the by-law was meant to protect the community from when it was originally promulgated. No drugs, gambling, or violence. Not even any alcohol. Hmm, maybe that’s what Toronto wants to save Parkdale from. Anyways, here’s the link to the article, and please read the post below about my trip the The Pinball cafe, if you’re interested in going there yourself. Thanks.


Old-school fun

It’s Sunday morning.  You’ve finally had a good night’s sleep after a long, hard week.  Great! So, how do you enjoy your afternoon? You could go shopping.  You could go to a museum.  “I know. How about a nice cafe?” your girlfriend suggests.  “Ah, ha!  I know the perfect place” you tell her.  “The Pinball Cafe“.

After hearing so much about Toronto’s trendy new cafe, I wondered if it actually offers an experience that goes beyond mere novelty.  In an already crowded, and ever-growing market of themed cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs, can this one grab your attention and, more importantly, keep you coming back for more?  Armed with one lovely girlfriend, and a desire to have some fun, I set off for Queen Street West to find out.

First Impression

Arriving at around 1:00 pm, my girlfriend Yumi and I were pleased to see that the cafe was busy.  When you visit a newly-opened small business you often find you’re the only customer around .  I don’t know about you, but in those situations I tend to feel added pressure to be supportive, and end up being overly generous with my pocket book, regardless of the quality of my experience. Think Jerry Seinfeld and Babu…minus the creative suggestions. Well, there was no need to worry this time around, as the cafe was lively, filled with the clinging sounds of 8 vintage pinball machines. The customers were mostly young lads, and single men, and so the place had a decidedly nerdy feel to it.  No problem.  We hadn’t come to socialize with pretentious hipsters.  We were there to soak up the geeky atmosphere, and have fun. Our first order of business however, was to get some food and drinks.

A menu for all ages

The Pinball Cafe, being a place for all ages to enjoy, has a menu which is sans alcohol. With all the sweet, sugary options available though, it’s not as though the place is free of addictive choices to indulge in.  From milkshakes, to muffins, to twinkies and sodas, you can certainly get your sugar fix there.  And if you do want something a wee bit healthier, there are sandwiches and veggies as well. That wasn’t part of our plan that day however.  Yumi and I chose two of their delicious Big Mochas, a tasty cheese scone and two retro chocolates.  I don’t remember the cost of everything, but I’m pretty sure they were priced reasonably enough.  Regardless, we enjoyed it all.  I hardly ever eat junk food these days, but it was nice to try some snacks from the past.  It was especially exciting for Yumi, as she had never seen any of this in Japan.

Let the games begin!

After eating our chocolates, we moved to the back of the cafe where the walls are lined with 8 vintage pinball machines. They may be old, but they all looked in pristine condition. More importantly, they operated without a hitch.  Since one of the customers was less than generous with his use of Black Knight we weren’t able to try all of the machines, but that hardly spoiled our fun (even though it did look to be the most enjoyable game. Hence, why Mr. Selfish never left the machine).  I think we ended up trying four machines in all. Aside from AC DC, which by the way is insanely difficult, all the games play for a quarter.  AC DC is something like a $1 to play. There’s even an Asteroid machine, and we gave that a try.  That was  really hard as well.  Actually, come to think of it, after a fabulous start with Comet, it was all down hill from there. I definitely don’t have “the touch” when it comes to pinball machines.  Don’t even get me started on slot machines. Good lord!  Over the course of the next hour business really picked up, and it became difficult to try anymore of the games.  As we had plans to visit a museum that day, that was our cue to leave.

The verdict

All in all ,we had a good time.  I wish we would have been able to try a few more of the games, especially Black Knight (curse you Pinball Nerd!), but we felt like we got a good taste of what The Pinball Cafe has to offer. In the end, it was exactly what I though it would be going in.  Although it’s not a place I’m desperate to visit again right away, I’m definitely happy to know there is one more place out there were I can go and just have fun like the the big kid I am.  Sure, it’s certainly geeky, but who says you’re not a big geek? Join the club my friends.

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The Pinball Cafe is located at 1662 Queen Street West, Toronto.

Should ESPN’s latest controversey leave us with a loss of words?

From Linsanity to Lin Diesel, sports writers and bloggers have reveled in the hoopla surrounding Jeremey Lin’s unlikely rise to NBA stardom, leaving no pun unearthed.  This past week however, two ESPN employees have landed themselves in hot water after using a questionable phrase to discuss the recent struggles of the Taiwanese American star.  One employee was fired; the other suspended.  While many are questioning the sincerity of the claims of each of these employees that no racism was intended, the offense their words caused is very real, and so ESPN was left with very little choice but to make a strong statement through the discipline of their employees. Yet, despite ESPN’s firm response, some are not satisfied, and are asking us all to take a look at the phrase at the center of this controversy.

As a guest on MSNBC’s Jansing and Company this past Monday, Rep. Judy Chu was asked to respond to ESPN Editor Anthony Frederico’s statement that he has used the phrase a hundred times before. Seemingly making no distinction between the use of the word “chink” alone as a racial epithet and used as part of a phrase to describe a small but fatal weakness, she remarked,

I think that the use of the term is appalling and offensive…And if he was using it all those times that is extremely sad. The word was used since the 1880s to demean Chinese Americans and to deprive them of rights, and it is used on playgrounds specifically to humiliate and to defend Asian Americans. So I don’t know where he’s been all this time.

Is Rep. Judy Chen suggesting that we stop using the phrase all together, no matter the situation, since it contains a word which is also used as a racial epithet?  Journalist Gil Asakawa is certainly of that opinion. Writing for the blog Nikkei View, he explains,

…for most Asian Americans, the word “chink” in any context, or even out of context, on a page by itself, elicits a very specific and predictable response: Our gut clenches. We react viscerally to the word’s racist meaning because we’ve been hit with its history of hate…The phrase “chink in the armor” can be traced to the 1400s. It’s had a good long run, and maybe it’s time to retire it.

Mr. Asakawa’s words are a heartrending description of pain, and another powerful confutation to all those who would like us to believe that the election of a black man as President miraculously ushered in a new, post-racial America.  That said, I believe it is going too far to ask us to protect Mr. Asakawa and other Asian Americans from being unintentionally reminded of racism against them. My parents are Scottish, and my girlfriend is Japanese, should they be asked to refrain from using the word “nippy” to describe cold weather or food that has a sharp, biting taste because it contains a word which has been used as a racial slur against Japanese?  And how about the phrase “nip it in the bud”? Is this otherwise innocuous phrase also unacceptable, no matter the context, because it might remind Japanese Americans of racism they may have dealt with in their lives?

As I mentioned out to Mr. Asakawa, his suggestion to remove the phrase “chink in the armor” from the English language brings to mind Prof. Alan Gribben’s new version of Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In it, all 219 instances of the use of the N-word are replaced with the word “slave”.  The intention to save Americans from the distress and discomfort that is caused by re-visiting a very dark period in their history may seem desirable, but it would leave Americans with a very distorted picture of their past – one that doesn’t seem so bad.  In doing so, American’s wouldn’t be able to draw upon the past to deal with issues in their own time. As author Marybeth Gasman states in her article for The Chronicle,

Taking it out of a book may make for easier reading, but to do so leads us down a slippery slope toward collective amnesia. The N-word has a vicious history in the United States, and one that must be remembered so that we don’t repeat it.

While, Mr. Asakawa and Rep. Judy Chu certainly aren’t talking about whitewashing literature of the past, they are asking us to sanitize the English language. In my opinion, if we were to go down this road, we would be lost in an endless search for words or images that might remind people of whatever personal pain they may be dealing with. Imagine all the words and images we would have to do away with to protect all those who suffer from discrimination or ridicule for a myriad of other reasons besides their race or ethnicity. Shall we make it a rule that sports writers stop using the phrase “a cancer in the locker room” when describing the likes of Terrell Owens?  What would be next? Perhaps, Alan Shearer should choose a new favorite word because the poor are reminded of their terrible plight every time he analyzes a football match?  Obviously that would be taking Mr. Asakawa’s suggestion to an absurd extreme, but I do wonder where the line would be drawn.  And what if we do accept that it is OK to remove words from our language in this situation because we are talking about a minority racial group? Should that be the sole standard for what qualifies as worthy of protection?

No, I’d rather society deal with these issues openly, discussing them so we can learn about how each of us views our place in society. The recent SNL spoof of the ESPN controversy was a shining example of the type of dialogue that will likely contribute more to the progress of race relations than the elimination of one phrase could ever do.  A brilliantly hilarious piece of social commentary, it has many of us talking to each other about the the double standards that exist with how we treat different forms of racism. It is a more sensible idea to me to use this instance of a racist headline about Jeremy Lin to talk about how exactly the word “chink” and other unmistakably racist language makes minorities feel, rather than to go on an inexorable quest to eliminate any words or phrases that might remind us of those feelings.