EDITORS NOTE (part one): One of my resolutions for the new year was to get writing again. To realize that goal, I created a blog about pinball & stuff called CORNBALLIN. This story was among the first on the blog. I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you do, please check out my blog on the regular!
EDITORS NOTE (part two): I was a scorekeeper for the second year in a row at the It Never Drains In Southern California (INDISC if you’re nasty) in Bumfu.. I mean, Banning, CA. This is my diary of events. I removed the names of people who were unpleasant, and left the names of the people that were decent folk intact. The date stamps may not be entirely correct, either. Finally, in no means am I trying to sound ungrateful or unhappy with being a volunteer at INDISC; I’m merely reporting events as they happened to me. Enjoy!
Friday, December 13
0945: My nephew and I arrive at the Museum of Pinball campus after driving through the desolate town of Banning. We drive through the gate and the first people I see are Robert & Maurizio Gagno. I haven’t watched Wizard Mode yet, but I do have the ESPN magazine with the feature on Robert and so I’m feeling the fanboy rise up in me. I’m suppressing my urge to squee out loud when I see him. The case of water I’m lugging up to the building gives me something to do with my hands.
“Do you know where the the tournament is being held? Wow, this is a weird building!”, Robert says to me with that infectious smile of his. I tell him to follow us, and mention that this facility used to be a school of some sort. “Oh wow!”, Robert exclaims. “Was that the cafeteria?”
“It seems like it was!”, I reply.
0950: It is so cold in the building that my eyes hurt. My nephew and I let off the first of many expletives to describe the temperature.
0955: I say hello to Karl Deangelo, INDISC tournament director, Critical Hit host and all around good guy. He gives me a quick refresher on how to work the registration desk. I’m excited!
1000: It Never Drains In Southern California has begun!
1002: And here comes the registration rush. I take off my Pinball Player hat and put on my Executive Assistant hat and turn up the charm and helpfulness to an eleven. I hate lines, waiting in them and dealing with them, so I try to keep things moving as swiftly as possible.
1010: Lots of nice folk buying in. Some people I know from around the local scene, some people I remember from other tournaments, some people I’ve seen pictures of. A couple of people – not many, but a few – give me the “you don’t know who I AM?” glare when I have the audacity to ask them for their name. Come on, buddy. It’s only pinball.
1015: My phone is in my pocket, vibrating like the worlds most powerful marital aid. Who the hell is calling me right now?! Don’t they know I’m BUSY?!?
1025: My phone won’t stop ringing and I’m afraid it’s a family emergency, so I take a quick peek at my phone. It’s my nephew! Isn’t he scorekeeping? I beg the next person in line for two real quick seconds.
“Yo where the eff are you man?”, I whisper through clenched teeth.
“Yo where the eff are YOU man?”, he yells back.
“I’m in the effing back corner! Where we just were! Where the eff are you?!”
“I’m walking around this cold, dark effing building looking for you!”
“I AM WHERE WE JUST WERE MAN”
He hangs up. I see Karl and give him the universal shrug for “my nephew is an idiot”.
1026: Here’s my nephew. I wave him in Karl’s direction for a quick scorekeeping debrief, all while keeping things moving swiftly. I’m pretty a’ight at this, if I do say so myself.
1103: More and more people are showing up. It’s always nice to get a “hey, good to see you again!” from people, rather than an unknowing stare from people you had conversations with at last years INDISC. Ah well, they’re probably just in their head.
1110: Each player is given a wristband as their “pass” in and out of the building throughout the weekend. Almost everyone has been struggling to remember their player number, so I get the idea to write their player numbers on the wristbands. It’s a rousing success! In my head, I’m showered with adoration amongst the pinball contingent. In reality, my feet are shivering.
1118: My nephew comes over to the registration desk to reiterate how cold it is in the building with an amazing stack of swear words. Karl tells him to pay attention to the Classics area. I give my nephew the bird on the low and tell him to stop effing up. He threatens to beat me to death. This is how we show our affection for one another. Can I just say how much I love this little knucklehead? Ever since he moved in with us last fall, he’s been my pinball playing partner. It’s so nice to have him around instead of going solo all the time.
