My son Eric started his first job. He went to work for the same New Jersey rat I served for many years, Chuck E. Cheese. O.k. so he’s not a “rat” anymore, but he was when I worked there. It was the best job a kid could have. The inmates were running the asylum back in my day.

The cast members, as we were called, were a group of high school and college kids looking to have some fun while getting paid to do so. Most of the crew could be found at the restaurant even on days that we were not working. We helped recruit new employees so we were always working with our friends.

It was an eclectic group for sure. Just to mention a few: Alex Flippen and Brett Rains went on to work in television news, Greg Chapman, who runs the place now, my friend Vince Farrell is now the pastor of a church in Kentucky and Jason White is the Area Manager for an indoor laser tag company in Texas.

One night a group of us got very creative with the supplies in the store and caused a mild panic for miles surrounding the store. We figured out that if you took a bunch of straws, taped them together, and affixed birthday candles to them, you could make a hot air balloon out of the clear lightweight trash bags that we used. (Don’t try this at home kids)

Wondering if we could and not if we should, we did it and it worked. Not only did it work, it worked beautifully!

We climbed up on the roof of the store, lit the candles, the bag lifted off of the ground, and once it got high enough to reach to cool night air it took off soaring into the east looking like a small campfire in the sky. I recall the sound of the wax dripping off the candles and hurdling to the earth. Ziiiiiiiiip, ziiiiiip, ziiiiiiip, ziiiiiip.

We stood there in amazement watching the bag float away until it became too small to see. It never fell or burned up, it just kept on going so we did what anyone else would do and built two more and watched them sail off into the inky blackness of night. Then we left. That is the end of the story that night. We gave no thought to scorching the earth with our contraptions or where the melted wax was landing or if the craft would rain down fiery death from above, we just walked away.

The next day the police reports starting rolling in. One bag did burst into flames and landed on the roof of an apartment complex, thank God no one was harmed. We made the nightly news as dozen of UFO reports were made across Fort Smith and as far away as Roland. Our Assistant Manager Chris Rowand, no angel himself, went to the police station and turned himself into the police the next day to protect the rest of us. He received a lecture followed by several questions of how the contraption was made. And then he was released.

I am married now with kids and a grandson, but up until then my days at Chuck E. Cheese were the best of my life. I hope my son finds his own group, not mention an adult to step in or at the very least take the fall. Thanks Chris!