Cops wouldn’t exactly paint Michelle Lowell as part of Spokane’s criminal landscape.
She’s never been in trouble. The 42-year-old Spokane woman is a devout Catholic who runs a day care in the Spokane Valley.
For a moment at Chuck E. Cheese’s the other day, however, 5-foot-2 Lowell became Public Enemy No. 1.
Lowell claims she was hassled, treated like a kidnapper and blocked from leaving the popular family restaurant in the Shadle Center.
She got away, she adds, by rounding up her children and muscling past the authoritarian Chuck E. Cheesehead who stood in her way.
“It was the worst thing to ever happen to me at a public place,” says Lowell, still angry and somewhat shaken over her escape from Chuck E. Cheese’s.
“The guy kept yelling, ‘She’s kidnapping the kids!”’
Lowell’s big sin was refusing to participate in Kid Check, an ID program that began last year at the pizza parlor and kiddie amusement gallery.
In an attempt to thwart child stealers, the restaurant stamps identical numbers on each set of adults and the kids they bring. When it’s time to leave, John Page, a former military man, scans an ultra-violet light to see if all the glowing numbers match.
Page says he’s “sold on the program. Most parents are.” As for Lowell, Page claims the woman came to the restaurant with “a chip on her shoulder.”
If she has a problem with Kid Check, he adds, “My recommendation is that she doesn’t come to Chuck E. Cheese.”
Yeah, who needs customers like Lowell?
All they do is take up space and spend money. Chuck E. Cheese’s features mechanical singing rodents and lots of festive games kids adore.
Lowell came to celebrate an important event: the successful potty training of her 3-year-old, Phillip. With her were three other children, plus a 16-year-old friend, Jennifer Hanson.
Lowell wanted no part of Kid Check. Ditto the numbered stickers she says Page offered as a substitute.
Her complaints summoned Ron Lollis, the general manager, who reassured Lowell that the program is not mandatory.
“Our company policy is that every guest leaves happy,” says Lollis. “In this case it didn’t work.”
The real trouble began when Lowell tried to leave.
No numbers. No stickers. You guessed it.
Page says he forgot that Lowell was the one who opted out of Kid Check.
“He was totally going crazy,” says Hanson of Page. “He starts yelling ‘Kidnap! Kidnap!’ The kids were scared. They didn’t know what was going on.”
Page denies yelling kidnap. He says he did nothing wrong.
His boss, however, wants to “offer a sincere apology” to Lowell. Maybe a free pizza. “I think she’s right in a lot of ways,” says Lollis.
“We make mistakes sometimes in the service industry.”
Mistakes? The whole Kid Check concept strikes me as a royal mistake.
This is a juicy public relations ploy, but complete overkill. No child has ever been snatched in the restaurant’s 12 years in Spokane.
Contrary to popular fear-mongering, child kidnapping is a very rare event. When it does happen, nearly always the snatcher is a parent involved in a bloody custody war.
“I don’t want to be stamped, I just want to go in and eat a pizza,” says Lowell. “I can take responsibility to keep track of my kids.”
If Kid Check is such a wonderful kidnapping deterrent, why waste it on Chuck E. Cheese’s?
We can all get our hands numbered and checked at the grocery store, hamburger joint, swimming pool or any other public place where children might roam.
Be honest. Would anyone want to live in such a cheesy world?
“When you put it that way,” says Page after a long pause, “I’d have to agree with you.”