1130: Karl asks me to get more tight face shots of the players as I register them, instead of their upper bodies. I nod in embarrassment. I spend the rest of my shift telling players to come closer to the blue line, to the point where the player portraits are looking like the “Hip To Be Square” video.
1145: The lovely and talented Cecelia Clarizio has arrived to relieve me of my duties! She’s one of the friendliest people in the Southern California scene. I tell her to take her time, come back in ten and I’ll give her a quick runthrough.
1155: The walkthrough commences. I have her register me for her trial by fire. She nails it.
1200: Aaaaand I’m done with my first shift! Should I start using the entries I received for volunteering, or should I wait to accumulate more and use them later? I don’t want to make the same mistake that I did last INDISC, where I waited and waited until the last minute and ended up leaving FORTY entries unused!
1205: I decide to save my entries a little longer. Instead I try using the power of positive thinking to warm myself up. It doesn’t work.
1400: My nephew and I check in for our scorekeeping shift. We settle into the Classics area, where we end up tag-teaming duties for most of the weekend. There’s a nice sized crowd throughout the day in the Classics area, which makes me happy. Nice to see the older machines getting love!
1401: I record my first score of the tournament. I was a little tentative with the interface, being that I hadn’t done this in a year, and the person whose score I was taking started to grow impatient with my fumbling. I pray that this isn’t how everyone is going to act.
1405: Meteor has an extremely sensitive start button, which has caused some players to unknowingly start a two player game. Lots of power cycling or advising players to just plunge the other player. I did see a game or two where the plunged ball scores were almost as good as the players actual game, which made me feel really bad for them.
1415: The increasing tone of Meteor is causing me to have minor out of body experiences. If you ever had a problem getting my attention, it was probably due to that. My apologies.
1430: I have come to the conclusion that Dimension was designed by Satan himself. I still want to play it though.
1436: A player calls me over to alert me to a ball that is stuck on a row of drop targets on Meteor. This is an issue that happens throughout the weekend. Every time I come over to Jim Belsito, tournament director and who ESPN magazine referred to as “one cool cat”, he has a look in his eyes like “Meteor again?”
1515: Something crazy happens to Trident. I don’t know what it was, but there was a lot of discussion going on. However, I had players to attend to.
1545: Someone asks if they can sacrifice a small animal to get a good score on Dimension. I check the ruling; sadly, this is not allowed in tournament play.
1600: Another shift wrapped up. I’m now in the mood to play some pinball, but I need to eat something first. The only food option on campus is a little stand where the gift shop usually is, selling snacks and some kind of curried sloppy joe action that I just wasn’t in the mood for. So we set off to, uh, Banning “proper” for a place to eat. We stopped at a place specializing in “American Chinese food”.
1620: “American Chinese food” is surprisingly tasty! Damn good egg drop soup. Very thankful for its warming properties.
1715: We’re back, and we’re ready! But we’re not really ready, I suppose. Black Jack – a last minute switch out with a sadly malfunctioning Jungle Queen – kicks my ass repeatedly, and I’m usually good at that game! Is this going to be another case of me doing good when there’s no stakes involved, and then choking during competition? I watch my nephew use entry after entry on Dimension, and I feel obligated to intervene.
“Yo, don’t use all your credits on that sh*tty machine, lil’ nephew!”, I advise him. He turns to me with fire in his eyes.
“I AM GOING TO BEAT THIS MACHINE OR DIE TRYING”, he sneers at me, as he waves a scorekeeper over to void and requeue. I slowly back away from him while crossing myself.
1720: My nephew finds me walking up and down the hallway, looking at the various titles on display. He asks me when we will get more entries. I tell him we’ll get more after our next shift. I ask what happened to all his entries. I swear I saw him get a little teared up as he simply replied, “effing Dimension, man”.
1800: Back behind the registration desk again. I glance down the aisle at the Game of Thrones with the Button Bash unit attached to it, and the Star Trek next to it that is having its’ own side tournament action. They look lonely, which makes me sad. Button Bash is one of the most fun things you can do with a pinball table, and nobody is checking it out! So I bust out the sharpie and make little signs pointing players in their direction.
