Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chuck E. Cheese's: pizza, games, tokens, child abuse, cocaine.... wait, what?

Wow. What a crazy time we had last night at Chuck E. Cheese's. I mean, this tops all of our previous experiences at the "rodent palace." In fact, the story is a bit long and a bit on the traumatizing side, but I'll do my best to tell the tale....

Sean and I were waiting in the parking lot at Chuck E. Cheese's. It was Jaiden's birthday, and Chuck happened to be her activity of choice. (We'd already had her party a few weeks ago, which I'll post about later! So Chuck E. Cheese's was just a fun little thing for us to do on her actual birthday.) Since Jaiden was at camp earlier that day, she was with my mom and dad. So we sat in the car waiting for them to arrive so we could all go in, open some birthday presents, eat pizza and play games. A pretty normal, everyday kind of plan, right?

Well, as Sean and I watched people... and watched people park... and watched kids already too hyped-up on sugar run around the parking lot, we spotted a SUV pulling up to a prime parking spot that's NOT supposed to be for patrons of Chuck E. Cheese's. We'd seen a few others do this already. They'd pull up, spot the "no-Chuck E." parking sign and pull out, in search of another not-so-prime spot. But more than just making an insensitive parking error, this particular driver nearly drove into the restaurant next door. Yep. He was up on the curb a little, and then up on the curb some more, and then VERY much on the curb, barely missing the parked car to his right and somehow not quite accelerating enough to get the back wheels up on the curb, too, so he could plow his wife and family into the inoffensive building.

Sean and I were wide-eyed now. (Wouldn't you be?) I said to Sean, "Is this guy on drugs, or what?" After a few more minutes of trial and error, the driver finally managed to get the SUV parked at an awkward angle in the "no-Chuck E." spot. Very curious now, we watched the passengers pile out. The pregnant-looking wife plopped out first and opened the back door. Three little bodies came out, one by one. It looked like a 3-year old, a 2-year old and a 1-year old. Woah. Lots of little ones. Then the mom reached in and grabbed a baby seat. But I noticed that the WHOLE baby seat came out of the car -- including the base that's supposed to be VERY securely attached, belted-in, tied-down and super-glued to the car. She popped the base off and thew it back in the car, and I could see a very tiny baby... probably less than 2 months old... asleep in the seat. Wow. FOUR little ones. In diapers. 3, 2, 1, 0. THAT should make for an interesting trip to Chuck E. Cheese's. (Ah, the dramatic irony....)

Just when we thought the little kid parade was over, the driver (AKA Dad?!?) sort of fell out of the SUV, stumbled around to the back door and pulled out ANOTHER baby seat. I figured it was empty. He was slinging it around, and it appeared that he'd gotten it from the trunk area and pulled it over to the back seat and yanked it out the door. Now, at this point, I'm thinking: where were all these kids sitting? 4 little kids? They should ALL be in car seats. Strapped in. Safe. But I only saw 1 in a baby seat. Dad had another seat that could have been occupied. But that still leaves 2 tiny kids. Were they just sitting in the back seat? Were they on the floor?

I was feeling a bit sick, when at this point... I looked at the Dad again. He was swinging the car seat, kicking it out of the way so he could close the back door. That's when I noticed the little body in a yellow onesie hanging from the seat, face down, bottom hanging over the side and bare feet nearly hitting the ground. Sean said, "Do you see that? Look at that baby?" Somewhat in shock, I replied, "That can't be a baby. That HAS to be a doll. You don't carry a baby around like that. It's about to fall on the pavement!"

At that moment, we spotted my mom and dad and Jaiden and got out of the car. As we walked toward Chuck E. Cheese's, we saw a man -- with a horrified expression -- heading toward his car nearby. "Did you see that baby?" he asked us. Sean and I looked at each other. "That was a baby?" I asked. "I thought it was a doll?" His wife came out next. Same expression on her face. "I can't believe he's carrying a child like that," she said. "We should call the police." (Ah, more dramatic irony....)

