The Game That Changed My Life

By GoneFishinLvMsg

February 20, 2024

This story got featured & frontpaged on March 05, 2024

64 days ago

It's funny how a few small, seemingly insignificant, events can combine together to change the course of your life.

Like many 80's kids I frequently spent Saturdays pumping quarters into machines at the local arcade.  Sure, I played pinball, but I was more into racing games like Pole Position and Hard Driving.  I do remember going to a neighbor kid's house once and being awestruck that he had a pinball machine in his basement.  It was an old EM and probably not worth all that much, but at that time it had never occured to me that someone could be wealthy enough to actually OWN a pinball machine for home use.

Time marched on and I joined the Navy after high school.  My first assignment after boot camp in early 1994 was in Pensacola, Florida to attend a school.  My first night there I was bored, and not knowing anyone I decided to head out alone to a little convenience store across the street from my barracks.  Lo and behold, that store had a couple of pinball machines.  One was The Addams Family and I forget what the other one was, but I was blown away by TAF.  Of course pinball had experienced a quantum leap since the late 80's to the early 90's, but I hadn't noticed until I played that TAF.  A month later I was transferred to Millington, TN for another school and that base had its own arcade!  I walked in and there it was love at first sight for me.  That was the first time I laid eyes on Fish Tales!  You see, I like pinball a lot, but I LOVE fishing.  I've been in boats and probably knew how to work a rod and reel before I could walk.  Now there was a pinball machine with a theme I could really relate to!  I pumped lots of quarters into that thing, was transferred again, and once again mostly forgot about pinball for several years.

2006.  A few buddies and I went on a fishing trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and our hotel had a Fish Tales.  My buddies and I spent hours playing it and I fell in love all over again.  That planted the seed in my head that maybe I could own one like that neighbor kid from the 80s.  I had left the active duty Navy and gotten a degree in Computer Engineering, so I finally had some decent money coming in and I was pretty sure I knew enough to maintain one.  A few weeks later I got a Christmas bonus and on a whim checked eBay for pinball listings.  They were cheaper than I expected.  Only $1200 for a Fish Tales plus a couple hundred dollars for shipping, so I bought it!  The game was a wreck, faded and with kluge wiring everywhere.  I actually overpaid for it based on what nicer ones were going for at the time, but my degree and job at a place where we designed and manufactured printed circuit boards came in handy.  I got it playing right, and for four years that was the only machine I owned (and I still have it to this day).

I move across the country followed shorty thereafter by my first wife and I separating in 2010 and divorcing in 2011.  This sunk me into somewhat of a depression, and to take my mind off of my misery I decided to get another beater pinball machine off of eBay and fix it.  This one was a Doctor Who for $400, and boy was it rough.  Believe it or not, I actually overpaid again, because I could have bought a decent one for what I had to stick into it to get it going.  Missing boards, Time Expander needed to be rebuilt, etc.  I'm pretty sure someone had bought it for a parts machine, cannibalized the boards they needed, and sold me the rest.  Anyway, I got it working and holy crap was that game fun (still have it too)!  This got the addiction in full swing.  I started buying and selling pinball machines as fast as I could.  I owned most of the big titles of the day at one time or another.  Twilight Zone, The Simpsons Pinball Party, Attack From Mars, and many more.  They came and went almost as fast as the women in my life, which is another story.

I built a pinball-themed bar, again to take my mind off of my female-related angst.  A couple of guys from Pinside donated old playfields that they had replaced (Earthshaker! and a Space Station), and I made those into the bar top with Christmas lights underneath to light up the inserts.  By this time I had also amassed a game room containing about 10 pinball machines, give or take, and a Defender upright arcade.  I thought to myself, "Well this is pretty cool, but I have no one to share it with."  I had almost no male friends in the new town where I was living.  Call it a premonition or whatever, but I got the idea that if I threw a party every month then good things would happen, or at least I'd meet some new friends, because I hardly knew anyone in the area. I had to invite random people to my parties whom I'd never met before, and I put ads up on Pinside and other pinball-related websites to invite strangers to my house.  "Come to my party.  The machines will be on free play and I'll even stock the bar and you can drink my beer for free."  Sorta crazy, I know, but I was pretty lonely and desperate.  

