Money comes and goes, but memories last forever

By GuiitarMan

June 10, 2024

This story got featured & frontpaged on June 13, 2024


40 days ago

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

My father is the greatest man I have ever known. He often worked 16 hour+ shifts at a local chemical company that produced carbon catalysts for the automotive industry in order to provide food and shelter for his small family of 3: himself, my mom, and I. He saved every extra penny to put toward the house he was building us which took 4 years for him to complete since he was working on it when he was off work and as he had the funds to do so. He built the entire house by hand - from shoveling out the dirt for the foundation with a hand shovel, framing, plumbing, to putting the shingles on the roof and everything in between. 

He worked so many hours that I didn't get to spend as much time with him as I'd of liked to as an adolescent. I knew though that he was away working to provide for us. I cherished every moment I got to spend with him. Even though he'd come home extremely exhausted and filthy from work, he would always find a little time to spend with me. Often playing video games together like Super Mario Kart and Twisted Metal. I usually beat him since I was at home practicing whilst he was at work sweating the days away, but he would always take the time to play with me.

MONEY COMES AND GOES, BUT MEMORIES LAST FOREVER

Fast forward to me attending college at Tennessee Tech University. I was the typical broke college student. I was going to college full-time, as well as, working full-time at the local Pizza Hut as a Shift Manager. I had gotten a few scholorships and financial aid to help pay for school, but needed to work full-time to pay for my apartment, food, and living expenses. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck. 

My best friend while in college, Mat, was an avid festival goer and was planning on attending the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2008, which was held about a hour or so South of the TN Tech campus. He had attended the festival the prior 2 years and would often talk to me about how awesome it was and how I needed to go with him that year. I had been to multiple concerts before, but never a 4 day camping music festival. I was intrigued, excited, nervous, and...broke. 

So I did what I would do anytime that I had a major life decision to make - I called my dad and asked for advice. What he told me would stick with me for the rest of my life - "In 10 years you won't remember the money that you spent, but you will make memories that you will hold onto forever." That was the nudge that I needed (no pun intended). My dad had a tough battle with Leukemia during my senior year in high school. After many radiation treatments, he luckily went into remission. Since then he hadn't taken life for granted and neither did I.

I pinched pennies and was able to save what I needed to purchase a ticket and supplies. My expierence was just as awesome and magical as my friend Mat described. I ended up going to Bonnaroo for the next 4 years after that. Making life-long memories at each one.

In 2012, I got to see Alice Cooper perform at Bonnaroo. It was my first time seeing him live. Alice Cooper was my dad's favorite music artist of all time. Even much so that my dad's email address was [email protected] and all of his website and forum screen names had Alice Cooper in them. I was overjoyed to be able to see my dad's musical icon in-person and be able to share with my dad all the videos and photos that I took while at the show. He loved seeing me get excited about something that he had enjoyed so much his whole life. I thanked him many times for the advice he gave me back in 2008. I still strive to live by that advice today.

THE DARKNESS WITHIN

My dad stayed in remission from Leukemia for the rest of his life, but did contract another - more rare - form of cancer after I graduated college. After a year of fighting it, my dad lost the battle and passed away in the Summer of 2017 from his 2nd fight with cancer. My world was shattered. My best friend and father was gone forever. I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know if I could feel happiness again. I sunk deeper and deeper into an abyss of depression.

I would spend the next better part of a year in the darkness within that is depression. I had moved back into my childhood home to help my parents when dad contracted cancer the 2nd time. I only left my bedroom to go to work and get groceries after my dad passed. If it wasn't for trying to stay strong for my mom - who is still fighting the depression of dads' departure today - I don't know if I would have ever left the house. I spent all of my other time in my bedroom, usually sitting or laying in the dark - playing video games - trying my best to escape from the dark hole I was living in.

