During our road trip when we stopped to eat at a Denny’s near Las Vegas last week, my friend Donna zeroed in on the Rubber Ducks Claw Machine beside the cashier. We were seated just a few tables away and she excitedly explained she could bring some ducks home with her for her team; they have a rubber ducky theme for their IT and Development department employees. I didn’t quite understand it but was willing to support this noble cause.
The waitress told us it’d be a challenge to get the six ducks Donna wanted because the supply had run down to the edges where the claw couldn’t reach. Upon further inspection, we found the ducks indeed were sparse but fueled by the sign that read, “$1 Play Until You Win,” I was given a dollar and urged to play. Donna can be pretty insistent and after eight years of friendship, I have learned to just go along with it. Invariably, funny things tend to happen when you’re around such a force of nature.
So here I was, a grown woman who just turned forty having a go at the arcade to get my friend a few rubber duckies. This is also the part where I tell you we were not the only diners that night. In the booth across from the machine was a man and his little girl about eight years-old. She was young enough to want to play but old enough to put on a front that she could care less. I was showing her up and the other chatty crowd of 20-somethings and one of their moms. I know because they were loud enough to follow along and they spoke of how “old” they were getting and laughing at Mom who unknowingly started to tell the same story someone else just finished telling.
Back to the claw. Claw machines are tricky beasts. When you think you have the thing lined up and you press the drop button, those darned claws have a way of swinging erratically from side to side and completely miss your target. If it wasn’t a play-to-win game, I wouldn’t have taken a chance and lose $1 of my friend’s cash. But since I had a seemingly unlimited amount of tries, and it was her money, I did my best. It took three tries but I managed to catch me a blue pixelated ducky which I guessed was a nod to the game Minecraft based on my passing knowledge thanks to my nephew.
When I brought my prize back to Donna, she cheered me on with another dollar exclaiming, “That’s one of six! Five more to go!” We had already ordered our food but it wasn’t yet ready, so I took the cash and returned to my post at the claw machine. About the time I put in the new dollar, another guest strode into the restaurant behind me. It was an older man and woman maybe in their sixties or seventies (I’m horrible with ages). As soon as the man saw me at the machine his face lit up and he became quite animated.
As fate would have it, this would be the man responsible for such a depleted rubber ducky supply. Turns out – and both waitress and hostess confirmed – this man was quite addicted to the rubber ducky claw machine and made it his hobby to catch as many as he could. Once Donna overheard, she quickly joined the conversation explaining she needed five more for the guys on her team back home. This was about the time our food arrived. I managed to snag a second duck, this one in camouflage, and took a seat expecting Donna to join me.
When I sat down, I discovered Donna was still talking with…we’ll call him Duck Man. I shook my head, turned to my mom and other friend Betty who were traveling home with us and filled them in. One shook their head, the other chuckled and all three of us knew to just leave Donna to her devices for she is a force that cannot be controlled.
A moment or two later and Donna returned to her seat at the table, her pancakes lukewarm waiting for her. I laughed when I looked back over to the claw machine to find Duck Man working the control. Even the waitress was laughing when she came over to provide refills for our drinks. I accused Donna of being an enabler. The waitress agreed but said he was in hog heaven and our timing couldn’t have been better. When I expressed my concern that we were keeping him from his company and his dinner, she assured me there was no reason to fret. Duck Man was a regular and a recovering Duck Addict.
In the middle of our meal, he came over with a third ducky and Donna thanked him profusely. “Only three more to go! These are going home with me to Dallas!” Duck Man looked concerned knowing the claw machine was greatly depleted. He struggled just as hard as I, maybe even more so to score that last ducky. He surprised us when he offered to bring some back from his house as he only lived down the road. We tried to beg him off, but he wouldn’t hear it. He left us balking at him, our meals half-eaten.
Time barely passed when he turned up again, carrying a plastic bag. There had to be about fifteen duckies in there. “I didn’t have to go home. I found some in my car.” The waitress laughed saying she was surprised his car wasn’t already filled with ducks and falling out when he opened the door. We all laughed including Duck Man.
We thanked him profusely, making a friend that evening; an evening that was destined to be just another lame stop-over if it wasn’t for that Rubber Ducky Claw Machine. Donna later found him at his table with the woman he arrived with. She offered to buy their meal but they adamantly refused saying it was enough to let him play the machine for her.
Once our meal was done with and we made our good-byes to our new friends, we piled into Donna’s suburban and headed for home that was still sixteen hours away.
Moments like these wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t willing to put myself out there. It takes guts or lack of shame – maybe both – to get up and play a child’s arcade for your friend. You don’t get rewarded or find anything fulfilling by staying in the grey, mundane path. I discovered life is so much worth living if I didn’t worry about what other people thought of me all the time. It’s also why I enjoy road trips much better than flying. We get to connect with people we normally wouldn’t give the time to. And that part is worth reevaluating.
Was there ever someone you crossed paths with that cheered your day or gave you a fun little story?