1825: A couple I haven’t seen around before tentatively make their way over to the registration table. I can sense their uncertainty, so I give them a big smile and ask if there’s anything I can help them with. I went to my first INDISC in 2015, when it was at Chapparal Lanes in San Dimas (side note: what is with all these competitions being held in the middle of nowhere?). I was completely green, didn’t know anything about herb style qualifying – hell I didn’t know about ANYTHING – and I’m sorry to say that the volunteers weren’t helpful whatsoever. I kept trying to ask questions and not only was I not given clear answers, it seemed like they were more interested in getting back to talking amongst themselves than lending a newb a hand. So I finished playing a horrendous game of Tag Team Wrestling, I hit the start button to try again when a scorekeeper ran over and basically said “what the eff are you doing man?” and I was all embarrassed. I ran out of that bowling alley with my tail between my legs in a big way.
Anyways. This couple had never done a competition like this, so I gently guided them through the online registration, and how the rules are set up, and what the entries are good for, and any other questions they had. I saw them having what looked like a lot of fun throughout the weekend, and I hope a little bit of it had to do with my helpful hand. Or my overall radness. Whichever.
1845: Jim and Karl both comment on how helpful my makeshift signage is. I am beaming with pride.
1900: Someone else walks by my makeshift signage and snorts at it. I am no longer beaming with pride.
1915: Jim comes by to do a money drop, and I am greatly relieved. It makes me nervous to be sitting on so many greenbacks. INDISC brings in mad loot!
1930: The same person who wasn’t feeling my scorekeeping abilities at the beginning of the day comes over to the registration table, barely makes eye contact with me, and tosses a twenty onto the laptops keyboard, as they grunted “seven more entries” at me. This persons attitude is making me want to spit. They didn’t even bother to tell me their name or their player number, but believe me, by this point this person’s name is etched in the do not like section of my brain.
Don’t have an attitude, people. I’ve never seen Keith Elwin cop an attitude, and he’s the second best player in the world. Be like Keith.
1945: I get a text from my nephew. It reads, “have I told you how effing cold I am?”. In response, I smash my phone into a million pieces and attempt to start a fire from the electronic kindling. It doesn’t work.
2000: Another shift down! I play a few more games in the Classics section, but I just can’t seem to get a good head of steam going on anything. Even Argosy and Meteor, two games I was totally looking forward to rocking, refused to give me any satisfaction.
2100: Frustrated, freezing, and nearly falling asleep, I decide to not use any more credits for the night. Instead I spend my time playing the games the Museum of Pinball were gracious enough to let INDISC use. These games, and the rest of the games we weren’t able to play, are all running in peak form when they have the Arcade Expo here. But now? Sadly, quite a few of them ended up being in not such great shape. And I was surprised to see quite a few of the Modern ones running older code! What little I know about Metallica was NOT the same there as it is at, say, Round 1. The Walking Dead as well!
2115: There’s two Jousts in the aisle with all the working games, but they were turned off. I know how they’re notorious for mechanical issues, so I was sure that the game wouldn’t work if I powered it up. But me and my nephew were dying to play it, so I flipped the switch and… it worked! It worked great! It became a running competition between the two of us. Whoever says Joust isn’t a fun game is either lying or they played it one player, because it absolutely rocks in multiplayer. I would love to see another company take a crack at head to head pinball!
2130: There’s no paper towels in the mens bathroom. I track down Jim and ask him what I should do. I feel bad for Jim and Karl, having to keep the tournament running smoothly and have to deal with issues that they normally wouldn’t have to account for, all while trying to make it into the finals. “Pinball Wizard” is a term I know pinball people hate, but when it comes to those two gentlemen, it is certainly applicable.
