Humans and rodents-1, robots-0

By Bill Colvard - [email protected]

Those of you of the millennial generation and younger have probably enjoyed a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, either your own or that of a friend.

Those of us of an older generation have probably endured a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, either that of our own children or one of their friends.

I first met Mr. Cheese when my nephew had a birthday party at his establishment when he was 10. It’s been a while, Nick’s over 30 now. He and all his friends loved it, running amok, totally jazzed that they could play virtually unlimited video games without having to beg adults for money. My daughter, who is four years younger than her cousin, was having a blast in the ball pit with the other little kids while the adults were huddled at an overcrowded table wondering if it would be insulting to our hostess to go to the pizzeria next door and grab a pie that was actually edible. But the dinging, binging, shrieking games and the squealing youngsters made it too loud for us to formulate a plan so we endured.

Kids clearly loved the place and I could see the appeal of one-stop shopping from a parents point of view. Make one reservation and the food, entertainment and assorted sundries were all taken care of, but it was a shame because my sister was a gifted party planner. She just shrugged and said it was what Nick wanted. Apparently, all the cool kids liked to birthday with Mr. Cheese. Fortunately, she bought a house with a pool the next year so we were able to bid Chuck E. Cheese adieu.

Until my daughter started having her children’s birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, perhaps harboring a bit of resentment that she had never been allowed to treat every child of her acquaintance to an afternoon of video games and squealing without end.

And speaking of squealing, in the two decades since I have been in a Chuck E. Cheese, it has gotten much louder. Much. And yes, I am 20 years older, and 20 years crotchetier, but I assure you, it’s not me. It’s just louder now and far more unpleasant. I am sure of it.

At this stage of my life, I have zero tolerance for a ginormous six-foot rat running loose in an establishment where I am consuming sub-par pizza. That should not even be a thing. Can I possibly be the only person put off by giant rodents dancing around the table while trying to eat? Yuck, I say. Yuck. And where in the world is the health department?

But this week some interesting news came out from the Chuck E. Cheese quarter and, quite frankly, I don’t know what to think about it.

The restaurant’s signature animatronic band of misfit creatures that plays weird “cheesy” covers of pop songs from decades past is being discontinued. Apparently, the technology, circa the 1970s, is not all that appealing to today’s digitally savvy children.

Being old enough to have gone to Disney World the year after it opened and never having seen a reason to go back, I see no problem with a robot band that looks like a bunch of wind-up toys. It seems like kids today, who would rather build functional robots from their Legos instead of garages for their Hot Wheels cars, are far less impressed.

So Chuck E. Cheese (the restaurant company’s management, not the guy in the rat suit) has made the decision to replace the robot band with live people in costumes. The down side to this decision is that there will be even more rodents and assorted vermin cavorting around while patrons are eating. And as I said before, I can’t be the only one who finds this disconcerting.

The up side is that, for the first time in a long time, a live human has taken a job from a robot. It’s about time. It may never happen again so we should all celebrate while we can. We should all join hands and cheer, humans and rats alike.

There’s a year-old White House report that says there is an 83 percent chance that workers who earn $20 an hour or less will have their jobs replaced by robots. Since we live in a place where just about everybody makes less than $20 an hour, that’s a sobering statistic.

What’s even more sobering, depressing even, is that of the 17 percent of jobs left, a couple of them are going to be singing, dancing and perhaps lip-syncing in a rat suit.

It’s not much of a win over the robots, but it’s a win, nonetheless. And who knows when we’ll get another one?

By Bill Colvard

[email protected]

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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