crazy taxi remembrance

July 14, 2013

It's strange, how the images that evoke "childhood" for us aren't always the quintessential ones--stuffed animals, baby shoes, Legos. For me, the arcade game Crazy Taxi always makes me think of being little, of trips to the local "Asian store" (the Ranch 99 Market in Kent, a veritable mecca for Chinese people and a few bemused Westerners who had wandered there looking for exotic fruits, or, like my dad, went out of obligation).

Ranch 99 Market is located inside the Great Wall Shopping Mall. Fittingly for its name, it seemed palatial to me at four or five years old. Sometimes my sister Adrianna and I went inside Ranch 99 itself, with our mom, but most of the time my dad would take us around the mall to kill time window shopping. We pointed at teapots in fancily decorated tea shops, sniffed the air in the hopes of picking up the scent of the chestnuts roasting outside, gazed through gleaming glass cases at deep purple amethyst geodes with price tags that kept us outside but glinting edges that kept us staring. Here, I understood my dad's quirky fascination with geology long before I saw the highway-bordering basalt towers of Eastern Washington road trip drives.

Before long, though, the entertainment of product- and people-watching became exhausting for two girls on little legs, and we would turn to the rows of arcade games wistfully. A lot of them were shoot-'em-up games dominated by prepubescent boys machine-gunning away hours of their youthful potential (or just eyesight...yeah probably just eyesight), but there were a few that didn't have any gun controllers attached. Crazy Taxi was one of them. Even my dad liked Crazy Taxi, so that made it okay (whereas the other games, that splattered gore across screens, shook with noise, and most importantly evoked Daddy's disapproval, were unacceptable).

While playing Crazy Taxi I felt simultaneously empowered and powerless. Empowered because suddenly I was the one sitting in the driver's seat, making decisions that could make or break me (usually not break, because arcade driving games seem to have an incredible tolerance for off-roading), but powerless because once our quarters were up, I'd have to slide reluctantly off the high seat and let someone else have a go. Sometimes Daddy would relent and put in some more quarters. Adrianna and I took perverse joy in seeing how many umbrella-ed tables we could crash into, seeing the wood splinter all over the screen and people scurrying before us. Who says driving games can't be violent too?

To any observer we must have made an odd group, my dad and Adrianna and me--in the almost unbroken row of Chinese boys there gaming, our trio consisted of the one white guy in Great Wall and tiny girls with pudding-bowl haircuts playing an arcade game with a seat too high for us. I'm glad that I was five--too young to notice or care if anyone was looking. And afterwards, when my mom finally emerged from Ranch 99 she brought with her the peace offerings (for taking so long!) of sticky, sweet roast duck, red bean buns, and chestnuts.

Chestnuts, amethyst, and Crazy Taxi...if young me had the foresight to make a time capsule, I would've stolen them all from the Great Wall Shopping Mall. I haven't been back there in a long while, and I think that's a good thing--I like keeping the image I have from when I was a little kid. The amethyst's glint would be duller to eyes that have seen many, many shiny things; the arcade games sillier, the building smaller, the chestnuts staler. Memory is often sweeter than the present. But if I see the telltale bright yellow of an arcade game console and "Crazy Taxi" emblazoned on the side, I'll smile and think of a little girl who loved to drive.

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