2200: My nephew and I check in for our final Classics shift of the night. We were both pretty exhausted. So if either of us were slow in responding, please accept my apologies from the both of us. Not much more about to say about the night other than…
2350: …It’s late. Everybody is tired, emotions are running high, everyone is a little on edge. Completely understandable. I’m scorekeeping for a top ranked player and as I’m hovering over the tablet, looking for where to input their score (for those that haven’t ever kept score, it’s in the huge box in the middle of the screen. Not hard to miss at all, but I must repeat how tired I was). I start to gesture towards the “void” button, and the player grabs me by the wrist and goes “hey man, what are you doing? I’m keeping that score!”. I snap back to full attention and apologize, telling them that I could have voided the void if I made that mistake. I don’t remember what the players response was. But that was pretty much it for me at that point. I quietly finished off my shift, grabbed my nephew, and we headed to the Airbnb for the night.
Saturday, December 14:
1000: I slept like a baby, albeit a baby getting manhandled. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of the wrist grabbing incident, but I also couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something invariably wrong about it, too. I wished for clarity inside the local Starbucks. Instead, they got my order wrong.
1040: Back in Banning (awkwardly insert iconic AC/DC riff here). I’m glad I brought two cases of water this time!
1042: I decide I’m going to bring up the issue with one of the organizers. Jim is the first person I see, so I ask to have a word with him. I tell him what happened, not mentioning who the person in question was. Jim asks if it left a mark, I said no, and I repeated that I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I felt like I had to say something in case this was something that needed further investigation. He nodded and told me to let him know if it happened again. I nodded in agreement, he thanked me for my hard work, and I went along my way.
1045: The building is actually warmer today! I almost felt like I didn’t need to wear a jacket. Almost.
1050: My nephew and I continue our Joust competition. I decide hitting the drop targets and getting 5k spinner rips is the way to success. My nephew shirks off, pouting. My heart grows three sizes!
1115: I spot the toque sporting Howlin’ (sorry) Jay Collins, who I could have swore mentioned he had keys to the Gottlieb machines. He didn’t, but he knew who did, and I asked him if he would put some credits on Gold Wings. He said he would, but not before commenting “ew, Gold Wings?”. To hell with the naysayers, that game is awesome! There ain’t anything like it!
1200: My nephew and I are once again keeping score in the Classics section. I’m seeing some incredible scores being achieved – lots of games being rolled! Dimension remains the most infernal pinball machine ever created.
1230: The gregarious Jon Replogle notices that one of the Meteor flippers has started to stick. I call Jim over to check it out. He seems grateful that it didn’t have anything to do with a stuck ball.
1245: The same player keeps rushing in to start their games before I get a chance to tell them that they are up. I understand that you’re in the zone and you’re eager to get the next game moving, but in the unlikely event there is some kind of queue mishap, just be patient for five additional seconds. The Gods of Pinball will shine the same on you either way, and karmically, you get a bonus multiplier for the day.
1300: Someone comes up to me and tells me that a player isn’t around for their turn, and they would like to be queued ahead of them. I agree and start doing my thing on the iPad. I barely have the chance to make the queue change before they ask me to get out of their way. Pinball players need patience, seriously.
1315: Someone either passed noxious gas or there is a dead animal in the ceiling. Either way, something stinks and we all might die.
1330: I don’t get Prospector at all. Is it all about the spinner rips, or getting the ball in the gobble hole? I couldn’t call it with my limited time on the machine, and I didn’t want to crowd any of the players on it. I’d love to see INDISC set up monitors for the Classics, but I guess the interest just isn’t there, and that’s a shame. Respect pinball history!
1400: Shift done! We’re starving. We go to get mexican food. It’s a complete fiasco. They get our order wrong, and then they insist that we were the ones who ordered incorrectly! I ended up with the wrong burrito, and an extra burrito. Instead of arguing I just saved it for later.
1445: Was that burrito made of lead? I’m completely weighted down. I decide to save my credits until after my next shift, being just too damn bloated to play properly.
1600: Once again, we’re helping out in the Classics section. The end of qualifying is nigh (sadly, more nigh than I realized), and it’s really intense back there. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the players who kept their cool as we ran around trying to help everyone.
