The birthdays of my youth were celebrated with huge parties. My parents would invite entire families, not just kids. The house would be packed with people, and our dining room table would groan from the weight of the many dishes my mom and dad prepared and other food that guests would bring. The Filipino classics would all be there–mounds of lumpia (like an egg roll but better), platters of pancit (a stir-fried noodle dish), an enormous bowl of kare kare (a peanut stew with vegetables and oxtail) and so much more.
The centerpiece of the table would be a huge sheet cake. And in addition to the cake, there would be many other sweets because nobody could wait until the candles were blown out and the cake was cut to have to dessert. So you would eat dessert twice (if not multiple times).
The parties would last for at least three or four hours. Guests would take home paper plates laden with leftovers and covered with aluminum foil crimped around the edges. There was always too much food.
Everything changed when Showbiz Pizza (an early rival of Chuck E. Cheese) came to hometown in the early 1980s. I had never seen anything like it. There were video games, rides and a wonderful thing called skee-ball (which to this day I am addicted).
I don’t remember if I asked my mom to celebrate my 9th birthday there, or if it was her idea. In any case, gone was the Filipino family party and in was pepperoni and Whac-a-Mole.
Only pizza, pop and cake were served. I have no memory of the pizza, but I clearly recall the birthday cake. It was a 9-inch round, chocolate cake with white whipped cream frosting. I never had had whipped cream frosting before, and I thought I would die with happiness after tasting it.
The other thing that stands out in my mind was Showbiz Pizza’s in-house entertainment–the Rock-afire Explosion. This was an animatronic robot band comprised of several animal characters. I remember the girl mouse, Mitzi, and a bear singing the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton hit “Islands in the Stream.”
Many people have blogged about childhood trauma and nightmares caused by the Rock-afire Explosion, but I have nothing but fond memories of costumed robots belting out the best hits from the ’70s and ’80s.
So I was delighted to discover that they are back and now singing to the tunes of Shakira, the White Stripes and other current acts. Get the details about their YouTube comeback here.
And now, the Rock-afire Explosion performing Usher’s “Love in this Club.”