Laura Truchon's "Pressed for Time" will explore the options for those who do not have a whole lot of time to devote to gaming, but need that regular "fix". Games that you can learn as you go, games you can start and finish while your mate is brushing their teeth, games that pass the time when the time is less than a standard television commercial break.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm guilty, as are a lot of people, of poking fun at my home state of Alabama. I think that I've grown so accustomed to hearing cracks about the Heart of Dixie that I tend to want to beat other people to the punch. My sister pointed out my contribution to the stereo typing when she read through my introduction and I mentioned "chewing tobacco" as one of the common interests. So, that may be a bit exaggerated (or is it?) But regardless of what you know about the state, or more specifically about Birmingham, I do have to give credit where credit is due. After all, I was born there, so it can't be that bad, right?

On a recent trip home back to Birmingham, my sister and I took a little time out of a very busy week to stop by a place that I feel should be a mandatory stop for anyone traveling through the area or within a reasonable driving distance. So leave your diets behind and grab a handful of quarters, kids. It's time to play!

For some it is an extraordinary pizza restaurant which is capable of producing foods fit for the gods. To others, it is one of the few remaining video game havens which balks at time and the need for excessive change as years fly by.  As for me, well, I have yet to find any other place that fulfills the basic needs of delicious pizza, atmosphere, and classic gaming all in one snug little dining area. Oh, and if beer is one of your life sustaining needs, they have that, too.

Davenport's Pizza Palace is a quaint little place located in an area of town known as Mountain Brook Village and was established in 1964. Now I wasn't around since their very beginning, but having eaten and played games there for over twenty years without fail, I feel my opinion is hardly off the cuff, although it is admittedly extremely biased. The restaurant is commonly voted as the best or one of the best pizza establishments in the city, although I can't imagine why it isn't #1 on a regular basis. After all, they do claim to be "Best in the South! Possibly the North! Maybe the World!"  I find it difficult to argue with that kind of logic!

Once you grab on to those curly handles and open the door to Davenport's, you are instantly hit with an aroma of melting cheese, tangy sauce, and spices that would make even the most diet conscious abandon their normal ways. The ovens and preparation area are right up front and can also be seen through the main window. An array of plaques and signs hang upon the walls of the waiting area and the cash register sits in the corner with a large tub of bubble gum available for you to choose from as you end your visit.

The dining areas are split off into two main sections. One area has only your tables and booths covered in red and white checkerboard vinyl table cloths. Strands of small white lights glitter from archways and hang from above providing the majority of your light aside from lit candles upon each of the tables, which also serve as a way to keep your pizza warm once it is served. The walls are covered in an assortment of pictures and articles with classic celebrities from what appear to be mostly the 40's, 50's, and 60's.

The other dining area is the game room. The green walls are also covered in various photos, objects, posters from a different era, and a large neon sign reminding you that it is Miller Time! The lighting is at a comfortable dimness, allowing for a pleasant glow to come off each of the coin-ops while shiny black vinyl topped metal stools sit in front of each machine. The ovens are right next to this dining area, so you have a constant direct whiff of smells so rich you feel like you could lick the video game screens and get a good taste of what's to come.

The games themselves tend to be switched out from time to time as is normal for older machines that may have a bit of upkeep to maintain on them. And it is unfortunate that I missed out on them a couple of years ago because it appears that they had Galaga and Frogger, which are always favorites of mine. My sister shared her dismay with me during our recent visit and mentioned that they had removed the "little froggy game thingy." Who am I to correct a fellow fan on something as silly as a title?

The current round of games included two Ms. Pac-Man machines, Donkey Kong, Gyruss, Centipede, Ghosts 'n Goblins, and a Neo-Geo SNK coin-op. The machines range from fair to very good condition. I believe that Donkey Kong has been around the block a few more times than the others, though, as the joystick was pretty loose and slightly more difficult to control. I attempted to take some pictures of the current game lot, for which I must apologize. Don't look at me that way! Dammit, Jim, I'm a volunteer writer, not a photographer!

While my sister Erica chose to tackle some Ms. Pac-Man as we waited in joyous anticipation for our food that day, I attempted to get back into the swing of things with the Donkey Kong machine (swing - Mario swings the mallet, get it? Eh, well, never mind). The grumblings from my stomach must have used up most of my concentration, though, since I ended up losing all of my lives in a matter of minutes. Hey, when you don't have time to play much, you get out of practice! But despite my imminent demise on each machine, I was as happy as a little kid again. At least until I saw how very well my sister was doing on Ms. Pac-Man and then Centipede.

Eventually my sister had to let herself die on Centipede so that she could come back and sit down for her meal, a worthy and noble sacrifice. The waitress served the pie to us cut up into uneven squares and rectangles on a thin crust which makes it easy to gulp down the entire thing in a relatively small amount of time if you aren't careful.. The sauce is their own "secret" recipe which they make along with the dough on a daily basis. It isn't overly sweet and if I could buy it online somewhere, I'd have it stocked up in my kitchen. In the twenty plus years I've gone to this restaurant with my family, I have never tasted any variation in flavor nor tasted any other pizza like it ever, which is a good thing and a nice change from the same old routine of Dominoes and Pizza Hut meals.

And before I forget, I must mention the people who work there and the service. This is a family run business and it shows in polite fast service and people who obviously enjoy what they do. It is a rarity these days to find good places like this one which aren't a part of a cookie cutter corporate slap them down everywhere kind of food place or store. When you come here, you really feel comfortable and at home. They'll treat you right, so tip them well!

So, Laura, why do you dote on this place so much and how does this relate to being short on time? Wouldn't attempting to get to this place when I'm in, say, Washington state prove to be actually more time consuming to me? Well, technically, yes I suppose that you've got me there. Or do you?

This happens to be one of my favorite places, partially because I grew up with it and also because it has remained a constant for so long. As gamers, a good majority of us over time have watched our arcades and other fun places ripped down, re-built and turned into places like stereo shops or boutiques or who knows what. Part of my trip back home was, in truth, very heartbreaking for a number of reasons. I saw shops and arcades that I had spent so many weekends or summer days totally gone or closed up and kissed with the black plastic tarp of death on the windows. One mall in particular was literally so empty that it should have had a marquee reading "Invasion of the Mall Walker" since those people were pretty much the only thing that was keeping it going anymore.

There are still places like Davenport's scattered around and it is my opinion that we should support them and help to keep them going. No, I don't feel that this place is in any danger of going away, but I want to give back for all the years of happiness and fun Mr. Davenport has provided for me and for generations to come. To go in and watch little five and six year old kids attempting to play Gyruss is really cool and, dare I say it, heartwarming.  It's good to see families actually coming in together and having a good time.

So, if you are ever down in the Birmingham area. and have some time to kill or even only a little bit of time, this needs to be one of your primary stops. Heck, even if you are in Atlanta, it's only a two hour drive if you get crazy one weekend and want to try something different.  You'll find that the place isn't as stereo-typical as movies like "Sweet Home Alabama" or even I make it seem.

And if you can't ever get down this way, be sure to check out THIS SITE. It contains a listing of places that still run classic video game machines in the U.S. and around the globe. Since it is based upon reader contributions, some of the information may be a little out of date, as was Davenport's game machine listing as of this writing. However, here is your opportunity to seek these places out and submit any changes or new locations as you find them.  Let's help these places out by keeping the spirit of classic gaming alive!

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