1605: An excellent gentleman named Larry Pavala shows up in the Classic section. He has a confused look on his face. I remember playing with him at the Match Play at the Lake tournament a few months ago – I liked him! I walked over to him and explained how the tournament worked. He thanked me for the walkthrough and made a beeline towards Dimension. I begged and pleaded with him to maybe consider a different game because Dimension is directly from Hell. He smiled and said “oh, I used to own that very Dimension!”, and then proceeded to get the high score of the tournament on it. God DAMN.
1615: Someone comes out of nowhere and tells my nephew that they’re supposed to be scorekeeping in the Classic section, and he’s supposed to go over to the Modern section. Thankfully, my nephew questioned all that and verified it with Karl. The volunteers aren’t assigned to either of the sections; it’s a first come, first served thing. There’s a lot of real cool people in the pinball community but there’s a handful of people that I see around, and they’re always kind of trying to get over on people outside of their circle of friends.
Be like Keith.
1646: My heart goes out to the incomparable David Riel – his ball got stuck on the rail between the inlane and the outlane on Argosy, and he had the choice of letting Jim drain it, or risk the tilt to get it down the inlane. Of course nobody in their right mind would choose the former (seriously – when would that ever be a good idea?), so he took the risk and while he didn’t tilt, the ball ended up dribbling down the outlane. He was crushing it, too. As a side note, David has the most excellent stance this side of Lyman Sheats.
1650: I hear murmuring about qualifying for Classics ending at 5:30. I could have sworn it ended later! Jim verifies that qualifying does indeed end for Classics at that time. My nephew and I shoot horrified glances at each other – we thought we had more time to qualify! It’s the agony of leaving behind my entries all over again, kind of!
1658: I watch slack-jawed as Cryss Stephens gets the highest score of the day on Meteor. Dude nearly rolled it twice! Maybe it’s best that I didn’t get a chance to play it ‘cause that score is just insurmountable.
1700: It’s a whirlwind of activity back here! People are making every last effort possible to qualify. With apologies to De La Soul, stakes is high!
1732: The last ball to drain in the Classics is on Prospector, which closes up qualifying for finals. One of the players thank me for all the work I did over the weekend. Comments such as that make it all worthwhile to me!
1740: Not only did we get out of our shift a half hour early, we also received our last shifts entries in advance! Time to spend these bad boys in the Modern section!
1745 – 2000: My nephew and I used this time to try to make the Modern qualifiers. The details are all kinda blurry in my head; I was doing my best to stay focused, not get nervous and just concentrate on the task at hand. I played a few games and couldn’t believe how much I was advancing through the ranks! Next thing I knew, I’m hovering right around the cutoff point. Other than refusing to play Ghostbusters, as I am aware of my limitations on that game and didn’t want to end up getting a fat ol’ goose egg (like I did last year on TWD), I really didn’t have any type of cohesive strategy. Just get up there and do the best I can. All of the moves I had spent practicing on Pinball Arcade did not work well at all in real life, BUT if it weren’t for PA, I would have never have understood the rules to those games. So all in all, it’s a positive. I just can’t believe how easy it is to spam the left ramp on CFTBL on PA, and how hard it is to make it even once IRL.
One thing I witnessed as I was waiting to play was someone starting a new game after having a really terrible game on a machine. I hadn’t seen this person before and so part of me wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, and part of me was also a bit afraid that I was hallucinating the whole thing. The person ended up being a pro, though, so it makes me wonder that if I did indeed see what I thought I saw, how many times this person may have gotten away with that sort of thing.
2000: Me and my nephew check in for our last shift. We’re running on fumes by this point. As it was earlier in the day at Classics, there was a lot of hustling and bustling from those players on the bubble, trying to make it into the finals. I don’t even want to take a seat on the bleachers in between helping players, as I’m afraid I won’t be able to stand up again. So I keep walking from one side of Modern to the other side, taking care of anyone who needed their scores recorded.
2010: I attend to someone who needs their score recorded. Their profile picture comes up and.. It’s just a pic of the area. No face pic. Look, I get it. You’re shy. You’re not down with the man, man. You’re hep to big brother. But you know what? I might not necessarily know who you are. I need to make sure I am taking down the right persons score. I knew who this person was, so I didn’t want to say anything about it as I was just too damn tired, but come on. Having your legit face pic in your profile helps all of us scorekeepers. Bob Matthews is the gnome, and that’s the only person who gets a pass.