ENTER PINBALL

My first memory of pinball was back when I was around 6 or 7 years old. We would have family get togethers at my grandparents house on my mom's side which was located in a neighboring town. It was an older 2 story house, but my parents would tell me to stay on the ground floor because the bedrooms were on the 2nd floor and they didn't want me getting into anyone's personal belongings. Being a curious little brat at that age, I couldn't resist.

One holiday when the rest of the family were fellowshipping together, I quietly creeped up the stairway leading to the upstairs. Most of the rooms were normal bedrooms. Nothing cool or exciting to find or get my hands on. The exception being the room that they had been using for storage.

The room was filled with boxes and junk. So much so that I was blocked from really entering the room being so small at that age. One thing caught my eye though - a large machine tucked in the back corner, covered in dust. I had never seen anything like it before. Sure, I saw some arcade cabinets before at the local movie theater or mall arcade, but I never saw anything that looked like that - it was a pinball machine. I never said a word about it to my parents. I had seen this thing that I was so curious about, but couldn't ask about it due to worrying about the repercussions of disobeying my parents and going upstairs.

My next pinball memory was in my early teens playing the heck out of Space Cadet on Windows. I don't think I even understood at the time that it was a virtual pinball game. It was just some game that came with our PC that I was addicted to playing. 

Moving forward a few years, I was playing on my Xbox 360 and saw a game called The Pinball Arcade available for download. Oh wow! This is that game I used to play on the computer...wait a minute...the pictures look like that big machine I saw in my grandparents house years prior. That's when I had my eureka moment...Space Cadet was a pinball game...and that machine in my grandparents house was a pinball game! That got me extremely interested and I downloaded the game. I didn't realize at the time there were different layouts and themes. This was a whole new world of gaming that I never knew existed and I was hooked.

I ended up buying all of the table packs that were available for The Pinball Arcade. I spent countless hours learning the rules to the different tables and working on filling each leaderboard with my scores. After my dad passed away in 2017, while I was in my darkest time, I played The Pinball Arcade everyday. While I was flipping that digital ball around my TV screen, I was in a different world...a different life...where anything was possible and life didn't seem so bleak while I was racking up high scores. There I was - wrapped up in the cloak of depression - playing The Pinball Arcade daily - trying to feel a glimpse of happiness.

EXITING THE DARKNESS AND MOVING INTO THE LIGHT

I am also a big sci-fi nerd. I had a little comic book collection and enjoyed reading them for an escape when I wasn't flipping around that digital silver ball. One day while laying in the dark watching TV in my room, I saw an ad for a pop culture/comic book convention in downtown Nashville that was coming up. Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek series) was going to be at the convention taking pictures with guests. I was a huge Star Trek fan growing up and asked my cousin, Zach, if he would be interested in going with me. I couldn't bring myself to go alone. I wasn't in the right mindset. Zach agreed and we embarked for the convention.

While roaming the convention floor, waiting for my time to meet Nichelle, we came across an unmanned table that had some brochures on it for the Grand Ole Gameroom Expo (now named Music City Multi-con). Wait...there are conventions for video games too?! We had no clue. Zach and I were big PC and console gamers, so he convinced me to get tickets for this Grand Ole Gameroom Expo. I had been playing The Pinball Arcade religiously so having the opportunity to play actual pinball machines was just enough to get me to leave the safety of my bedroom depression once more.

We arrived at the Grand Ole Gameroom Expo and were floored at the sheer amount of video game cabinets, consoles, and pinball machines that were available for free play. While walking around the Expo floor we came across signs for a pinball tournament, the Grand Ogre. People actually play pinball competitively?! There are money and prizes that are awarded?! We were a little intimidated by this whole new world of competitive pinball, but wanted to give it a whirl. Unfortunetely, we were too late. The tournament was the day before. We decided that we'd have to come back to this Expo next year and try playing in the tournament.

