Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Jan. 31
- Community Blog
Ray's Game Center
The dust-bin of history must overflow of nostalgic places and establishments. During the early '80 and through the mid-'90s, Ray's Game Center was the hang-out during my youth (used to be at the corner of Worthington and Paradise Valley Road). These old relics were called arcades and, at one time, there used to be one tucked away between many a taco shop, and seedy liquor stores. And just like mini-skirts and mullets they slowly receded from the landscape, replaced by Playstations and Xbox's. But you see, legends were created at Ray's Game Center. In those days, one didn't hide behind puffed up user-names and smack-talk to opponents via Xbox live, you faced him or her...face to face! Forget Tyson vs. Holyfield, the real grudge matches were settled on a Street Fighter 2 coin-op! Lifelong friends were made, and rivalries sparked all across the neighborhood. Now, as I look back, I can't think of any place more fondly--the neighborhood arcade-- smelled of smoke, loud with manic excitement, of flickering screens and electronic sounds. I remember the man himself, affectionately known as "Ray". All the kids knew him by name, a stoic Middle-Eastern man whose sole goal in life it seemed was to extract every quarter from our pockets. For this man, especially during the early video game craze, he might as well have been called the "Prince Bandar" of video entertainment. And we loved him for it. As a child, the man may well have been the Wizard of OZ. He toiled all day to ensure his Ms. Pac Man machine was operational at all times, that the Galaga's fire button never stuck, and the coin-chute of Out Run would never reject a token. He was a shrewed business man in hindsight, chained smoked and could be seen day or night skulking around the establishment like Paulie from Goodfellas. Ray was a man that seemed out of his element, maybe the video games were the "big thing" but his eyes always seemed to be looking far away. That shaby old arcade was his life, his business. He unwittingly became a part of the community, he put up with us snotty kids and profited to boot. He chased out the hang-arounds who long since ran out of quarters, and berated us for being at his place instead of doing our homework. I never will forget the day that Ray was stabbed as he closed the place for the night. There had been much speculation on the suspects, but they were never found. When that happened, it was never the same. Although Ray recovered, whatever day dream he hid behind that stone gaze, it couldn't come soon enough. Ray did find some success, as he did open an arcade in El Cajon and later in La Jolla. But eventually even these would shut down as arcades have become something like drive-in movie theaters. Sure, you can still go to Dave and Busters today, but if you grew up in Spring Valley, Ray's was the place for arcade thrills.
by Jarrett Lawrence