The Electric Donut

Long after all the other 80s phrases (your “gag me”s, your “tubular”s) have faded from my vernacular, there is one innately 80s saying that I still try to inject into conversation: “I’ve got my quarter up.”

Guys within 5 years above or below my age will give me a sly grin of recognition; from everyone else I get blank stares.

dk-quarterI’m talking about video games, of course. True games played at an arcade. With quarters, not tokens. For only 25-cents a play. This is back when a stand-up arcade game offered infinitely better graphics than what you could get on your home computer.

My tiny town had a joint called the Electric Donut, part coffee shop, part arcade. The adults knew to clear out around 3:30 each day as a swarm of pale, teen townies took over the back room. About the size of a one-car garage, it was lined with eight games from the original years (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga — the classics, man!) and standing-room only for us teens. We’d pack in tight around each screen until the kid currently playing cried out for more elbow room. As soon as his turn was over, the next player had the quarter ready to shove into the slot. While the game rebooted with the title screen, you would use the bottom of your t-shirt to wipe the sweat off of the joystick, then crouch into position.

donkey-kong-arcadeSomewhere along the way — and this seemed to be a universal among arcades at that time — the tradition developed of putting your quarter in the metal ridge at the top of the machine, facing out. Thus you could hold your place in line while you ran off to sugar up on Grape Welch’s and Nerds. At any given time, the best games would have 5-6 quarters inching their way along that ledge.

Those of you not from that era are probably wondering how we marked our quarters to know which was which. Here’s the beautiful part: we didn’t have to! Each kid was so centered on getting that turn that you knew exactly how many quarters were in front of you, even if you were in queue on several machines at once.

To me, “I’ve got my quarter up,” evokes at once patience, courtesy, and nevertheless a deep longing for this fascinating prize to come.

A friend of mine once got passed a note in study hall that said, “I know you’re still dating N.M., but if you two break up, I’ve got my quarter up on you.”

She hated everything about that letter, but at the time I thought it was drop-dead romantic … you know, for an 8th grade boy.

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