At that point, we told mom and dad what we'd seen. And feeling a bit odd now, my family and I walked into the restaurant and found a booth.

Lo and behold, the horrible driver, his wife and their 5 little kids were seated across from us. I had a "great" view. I tried not to stare. I tried to pay attention to Jaiden and her presents. I tried to think about pizza and games and fun. But I kept looking at those little kids, just sitting there. All of them with vacant looks, droopy eyes and sad faces.

As we waited for our pizza, the 3-year old started running over to the salad bar where he proceeded to grab food with his grimy little hands and stuff it into his face. His dad yelled at him, but when the little boy came back to the booth, there was no discipline or punishment given. Instead, you could hear the dad instructing his son (with some very inappropriately colorful words, by the way) to get him some food and bring it back to the table. The little boy did. Back and forth. Salad bar. Booth. Salad bar. Booth.

Meanwhile, the mom got up with the tiny baby and started walking around and sitting at empty tables... after a few seconds, she'd get up and go back to her table. Over and over again she did this, like she was just casually soothing and rocking the baby, just innocently moving from place to place. (The baby was completely OUT, by the way. I never saw that kid even move.) That's how she ended up with two plates, one cup... and a receipt. I wacthed the whole thing. I guess the family planned a trip to good ole' Chuck E. because it's a pretty easy target. Lots of people. Lots of extra plates and cups left over... and used receipts casually left behind because the food had already come -- and gone.

At any rate, the mom took one of the plates to the salad bar and filled it with food. Just helped herself. Then she went back to the table and proceeded to shove lettuce leaves into her mouth with her hands. I guess she didn't think to grab a fork while she was up and about. Or maybe that's where she draws the line: Ok to use someone else's used plate or cup, but NOT ok to use their old utensils. (The other kids didn't eat, mind you. They just sat. Silently. Staring blankly or falling asleep.)

When the dad made his attempt to get food at the bar in the same manner, the manager stopped him. People had definitely noticed what was happening. I guess the manager couldn't "prove" anything, though. He went away. And the dad sat back down.

About 5 minutes after that failed attempt, the delinquent dad and his like-minded wife left three of their kids at the table (the little yellow onesie girl on the floor in her seat, right-side-up now, and the 1- and 2-year olds, zombied-out in the booth) while the little boy ran around by himself. The two of them went up to the manager with receipt in-hand and demanded food. They said they'd ordered a pizza, and it hadn't come yet. The manager obviously did not fall for it.

I was filling drink cups when that mess was going on. When I walked back to our booth to share the updates, another restaurant patron was standing nearby. That's when he mentioned what he'd just seen: the dad had pulled out a little envelope of cocaine. In the middle of CHUCK E. CHEESE! I looked toward the booth and the three little kids. Scattered on the floor and on the table next to them was white powder. My eyes were saucers now. A lady next to me had seen it, too, and she called the police.

You can probably guess some of what happened next. Most of it was witnessed from afar or just retold to us.... but here's the gist of it: The dad, mom and kids left the building. (And at first they just left yellow onsie girl on the floor. The mom came back about 6 or 7 minutes later to get her.) The police arrived. The family was stopped outside before they could leave. People were interviewed/questioned. The SUV was searched. Three uniforms collected drug evidence from the booth right across from our little family birthday party....

And the guy was carted off to jail.

I don't know what happened to the mom. Or to the kids. I hope someone takes those 5 little ones away from them. Soon. Maybe this incident started that process for them.

All I know is that I've never witnessed anything quite like that before in my life. And I hope I never see it again.

(BTW: I chose NOT to share any photos of this actual family... mostly for the kids.


Rachel said...

Oh. My. Goodness. How HORRIBLY sad. Seriously - that's terrible.

Kate Spike and Her KatS said...

Whoa!!! Next time I come up to visit, you are definitely taking me to Chuck's Place. And to think that I've always sworn I'd never go there. Girl, this post was better than watching reality TV. UNBELIEVABLE!

Beth said...

It was QUITE a night.... I still can hardly believe it!

Ann Marie said...

oh those poor babies...that is so beyond pathetic...