Senior citizens bewildered by the Internet have every right to be. They managed to live their lives just fine without it, thank you very much, and are better off for it. But you don't need to be in retirement to scratch your head at another trend saturated in technology and readily embraced by our youngest citizens: high-tech gaming. PSP, P2P, Pwn: Is it all just a bunch of jibberish? 'Fraid not, and there's no escaping that kids are increasingly fond of looking to video screens — TV, computer, handheld, and otherwise — for the fun previous generations found in sports and the outdoors.
For parents seeking alternatives, avowed technophobes, and the rest of us content with the gateway drugs of Wii and Guitar Hero, there is hope. Old-fashioned entertainment — the kind that doesn't involve volume knobs, network connections, or digital avatars — abounds in the East Bay, no matter how sandwiched we are between tech-crazy San Francisco and San Jose. Seek and you shall find a bevy of family- and date-friendly low-tech entertainment options even your grandma could dig.
Our tour starts way out in Livermore, where Campo di Bocci provides an opportunity to try your hand at one of the oldest and most popular games in the world. The large indoor facility houses eight professional-quality bocce courts that run $10 per person for an hour and a half of play. There's a restaurant on site serving fine Italian food, plus a full bar. Three miles down the road is Boomers!, an all-in-one family activity center offering a more modern take on old-fashioned fun. Bumper boats, miniature golf, and go-karts are the makings of great childhood memories, but you're never too old to play.
Heading northwest about twenty minutes, we find San Ramon's Golden Skate, a well-maintained and lovingly run rink where rollerskates are hip and inlines never went out of style. Sessions run two-to-three hours, depending on time and day of the week, and often feature games and activities administered by rink staff. You'll pay $9 for session entry and $4 or $5 for skate rental. Golden Skate also offers birthday party packages, organized hockey play, and in case you're rusty or your kids have never tried, half-hour group lessons for $14. If you'd rather put it on ice, warm your heart by patronizing Oakland Ice Center or Dublin Iceland and helping these local gems stave off the unfortunate end met last year by Berkeley Iceland.
Bowling is perhaps the quintessential old-fashioned game of our time, something folks of all ages can claim as their own. There are plenty of opportunities in the East Bay to play, including AMF Bowling lanes in Alameda, Pinole, and Fremont, and about twice as many spots on the other side of hills. For a wholesome night out with the friends, it doesn't get much better than midnight disco bowling, a pizza, and a pitcher.
Just as much fun can be had by the light of day. How long has it been since you rode a merry-go-round? Unless you have young kids, probably too long. An antique carousel in Berkeley's Tilden Park, which reopens August 1, features hand-carved and vividly painted animals, plus a calliope playing sweet music second only to the ice-cream man's. The carousel was built in 1911, moved to Berkeley from Los Angeles in 1935, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. That's pretty old-school, but every ride is timeless.
Likewise for visits to Oakland institution Children's Fairyland, a ten-acre park built on Lake Merritt's western shore in 1950 and filled with delightful whimsy. From Humpty Dumpty to Peter Pan, children's-book characters and landmarks assume life-size proportions in pursuit of that little thing called imagination. For the big boys and girls, a paddleboat ride on the lake may be more appropriate. The charming two-seaters (no swan included) are ideal for outdoor dates, exercise that doesn't feel like it, and inside-out Oakland sightseeing. At the nearby Lake Merritt Boating Center they rent for $10 an hour, as do canoes, while rowboats are only $8.
Finally, when all this pining for the good-old days becomes too much to bear, there's always Bingo. Gilman Street Bingo in Albany may not rival the polite Southern halls of our collective imagination, and games are played on funky old computers instead of with paper cards and ink dabbers, but hey, it's still Bingo. And that, in this crazy mixed-up world, has got to count for something. — Nate Seltenrich