Anyway, about this same time I knew I was going to need new employment pretty soon, which was another stressor.  You see, along with losing my wife in 2010 I had also lost my job, which prompted the move across country for some temporary employment back with the Navy.  That was coming to an end and I knew it.  So, back to the parties.  A guy showed up to one of them whom I'd never met before in my life.  We started talking and he asked me what I did for a living.  I told him I had been an electrical engineer, but I was out of that line of work for the previous three years and doing aircraft maintenance instead.  He asked me if I was looking for a job, which of course I was, and then he asked how I would feel about working in a steel mill.  I laughed because I didn't even think we had any steel mills in the USA anymore.  Growing up in the Midwest, all I knew were the Rust Belt, decrepit mills that were little more than decaying ruins, and long unemployment lines for that industry.  He said no, the industry is alive and well, and they need people with electronics skills who can maintain the automation.  What's more, you can make a crapload of money.  That last part got my attention, so I thought "What the hell, I've got nothing to lose," gave him my resume, and thought nothing more of it.  I knew nothing about how factories work, big motors, PLCs, drives, etc.  All of my experience was with designing printed circuit boards, dealing with microchips, and very low power stuff, generally 12 volts or less.  This guy said not to worry and if I could fix a pinball machine I could fix a steel mill, and gave me a packet of stuff to study should I get an interview.  I didn't really believe him though.

Two months later, I got the call... "Hey, this is so-and-so from the Steel Mill, USA, and I'd like to ask you a couple of questions."  Holy shit, I hadn't studied that packet of stuff that guy gave me at all!  The guy on the phone asked my one really easy question, which thankfully I knew, and then said "Well, it says here you've got an engineering degree, so I'm sure you're qualified.  When can you come in for an in-person interview?"  We made a date for the following week and I started cramming, I mean really cramming from that packet of stuff I had gotten from some random dude I met at a pinball party.

I'll never forget the first question they asked me.  "What pinball machines do you own?"  The rest of the inverview was grueling; I mean really tough.  I was there for nine hours, but got the job, and soon was making a hell of a lot more money than I ever had before.  The work was tough.  Not the 9 to 5 sitting at a desk in a cubicle stuff which I had done before, and mostly hated.  This was dirty, physical, hands on work, and I loved it.  My career path was unexpectedly and forever changed, and I owe it all to The Game That Changed My Life. 

Epilogue:  I strayed away from pinball again for a long time, as I moved into a smaller home and all my machines went into storage.  Now the kids have gotten older and hardly ever stay with me anymore, so I've converted half of their bedroom into a game room.  That's my oldest in the main photo.  She's now 21 and in college.  I've also discovered that pinball has taken another quantum leap, so eighteen years after buying my first machine, I now have my first NIB on order, a Jaws Premium, because... fishing!

Story photos

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48 days ago

Cool story thanks for sharing. I recently got into the local pinball club and it has been great meeting fellow pinheads for the most part everyone wants to help one another whether it is tips on being a better player or networking career opportunities. I really like the bar top cool idea for using old playfields.

47 days ago

Hey shippy, what a great story! Thanks for sharing it and for taking the time and care needed to write it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and admire your hospitality and courage and risk-taking Wishing you fair winds and following seas, with your current endeavors, your first NIB, further pin adventures, and fishing. Pax+

47 days ago

Loved reading this story dude! It's all about relationships in life, and I fully support the idea of pinball being a great way to do such. Thanks for taking the time to write all this out and share.

47 days ago

Great story! I wish there was more fishing pins myself. I would love a Moby Dick, Bill Dance Fishing, hell even a Bass Pro pin.

47 days ago

I've seen you on the forums over the years.. Great story to attach to the name!

44 days ago

Wonderful story, thanks for sharing.

41 days ago

Awesome story! Love to hear you got the kids involved. I’m sure you will be happy with the Jaws. It’s been great to play so far.

37 days ago

Love it! 1994-1997 I was active duty Navy stationed at NTC/RTC Great Lakes. Wednesday night was our bowling league. Always finished work early and headed to the bowling alley on base to play pinball first. Their Addams Family machine got so many of my and my buddy's quarters. We were hooked for sure! Now I have a TAF in my basement and playing it really brings me back. Great story, thanks! I think I'll go play right now!

34 days ago

Wow, great story! What a ride. So cool what life has had for you with pinball being there at different milestones.

33 days ago

Great story and enjoyed reading it - thanks for taking the time to document

It really is strange how random small things in life can make such a big impact

Take care

31 days ago

Great story, I admire anyone who can bring an old pin back to life. And the bar counter is/was brilliant. Hope you have many chances to tip the chum bucket with your new JAWS.

13 days ago

Great story! Thanks for sharing it. In addition to the skills you mention- you are a great writer.

So true, that random small things can change our life trajectory.

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