How In One Afternoon, the Fruitless Endeavor of Trying to Find a Needle in a Haystack Lead to Appreciating the Haystack for What it Is

by John Gillooly

Growing up in Fairfax, there is one places I’ll never forget: An arcade on 236 across from the cemetery near the old courthouse. I used to go there alot when I was a kid, a place where I could take $5 (a lotta money to me in those days) and spend a solid hour or two drowning the world out with antiquated beeps and whistles as I protected the world from invaders or simply helped a hungry yellow dot defeat scary ghosts.

I’m hard pressed to say that those memories are close to two decades old. Except for the occasional game at a bowling alley, or a few bars that have Big Buck Hunter or Golden Tee — there aren’t a lot of arcades in the area.

A quick internet search always brings up the same concept: head to New York City. What a coincidence, I thought, I’m headed to NYC, for the first time ever, for a couple of days for Spring Break. Time for an arcade adventure.

I was staying with my best friend from high school, Kevin, who had gone to school in upstate New York and had been living and working in NYC for close to two years. I was making the visit with a certain amount of guilt, for I rarely had the time, energy or money to make a trip to see an inseparable friend of four years of my life. Yet, here I am with a particular agenda.

My goal was to find the famous Chinatown Fair, an arcade located in (obviously) Chinatown, where some of the world’s best arcade gamers congregate to enjoy vintage and modern arcade games.

As we left Kevin’s place in Hoboken, N.J., I kept imagining myself in my favorite video games, criss-crossing NYC with some valuable goal or objective in mind. As we emerged in the main bus terminal, I found myself thrust out into the realest world I ever saw: Times Square. A hustling, bustling center of sights and sounds that could never be accurately delivered via pictures on a TV screen.

We met Kevin’s girlfriend, Emma, and her friends in the Upper East Side. The plan was to bar/pub crawl in honor of St. Patrick’s day from our location to a place called Seaport, almost all the way to the end of Manhattan. Chinatown happens to be on the way.

As we approached Chinatown, I sheepishly pitched my need to see the arcade to Kevin and Emma. Slightly reluctant, they endorsed my detour,  and agreed to catch up with the rest of the crowd later.



As we maneuvered around the blocks of Chinatown, I felt my heart race. Finally, an honest to God arcade, after all these years. Then, as we approach the corner, everything seemed quiet, not the hustle and bustle you’d expect from nerd central. Then we saw the sign:




I died. No more extra lives, no more quarters.

I turned around to my pal and his lady fair, they said Brooklyn was too far at this point of day, the dream must be deferred for another visit. We hailed a cab and it took us to Seaport where we met up with the rest of the crowd.


As the sun set over the massive buildings, I sat somewhat dejected knowing that the bridge and landmass to my left held the mecca I so yearned for. And yet, looking to my right, there was one of my best friends on the planet, and a group of people who became instant friends though a grand mix of alcohol and adventure. As I sat there, I ordered another round of beer and hot wings and I found myself content, that in the endless pursuit of a digital paradise, I found something much better: Reality.