One by one they disappear, the dinosaurs among the companies. As merciless as the meteorite impact millions of years ago, the coronavirus is wiping out chain stores that generations of Americans grew up with. They were already dying, living fossils from a time that was really long gone. Covid gave them the last push.

Like Brooks Brothers, the menswear store that has dressed nearly all American presidents for over two centuries. Or the Hertz car rental company. The virus makes no class distinctions. Both the department store JC Penney (level V&D minus) and the chic Neiman Marcus (de Bijenkorf plus) went under.

But the news this morning touched my heart. Chuck E. Cheese is defunct. This business is somewhere between a pizzeria, a funfair, a gambling den and a ball pit. Think of an American children’s paradise, and then with the music on ten. In the days before electronics, when you still had to leave the house for fun, this was the country’s outing for children. The store was named after a cartoon character, born as a rat, later “promoted” to become a mouse. God rest Chucky’s soul.

As a family, we often reminisce about ‘Piece of Cheese’. The oldest had discovered it at a children’s party. The following summer, we were on vacation in the Rocky Mountains when the hunger pangs hit mercilessly. Luckily we found a Chuck E. Cheese ‘nearby’. The children were immediately enthusiastic. Cat and mouse in the box. Only, it turned out to be further than we thought. A long drive took us to a bland desert city, dotted with gas stations, used car shops and fast food joints. After a few wrong turns we found a shopping mall who had turned sadness into art. The cinema was bankrupt. The mattress store was empty. Moving boxes were scattered everywhere. But there was the mouse logo.

And there it went. With a bag of coins that we bought at the entrance. One by one they went into the slot machines disguised as fairground rides, which spit out tickets when they win. Not one or two, but meters long ribbons. Our kids turned out to be total gambling junkies, who every time they scored, put their harvest like trophies on the table, where we ate the dirtiest pizza of our lives. They also quickly understood that not all children realized that the cards came from the bottom of the machines.

At the end of the afternoon it came supreme moment. With the spoils of handfuls of receipts, not all equally earned, we went to the kiosk with presents. They eagerly appropriated all the plastic animals, water pistols and other cheap rubbish.

We didn’t see any cheese. The pizza came out before we drove back. In the back of the car they played with the capping pistol until it fell apart from misery. Then, exhausted by sheer overstimulation, they fell into a deep, blissful daze.

Today I pause to reflect on the loss of ‘Stukkie’. Not only the dinosaurs, but also a mouse has left us. As well as the quickly filled children’s hand.

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