2015: Twilight Zone goes down. Is it down for good? After the score Robert Gagno posted, does it matter?
2030: My nephew motions for my attention.
“Is that dude doing pushups?”, he asked me, bewildered. I turn around. There is indeed a player who has dropped to the floor and is doing pushups.
Whatever it takes to get through the tournament, I guess.
2035: Twilight Zone is back up. It’s amazing how fast Jim and Karl get any and all problems resolved.
2045: After this entire weekend, I’m convinced that players should queue themselves up via their phones, rather than having the scorekeepers do it for them. As more and more people are getting antsy, it seems like more and more people are hesitating to pick the next game they want to play, and that just jams the whole process up. If players want to void and requeue, that’s fine. If a player is making the scorekeeper wait because they’re indecisive, that’s not cool.
2050: Someone walks in with Starbucks. Goddamn, INDISC really needs a coffee cart next year.
2100: I wonder if the people with headphones are listening to music, or are they blocking out noise? Personally, I love the sound of the pinball machine I’m on. The other ones can be distracting.
2105: Big Buck Hunter goes down. Is this the end of spamming the Elk orbit?
2120: BBH is back up. The Buck no longer works. I feel like the Buck is necessary, so I resolve to stop playing it. Someone asks me to queue them up for BBH. I tell them the Buck isn’t working, but they don’t care. Am I missing something about the Buck? God I love saying “Buck”!
2135: The ball isn’t coming down into the wireframe after you make the right ramp shot on Space Station. I seek out Jim so that he can fix it.
2140: The problem with Space Station is fixed. Karl is a scientist.
2143: I congratulate the player on Space Station for a good game, especially after having to wait for their issue to be resolved. I have to admit I was a little intimidated at first by the player, who was giving off a rather intense vibe, but they ended up being a real cool person.
I, too, should be like Keith.
2150: I’m so filled with emotion at this point! I don’t have many entries left, I’m watching people who are sharing the bubble with me and I don’t know if I should go for good karma and root for them or just go fully chaotic evil and root for their downfall. As I’m pondering, someone taps me on the shoulder so that I can take their score. I’m in my head yawl!
2200: I’m too in my head. I walk around to clear the cobwebs out of the ol’ cabeza.
2210: My cabeza remains clogged. The little sloppy joe serving snack bar area is now deserted, but there are still some things for people to choose from. Obviously these people are Clerks fans, using the honor system like this. I try to make some coffee in the Keurig but there’s not a goddamn mothereffing cup in sight. I’m almost to the point where I’m going to dig in the trash to find a styrofoam cup when someone walks by, and even though they don’t see me, I’m dying of embarrassment.
2230: I catch up with my nephew, who is frustrated because he really didn’t want to play the Modern games. I tell him to check out Space Station, Road Kings and Wipe Out and he tells me that they all suck. I totally get it; it’s his first time doing anything like this and it’s just not going his way. But he’s doing a lot better than I did the first time I played in a competition, and he should be proud of that.
2315: I’ve used up all my entries. There are still volunteers who are using this exclusive time to try to qualify, though, so I pick up a pad and start helping.
2316: I’m effing tired, I should have left well enough alone and taken off.
2317: Eff that! I said I was gonna help, and I’m gonna help. Especially my fellow volunteers.
2400: That’s it for Qualifying, ladies and gentlemen! We are out of here.
2440: Oh my effing god, this burrito is so good.
I ended up placing 24th in the Modern B division qualifier. Just 7 spots away from the cutoff! But it was much better than I did in 2015 (47th) and 2014 (not even worth mentioning). My nephew placed 53rd. Huge shout outs to Karl and Jim for yet another excellent tournament! Big ups are also due to Bob Matthews, Jay Collins, all the volunteers, all the people who donated their time and / or machines, the Museum of Pinball for trusting us with the place, and all the people who came out to support the competitive pinball scene. I hope to see you all again next year!