Golf ’n’ Stuff, Ventura. A group of friends and I concluded a round of miniature golf. Previously, having passed through the arcade, we’d spotted a few machines that piqued our interest. After collecting our tokens, we pranced like giddy school children toward a row of machines. As my partner sat himself into the bucket seat of Initial D 4, I stopped prancing. To my left stood a massive wall of blinking blue lights, two platforms and a marquee reading Speed of Light.
Speed of Light, produced by LAI Games, is a sensory experience requiring split-second recognition of patterns. A player slaps buttons lined up in a 3-by-5 grid as they light up – the faster you slap, the more tickets you earn.
I placed two tokens into the machine and hit “1 Player,” which, up until that point, was the saddest thing I’d ever done alone, not counting things unfit for print. A countdown began, I readied myself in the praying mantis position I had learned from watching Karate Kid several times, and when the buzzer sounded I began slapping light.
For that brief moment, reality slipped away — the only anchor remaining was the pulsating nodes of light, extinguished one by one by my naked palms. My hands, traveling near to the speed of light, became one flowing movement, like a photo of a river taken with a slow shutter speed.
“I’m burning through the sky, yeah!” I exclaimed.
The timer buzzed, the game ended. I’d scored a measly 112 (out of a possible 999) and earned 12 tickets. I turned and noticed that a small crowd of onlookers had gathered. As their wide eyes bored into me, I realized that I wasn’t just a little sweaty, I’d worked up quite a bit of funk and was breathing like a tired dog.
Whether or not I’d won was a moot point. I’d been bitten by the bug. The light-slapping bug. I yearned for another go, but the crowd had dispersed, no doubt to go home and reflect on what they’d seen.
On my way to collect a friend, another physically challenging game caught my attention: Jumpin’ Jackpot. Standing inside the half dome was a child who’d placed a token into the machine, started jumping, and was given a warning: “Game Over!” I kept this in mind.
Our return to Speed of Light was a welcome reunion. The machine, standing sentinel at the entrance of the arcade, eagerly awaited my gentle touch. I stepped back onto the platform, now accompanied by a friend who could have done better to hide his confusion and embarrassment, and placed my tokens into the slot, this time pressing “2 Players.”
The countdown began. The lights flickered on. The slapping commenced. A crowd gathered. Sweat flew. Shame melted away.
When the buzzer sounded, I had thoroughly thrashed my longtime friend with a score of 170 to 92. Tickets were printed and I took my tickets, enough to purchase a Chinese yo-yo.
We’d passed by Jumpin’ Jackpot on our way to the prize redemption counter and decided to give it a go, but with no visible instruction, each of us took our turns standing completely still on the platform until “Game Over!” flashed across the screen.
“Ah,” I said, pushing my friend to the side. “I think I got it.”
I placed my token into the machine and stood on the platform, knees slightly bent. As soon as the countdown began, I jumped. “Game Over!” it said, and a collective sigh followed me off the machine.
Turns out there’s a digital “rope” that twirls around in lights, and one must time one’s jump to it. I slunk away.
“No matter,” I thought as I unraveled my yo-yo, sitting content in the dark. “That’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit. I’m the master of light.”
Speed of Light and Jumpin’ Jackpot can be played to your heart’s content at Golf ’n’ Stuff, 5555 Walker St., Ventura.
Chris O’Neal is the yellow rose of Texas you’re going home to see. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal and at www.allthepretty.com.