John Esplana has 24 good reasons for being glad he took that post-high school summer job at Castle Golf & Games — one for every year of marriage to his wife, Margaret.
The Peninsula amusement venue also provided Esplana with his best friend of 31 years, numerous other loved ones who served as the couple’s wedding party and continue as godparents and friends, and immeasurable memories.
On Friday night, this wide circle of former employees and family will gather for one last hurrah and reunion before Malibu Grand Prix Family Entertainment Center calls it quits Sunday after 35 years of operation.
Roughly two dozen have confirmed attendance and Esplana said any and all are welcome to join for a final ride on the bumper boats, a round of miniature golf and some friendly competition on the games. The night might even end with dessert at Denny’s on Woodside Road, the place everybody headed after their shift for a burger — and before the occasional TP expedition.
Rituals like that are among the memories Esplana credits to Castle Golf & Games. News of its end brought sadness.
“I don’t think people realize what they have until it’s gone,” he said.
Castle and Malibu were the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights because downtown Redwood City didn’t have a lot else for those generations, he said.
Sequoia High School football players came in after their games still wearing jerseys and every new video game drew players ready to try it out.
“It was the place to see and be seen,” Esplana said.
Esplanade, now 49, started his job there after graduating from Serra High School in June 1982 and before heading off to San Francisco State University. The summer job lasted until 1986 during which he moved from behind the counter to shift supervisor and he began building relationships that endure.
Jim Jensen was his buddy who got him the job. Then there was Mike — “He was there all the time. He was just a customer but he was there so much I thought he was a manager,” Esplana said.
Mike would later be his best man and godparent to his two children. Alex Cabezon, then 18 or 19, transferred up from Southern California, narrowly escaping the hazing of rookie employees by wearing a shirt bearing the name of Showboat Golf and Games. Cabezon, now 50, said the friendship was near-instantaneous although he didn’t necessarily think it was going to be lifelong.
“People have their jobs when growing up and then you move on and you don’t tend to stay in touch,” he said. “And this was before Facebook. If someone had told me back then we would all stick together I’d have said that’s not going to happen,” Cabezon said.
A week into his job, Esplana met two sophomore girls whose friend Margaret would work there too for a short spell and eventually become his wife.
“Half the guys in my wedding came from Castle,” Esplanade said.
One of those people was Cabezon who also had Esplana participate in his wedding the previous year. When Cabezon was the first of the crew to have a child, everybody came. They also come from Christmases, for parties, for all types of get-togethers ever since.
“It’s like a family,” Cabezon said.
As that generation’s children grew, several expressed interest in working at Castle although the change in age policy proved a barrier. They also brought their families back for fun.
“It’s a strange feeling having worked there but it always brought back fond memories,” Cabezon said.
Castle also had batting cages for legions of little leaguers and softball players looking to polish their skills.
The Esplanas even used the race track to teach their son to drive.
“Margaret and I would wave from the bench with every lap,” he said.
But while the friends gathering Friday will mark the end of Malibu, they are also celebrating their friendship’s beginning there at Castle.
“It all started that summer,” Esplana said.
The group is meeting about 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16 at Malibu Grand Prix, probably in the party room or dining area. The address is 340 Blomquist St., in Redwood City.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102