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TRAVELIN’ WITH JACQUELINE | Antique Arcade

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Hello, all you beautiful people! I hope prelims, papers, projects and just life in general are all going well for you this week, but if they haven’t been, I’ve got the perfect momentary escape for you—San Francisco!

I’ve lived in San Francisco my entire life, and only after spending my freshman year in Ithaca did I come to appreciate my hometown and how integral it has been to my identity, be it through my Asian heritage or my liberal views. Be that as it may, upon further reflection, I realized that I never took time to explore what my city has to offer, so when I returned to San Francisco this past summer, I made it my mission to do all the touristy things I never did. I definitely accomplished my personal goal because I ended up:

  • ascending the Filbert Street steps to Coit Tower;
  • visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Legion of Honor;
  • discovering the Stow Lake waterfall in Golden Gate Park;
  • traversing the Golden Gate Bridge; and
  • wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf.

I recommend every single one of those activities, but my highest praise goes to the Musée Mécanique—French for “Mechanical Museum”—at Fisherman’s Wharf. Consisting of hundreds of antique penny arcade machines (some of which predate the 1920s), the Musée Mécanique is entertainment at its simplest and most interactive. You don’t have to (1) wait in a long line for admission because it’s free, (2) be an Art History major to appreciate how special this art form is or (3) worry about getting your money’s worth because every game in the arcade costs either 25¢ or 50¢ to play.

I didn’t get a chance to play all 200+ games, but the following are my favorites:

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

This is the first game my best friend Sarah and I played upon our arrival; it’s actually right next to the entrance. After Sarah put in the quarter, she pushed the knob in the bottom center, and we started racing our cars by rotating the handles on the red (Sarah) and yellow (me) clockwise. The faster you spin the handles, the faster your car goes. The both of us actually got really into it and I ended up winning, but not without breaking the nail on my right index finger…totally worth it. Sarah wanted to play it again before we left, but I still won. Hehe. This game may be really old, but it’s super fun and easy to play, no matter how old you are.

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

This was the coolest game in the entire museum, but beware—it’s intense. After you put in your money, you can pick the level of intensity (I chose the highest). Basically, you’re supposed to grab the two metal rods as they “electrify” (I’m pretty sure it’s just extreme vibration) you with increasing voltage, and if you release your hands, you lose. For some reason, I just could not release my hands from the rods. I don’t know if it was my utter surprise at the power of the vibrations or my excitement at doing anything Addams Family-related, but Sarah told me I began uncontrollably cackling and jumping up and down. Tourists started walking over to me to watch how long I could endure the shocks, and when things started getting weird, they exchanged looks, but I didn’t notice anyone but Sarah while I was playing. I got up to 3,000 watts, which was the highest, but the machine never printed out my results, so I have no proof of this. Cue “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees.

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

I’m a sex bomb, and Tom Jones agrees.

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

And now, ladies and gentlemen, may I proudly present to you Laughing Sal (or Laffing Sal, which some argue is her correct name)! Laffing Sal is one of the more well-known fixtures of the museum, but she’s not a game. I can’t remember whether it cost a quarter or two, but after you push in your coins, Laffing Sal proceeds to, well, laugh continuously for a minute and a half. I’m not exactly sure what her purpose is, but according to the arcade’s website, many children who saw her (and her companion Laffing Sam) at amusement parks in the 1930s were terribly frightened. I’ll admit I was slightly freaked out by her laugh, which I can only describe as hearty and obnoxious yet quite infectious.

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Last but not least is the arm wrestling machine of Princess Diaries fame. In the 2001 film, Mia (Anne Hathaway) shows her grandmother Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews) around San Francisco, a tour that involves two matches with this sexy beast. Clarisse loses the first round, but wins the second with both of her hands after Laughing Sal cackles at her after her first loss. Like the Addams Family game, you can choose your level of difficulty (there are seven) for each match. One quarter gets you two matches, which is a pretty good deal. I chose the middle level for my first match, and the most difficult one for my second. Both ended up in a tie, but I’d say the machine won considering it took me falling to my knees (much to the amusement of a European couple) to get those ties.

In the spirit of doing touristy things, I decided to buy a pin from the Musée Mécanique to add to my pin collection, which some of you may be familiar with if you’ve read my Niagara Falls blogpost. There isn’t actually a store within the arcade from which you can purchase souvenirs but a vending machine that is right next to the entrance. The vending machine only offered one pin for $5, so there weren’t many options, but I didn’t mind because the design is unique (as you can see below).

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Quach

The Musée Mécanique is a truly unique experience. I can’t think of any other city with a destination like this, and just seeing and being able to play games that are older than you and your parents boggles my mind. These games are priceless pieces of history that have been generously shared with the public, so take some time to ride on the F car until you reach Jefferson and Taylor Street, or—if you’re not a local—put it on your travel list!

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