A GALAXY OF GAMES

I returned home and decided to research this new world of non-digital pinball. I found that there was an arcade in a neighboring town that had pinball machines available to play any day of the week, not just once a year during a convention. I told Zach and one Saturday we met up at this location to see what it was all about.

When we walked through the door of Game Galaxy in Smyrna, TN, we were absolutely floored. Rows and rows of pinball and arcade machines. Seemingly more than we had seen at the Expo hall. We spent a few hours trying out different machines. We were in pinball heaven! Little did we know at the time how much of a treasure that we had found only about an hours' drive from the bleakness of my bedroom. When we were leaving, we saw a sign that said they host weekly pinball tournaments. We didn't realize there were weekly tournaments! We had thought they just did the Grand Ogre tournament because it was a special event for the convention.

This was the origins of pinball changing my life forever. I didn't know it at the time, but this moment would be crucial in finally knocking off the depression monkey from my shoulders.

Zach had to work and wasn't able to attend, but I decided to go to my 1st pinball tournament on May 4, 2018. It was a Stern Iron Maiden Launch Party at Game Galaxy. I ended up taking 3rd place out of the 10 participants. I guess all that Pinball Arcade knowledge was paying off! A few weeks later, Zach and I attended his 1st pinball tournament, also at Game Galaxy. Out of the 11 participants, I took 3rd place again and Zach took 5th. We were hooked. We started going to all of the Game Galaxy tournaments as well as looking at other conventions to go to around the area. I was starting to get out of the house on a regular basis. It felt great to be around people without feeling like I was in a deep hole. I was starting to be a little social again.

DAD'S LEGACY

Now that I was neck deep in all things pinball, I started researching more and more about all aspects of the game. I started watching all of the Twitch streams and YouTube videos that I could. Eager to learn as much as I could and improve my play. That's when I came across the Spooky Pinball YouTube channel.

I was shocked to find out that Spooky Pinball had recently announced it's Alice Cooper's Nightmare Castle (ACNC) pinball machine! I watched the trailer and immediately knew I'd have one of my own some day. It was the perfect mesh between something that my dad loved so much and my newfound hobby, pinball. I wanted something that I could have to remember him by everday. I remember back to what my dad said back when I was contemplating going to Bonnaroo or not - "In 10 years you won't remember the money that you spent, but you will make memories that you will hold onto forever." I put down the initial $1,000 down payment and started saving immediately.

The build time was quite long and I was game #250, so I knew I had time to come up with the funds needed to pay off the machine. At this time, I was pretty heavy into the competitive pinball scene, playing in tournaments around the Nashville area 2 or 3 times a week. I knew I had quite the long haul before Spooky got around to building my machine.

Zach and I ended up traveling to Atlanta to attend the Southern Fried Gaming Expo (SFGE) in June 2018. Spooky Pinball was going to be there with the ACNC machine and it was our first opportunity to play it. That trip was a blast and it was awesome to finally play the game I had on order and meet the Emery family. We played in the main and classics Pinvasion tournament at SFGE. It was a humbling experience as I ended up placing 82nd in classics and 101st in the main tournament. We got smoked by players like Eric Stone (who won both tournaments), Trent Augenstein (who would 2 years later crush me 4-1 at the 2020 TN State Championship), Steven Bowden, and Levi Neyman. I wasn't as good as I thought I was - I still had a ton to learn (and still do).

A few months into the year and a half wait, I came across an ad on Facebook for a non-working Bally Supersonic pinball machine. It was owned by the propriator of Game Galaxy and was priced to move as he was just looking to free up some space. The game would boot up, but the score displays weren't working and the flippers weren't flipping. I figured that I had time to learn and try to work on the machine so I picked up cousin Zach and we picked the machine up and brought it home. Once we got the game setup in the house, I came to Pinside to troubleshoot my issues. After replacing some fuses and reseating some connectors, the flippers came to life! I now had a pinball machine at home and started working on my flipper skills.

