Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Visiting the Arcade from the Original Karate Kid Movie

My family and I spent a day this summer at Golf 'n' Stuff, an arcade and fun center in Norwalk, CA which is one of the locations the original Karate Kid was filmed. The Gen X nostalgia here floats above the tables, where arched windows look out upon the mini golf course. A walk through the arcade and around the buildings proved that while some things have changed from when they filmed the movie here in the fall of 1983, some things are amazingly the same....

Many of the 80's games that were shown in the movie have disappeared, like the analog mini hockey game Daniel and Ali played in the movie, and the water slide is now gone. High voltage poles still stand behind it, as if they are there just to power the rides and arcade games.

Main Golf 'n' Stuff sign on the far right

While I was taking some pictures, a man in flip flops and a hoodie who looked very Gen X was giving me this huge smile - he knew exactly what I was doing since nostalgic Xers often stop through here as tourists. It's the kind of place you might visit when you're in the LA area and you've already been to Universal and Paramount, and still want to experience some little piece of film history. Later in the day I saw another fellow Gen X tourist, even as younger people passed him by and had no idea why he was taking photos of the Golf 'n' Stuff sign. 

The mini golf course! On left: mini clock tower, mini Russian Orthodox style church, on right: mini pagoda
There is the feeling here that this is the symbol of any arcade or mini golf course you hung out at as a kid or teenager in Anytown, USA, just as there is this feeling we got from the movie that any of us could be the main character. Most of us know what it feels like to be the underdog. The script was based on a true story of a real Gen Xer from the San Fernando Valley.

I am always looking for the little retro things, little remnants that may go unnoticed, like this blue and white checkered ceiling....

A mix of analog and digital games still fill the arcade, even if most of them are different now.

The bumper boats look the same as they do in the movie.

The little race track looks about the same as it did in the film, though it's no surprise that all the go karts have been replaced.

Part of the mini golf course and its little buildings can be seen behind the snack bar area.

We had the place mostly to ourselves during the breezy, cool California morning, and as the afternoon came, the clouds parted and it gradually began filling up with families and people on dates.

I love retro outdoor tables and the way that they all look similar to each other across America - the bright pops of color of the seats and tables.

Where the main entrance used to be is now a party room that can be rented by the hour.

Inside the party room: it's hard to describe the energy in this space -- it was kind of strange. It was like there were a million memories from the decades, good and bad, that had unfolded in this space during parties and get-togethers. It was all kind of just hanging heavy in the air, like the smell of the pizza they were baking in the ovens nearby. It seemed as if all those memories, those intangible mementos of time, had no other place to go and just got stuck there.

The day we were here, a boy was about to have his birthday party - he was a sweet kid who looked like he was about 12. He held the door for us as we came in, while his Gen X mom was busy setting up decorations on the table they had reserved. I wondered if maybe she once had a Gen X birthday party here as a kid. She probably did.

Movie poster on the wall by some 70's-looking decor
No one expected the original Karate Kid movie to be as successful as it was. All these years later, we are still talking about it, spin offs are still happening. Maybe part the reason the original film became so well-loved was because its cultural value. There weren't many good roles for Asian Americans in films those days and Pat Morita as Mr. Miagi played this wise, lovable father-figure. His role was a breakthrough, he was nominated for an Academy award, and he won the hearts of many Gen Xers.

Along with the cultural piece, there were also spiritual and philosophical components in the film. "Wax on, wax off" has become one of the most well-known movie quotes of all time. It's a philosophy that if you do some seemingly mundane thing many times over, even without realizing it, it can make you more ascetic, or even cause something extraordinary to happen. Occasionally I hear someone talk about how the Miagi philosophy applies to our spiritual life, and I have found it to be true. For those of us Gen Xers who did not have someone like this to look up to, we quietly wished Mr. Miagi was our own mentor, and inadvertently got a profound set of spiritual lessons from the movie -  impulse control, self-discipline, to only fight as a last resort.

No doubt this film was very important during the formative years of Gen X, which was why it was so interesting to visit this place. A view from the middle of the golf course above - possibly the one in the movie where you see Daniel and Ali playing mini-golf on their date. This place seemed so magical when I was a kid. Back in the 80's, my husband who grew up nearby, used to hang out here with friends. While I didn't yet know my husband in the 80's, being here with him, in some small way, makes it feel like I did, and connects us in some magical way through space and time.

Near the end of the visit, I made a stop at the token machine so we could all play a little skee ball. It was the first time I've ever made the 100-point target and the first time my daughter ever did, too!

I had my eye on these little Pac-Man ghosts, but alas, we only had enough tickets for two pieces of candy - that's how it goes when you are out of time for more skee ball and have other places to be!

Our very last stop was the hand-crank machine to make a pressed souvenir penny for my daughter to keep. Of all the amusement parks, museums, and landmarks I went to as a kid, making a penny was always one last moment to savor the experience.

Here's to all the Gen X journeys we go on, the places that we go back to, from movie scenes we watched as kids to the places we once went with our friends that hold memories of our childhood.  At this place, for my family, it was both.

Whether we experienced an important place with one friend, or if we experienced it collectively with our entire generation, all of it is significant. These are the places that made us who we are.



LA Weekly: How a Movie Shot in the San Fernando Valley Made us all the Karate Kid

(c) 2018 writing and photos by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved