One thing about spending so much time driving from one gig to another is you really start to learn your way around the country, or at least the country as defined by the interstate. One of the tried and true traditions for the Bilge Pumps to give us some cheap entertainment for those late nights on the road is the playing of "claw games". You know what I'm talking about. Those games that charge you anywhere from 25 cents to a buck to operate the overhead claw and often repeatedly fail, causing you to spend $10.00 to grab those cheap stuffed animals you could pick up at Toys R Us for $2.50. Who knows how much money I have spent on these insane games since 1999 on these road trips, but I'm sure it's more than a little. After a while, it becomes an automatic addiction.
You walk thru the door to Joe Bob's Greasy Spoon and Gas Station, spot the claw game to your left and wonder if you can hold off going to the bathroom long enough to get in one try. Since you can't you go ahead and hit the head, grab some overpriced Funyuns and a GD liter of cola and plant yourself in front of the game. First step you have to do (typically with the advice of the strung-out-on-monster pirates standing beside you) is to size up the tank of stuffed toys and see if there are any that's don't appear to have been packed in tight by a yeti jumping up and down on them. (On a side note, I think there's a fine artform these "packers" follow to cram everything in tightly and immovably while still giving the impression that the Underdog toy in a dress might conceivably be moved.)
Once you've determined your target(s), you feed in that money to the beast and prepare to move the claw over its intended victim in the 15 seconds alloted you. Beware! Some machines will only let you move in one direction forward or left and won't let you reverse course to fine-tune your adjustment. Leave those machines after your first attempt and don't give them any more money. They're only ripping you off worse. Once your claw is situated (again, often with the help of bleary-eyed, caffeinated, insane pirate friends trying to spot you from the side), you drop that sucker and see if it can snag that prize. More often than not, you get what I call the "jelly claw", where the claw seems to just slide over the toy like syrup without ever having a prayer of catching anything. I know these things are set to only have tension in the claw every so often, the trick is to make sure you're on target for the times it does work. Personally, my favorite times are when you can jam the claw tine into a belt or something on the toy and snag it when the claw doesn't have tension. MY own little way of sticking it to the "man". Uh... I guess the "stuffed animal man".
I've won a ton of goofy little stuffed toys over the years playing these games and previously they went to my wife or ended up toys for my dog, but now I have a baby girl and I must attack these games with a vengeance to win the prize to provide for my girl. Kind of a hunter-gatherer for the new millennium only instead of a bleeding gazelle, I bring back Curious George in a plane or some kind of freaky clown doll right out of "Poltergeist". I know she's just gonna love 'em. Whether she does or not doesn't matter, because at the time, I'm convinced she will. The first claw game I played after she was born, I was holding her in one arm while guiding the claw with the other and snagged a big fuzzy yellow duck the first time out. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is! She played with it (off and on) the rest of the multi-hour car trip. Daddy's mission accomplished. Poor girl's gonna end up with a closet full of these cheap-ass toys. hyuk hyuk.
Where are the best claw games you might ask? Well, I can give you a few right off the top of my head. The Citgo at Hwy 34 & I-20 in Terrell, TX has a good one. The Denny's off Hwy 69 in Muskogee, OK as well. A new favorite, the Station Grill in Lawton, OK has one. The best one of all, though, is the claw game at the Silver's Travel Center on the North side of 328 & I-10 in Breaux Bridge, LA. You guys have a favorite to let us know about?
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