Subsequently, I ordered a whole new display kit from Germany. I had bought a few 'learn to solder' kits from Amazon and had a great time learning how to solder while waiting on my display parts to arrive. A month later, all the parts arrived and I started methodically soldering all the componants together. I was pleasantly surprised when I got everything installed, flipped on the power switch, and the machine came to life. The displays looked great! I also now could see what the high score was on the machine for the first time. I played the heck out of that Bally Supersonic and still own it today.

Aside from listening to Alice Cooper, my dad's other hobbies included working on our vehicles, watching old monster movies, and firearms (he was a range officer at the local gun club). I saved and saved and even sold my dad's project vehicle, his prized 1988 Suzuki Samurai, and some of his firearms in order to have enough to pay off the machine. He loved working on the Samurai and other than me, it was he pride and joy. I struggled with selling it, but ultimately decided that I would have more enjoyment with a pinball machine than his Samurai. 

ALICE COOPER IS IN THE BUILDING

The time came for #250 to be delivered to my house. It arrived on my birthday and, as luck would have it, I had been stricken with a terrible case of the flu. A semi truck pulls up and parks at the end of the gravel driveway leading to my house. The driver said that he didn't have anything to bring it down the driveway and would have to unload my boxed machine on the road at the top of the driveway. I'd have to truck it myself all the way down my decently long driveway to get it in the house. The anxiety and nervousness that I felt as I trucked that box down the driveway was off the charts - all the while feeling horrible and being extremely weak from the flu. The box teetered a few times as I slowly moved it down the drive. Flashes of broken glass and wood everywhere filled my mind. I was pushing back the thoughts of loosing control and dumping this brand new pinball machine on its side.

After about 45 minutes of methodically moving the box down the driveway, I finally made it to the house. I was too weak to truck it up the wooden ramp that led to the back deck and ended up having to wait for my uncle to get off of work to come help me. I probably should have waited for him to help truck it down the driveway, but I didn't want my new-in-box pinball machine to just sit at the top of the driveway for hours until he got off of work and my judgement was clouded with excitement. He arrived a few hours later and before you know it we had it in the house and setup on 4 legs. What a piece of art! 

This wasn't going to be just any pinball machine for me. It was going to be a memorial piece for my dad. I knew I would think about him and smile everytime I walked up and hit the start button. I had requested that the entire Spooky Pinball team sign the machine. My eyes got a bit teary when we unboxed the machine to find they had all signed the backside of the backbox. It was awesome having everyone that took part in creating my memorial piece sign the machine. It just made it a little more special to me.

A SOMEWHAT HEALTHY ADDICTION

Everyone in the hobby knows that, much like Pringles, once you pop - you can't stop! I now had a Bally and a Spooky pin, but I had a big itch for a newer Stern. I had recently moved in with my now fiance', Amanda, and was working on saving up for a house. I didn't feel quite right about saving for a luxery like a new pinball machine (when I had 2 already) and was more focused on saving for a house.

I found out about the Project Pinball Charity and decided that instead of saving I would buy a raffle ticket for a new Stern once in a while when I had a few extra bucks. It felt good to help the children while still potentially winning a pinball machine. I never really thought I would win, but it was always an exciting time going to the Project Pinball Facebook page or YouTube channel and watch the live drawings. I would look for my name on the sheet whenever they showed it to prove to myself that my name was in the running. I would get close a couple of times. My number would be one or two off from the winner.

Fast forward to July 2022, Amanda and I were visiting with her parents. I heard a notification go off on my phone and glanced at the lock screen. I had forgot that there was a raffle drawing that day! The notification was an email from Project Pinball with the subject line "Winner of Project Pinball's Premium Pinball Machine Raffle." I'm usually one that tries to be very respectful and tries to not talk over someone, but while Amanda's mom was in mid-sentence, I blurted out "No way! I think we just won a new pinball machine!". After apologizing for my outburst, we quickly went to YouTube on their TV and watched my number get drawn. We were the proud winners of a new-in-box Godzilla Premium. This was the perfect pin to live alongside ACNC - another theme that my dad would have loved!

