Sunday, January 27, 2008

Musee Mechanique

It rained hard on Martin Luther King Day, so instead of staying at home and doing jigsaw puzzles like sane people, we decided to travel into the city. Our destination was the Musee Mechanique, a collection of some 200 vintage arcade games and attractions housed in a warehouse at Fisherman’s Wharf. On a positive note, the combination of rain and holiday made for light traffic. On the downside, parking on or near Fisherman’s Wharf costs $2 every 20 minutes up to a maximum of $32. Oh sure, you get a grace period if you get your ticket validated at one of the many overpriced restaurants in the area, but in general the impression you get is that the city fathers of San Francisco are determined to milk every possible penny out of any sap stupid enough to drive to the waterfront. But it was raining and we were bored, so on that particular day, we were those saps.

We do like the Musee Mechanique, though. Apart from the parking issue, the first thing you notice about it is that entrance is free (although you do have to run a gauntlet of seafood restaurants with their crab pots going at full boil – sad to do when you’ve already eaten and cannot be tempted). The second thing you notice is that it is filled with cool things. The third thing you notice is that those cool things (mechanical dioramas, hand-cranked picture machines, games) only cost 25 cents. Pop in a quarter and be amazed as you watch a real English execution (someone getting hanged), then head on over and see a French execution (guillotine). A Depression-era mechanical baseball game works on the pinball principle, where the player hits the ball, getting base hits, or homeruns, and keeps playing until the third out.

I lost badly to a mechanized arm wrestler, and stole a glance at a picture machine that promised to show me what the belly dancer does on her day off. If you’re curious, the belly dancer coyly gets ready to take a bath while still remaining fully clothed. Gabe and Erika, meanwhile, had fun bowling and riding a mechanical horse.

All told, we dropped about $5 at the Musee Mechanique, and considered it money well spent. Not everyone feels the same way. As I was signing the guest register I noticed that the signer before me, who had driven in from Santa Rosa, thought the whole thing was a rip-off. Judging from the penmanship, the writer was a teenager, so any opinions expressed can be immediately disregarded.

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