We live in a duplex town-house, so space for a pinball machine is few and far between. Luckily, I have an awesome fiance' that allowed me to put the pinball machines in our living room (it's really the only place they could go). We could only fit 2 so we moved out Supersonic to Amanda's parents house when Godzilla arrived. 

At the time of writing this, we recently purchased our 4th pinball machine in May 2024. Amanda has worked at our local 911 for over 20 years. I knew that if I was going to be able to convince her to figure out how we could fit a 3rd pinball machine in our very small living room, it had to be one that she wanted. While scanning through Facebook marketplace, I came across a Gottlieb Rescue 911 that was reasonably priced and located about 2 hours away. I talked to her about it and we decided this was one we ultimately wanted in our collection due to the theme. I sent the seller a fair offer, but didn't realistically think he would take it as it was quite a bit lower than what he was asking for the machine. To my surprise, he agreed. Amanda and I picked up the machine the following weekend. We measured our living room and went online to utilize a room planner website. We couldn't fit all 3 pins next to each other, but found an option that would work for us. 

If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read my story! I miss my dad so much. He was the greatest man I have ever met. Everytime I play ACNC or Godzilla, I smile and think of a memory of my dad.

***Click here to hear me tell an abridged version of my story on Episode 190 of the Slam Tilt Podcast***

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read) - "In 10 years you won't remember the money that you spent, but you will make memories that you will hold onto forever." - Dennis Fitzgerald, my dad

Story photos

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Comments

37 days ago

Priceless.

36 days ago

Way to go. Glad you found a great hobby and congrats on winning the Godzilla.

34 days ago

Friggin awesome story!

34 days ago

Thanks Sparky1969, DazedandConfused, and ExSquid!

33 days ago

What a great story !!!

33 days ago

Thanks TRICKYGENE!

32 days ago

Thank you for sharing your deeply personal experiences with the Pinside community!

30 days ago

Thanks Chris!

25 days ago

HOLY, what a story. Thx for sharing.

25 days ago

What a great memory of your father! Such an uplifting story, keep enjoying those memories every time you flip!

25 days ago

Thanks northerndude and Pincrazy!

24 days ago

Great story, your enthusiasm and passion for both family and pinball really comes through. Thanks for sharing.

24 days ago

Thank you for taking the time to write this. I've thought about selling my ACNC but I just love the music and the vibe it puts off.

24 days ago

Thanks TopJetter206 and scottieIA!

18 days ago

Awesome story. When I got to the Game Galaxy part. I was like whoa! They are also responsible for re-igniting my interest. At age 54, i moved nearby, found GG and since then (a little over a year ago) I went from never owning a pin to now having 7. Jaws Premium, Deadpool Pro, ST:TNG, Fish Tales, Harlem Globetrotters, Wizard and Space Odyssey... Oh and An AT games legends virtual pin, and a full size cabinet that I'm currently building to be as close to a real pin as I can get it, just to have a system for "tournament practice" that will allow me to practice the machines I don't own and learn the rules.

18 days ago

Awesome Sjudkins! I also built a virtual pin, but gutted a Arcade1Up Attack from Mars virtual pin for the cabinet. Hopefully I'll get to meet you one day at a Game Galaxy tournament...unless I already have and don't realize it! Thanks for the comment!

14 days ago

That's a great story! You reminded me of when I discovered the pinball community. Your dad would be proud.

11 days ago

Thanks JoelOmatik!

9 days ago

ACNC is also the game that got me started with collecting. It really is a beautiful machine and very fun to play. I now have six machines, and am saving up for my last one (out of space!), which will be, oddly enough, Godzilla.

8 days ago

ACNC is such a fantastic game with a great art package. Also has one of the best upper playfields in pinball. Thanks ScottDye!

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