It begins....

By lennyblack

August 29, 2019

55 days ago

Well probably like most everyone here I remember spending countless hours (and quarters) In the pinball halls back when I was young. I really loved the games, but honestly was never quite that good at it. I had a childhood friend Jimmy F that could really keep the ball going and constantly had Specials lit, free games and so on. I could watch him play for hours and not get bored. Most days after school I would go play pinball. working weekends mowing lawns,washing cars and pulling weeds throughout the neigborhood to earn money to throw into the machines.  (At some point I learned to tape a string to a quarter and try not to get caught.) (cough)..

    It was magic back then that there were buildings full of just pinball machines. Even the little convenience stores had three to five machines in them. One place I used to go was the bowling alley, They had a row of about ten machines. This was around 76' ish I guess. I was ten years old then. I grew up in Fremont california. What a great place back then. You could ride the bus for a dime. Stay out all day and untill it was late, Unlike today when you can't let your kids out of your sight for a second. It was really a different world.

  Sometimes we would go out to Santa Cruz, there at the boardwalk at the end of the pier was a big circular building, and in that building was about a million old pinball machines, But the thing that i remember most is that they were all really beat! I don't know if it was because it was right on the ocean or what but those machines were hammered, worn, loose legs, wobbly and seemed waterlogged. dead action! add to that they were EXPENSIVE to play on.

    And then it happened.  It was like a bad dream. I was taken by suprise on one particular day as I entered the bowling alley with a fist full of quarters...My beloved machines...those beautiful machines with their bright colors and blinky little lights that had lined the wall for years were......GONE!!!!     And in their place stood these weird upright console things with tv screens in them...The HORROR!!!!

   The worst part was that they had CROWDS of people gathered around them, actually playing them...enjoying them.  What the Hell has happened?!!!

Asteroids, Thats what. Then soon after it was Defender, Star castle, and whatever else.  Blasphemy!!!   Once when no one was around I dropped my quarter into Asteroids. I couldn't do it, I simply could NOT manuver that stupid little ship around the screen while trying to fire my guns and not DIE immediately.  I would try and just stay stationary, try not to move other than in a circle. NOPE!  And I thought that it was tragic when the the numbered spinning reels were going away in favor of these horrific digital numbers.  I mean what the heck, This ain't no stupid alarm clock here...this is PINBALL!!!  Do you remember playing a game next to one of the newer machines?  Instead of bells or chimes you started getting electonic noises...for me the worst of them all was PLAYBOY.   That stupid theme song that would blurp out randomly.  I can still hear it in my head...and it still annoys me!!!

     My childhood ended that day, Broken hearted I remember asking someone who worked there at the bowling alley where the machines had gone, to no avail. Then soon after, one by one all of the neet little places that were hole in the wall speakeasy style pinball halls had closed their doors and went away.

  There was no stopping the advent of the computer generation, Gone was the warm buzzing, clacking, ding ding ding...The magical KNOCK when you won an extra game. The smell of a room full of Electro-Mechanical solenoids and switches humming in unison.

I was ten when my parents divorced,

  It was on my 11th or 12th birthday, I really can't remember exactly. It was somewhere in there that I went to visit my mom. She had called and wanted to see me on my B-day that particular time. And I will NEVER forget walking into the front door and what I saw standing right there in the living room was a REAL pinball machine!!! HOLY SHIT! lights flashing, the familiar warm buzz, in all of it's glory!   It was " Doodle bug ".  Mom was the best!  I guess that the divorce had finalized and they had sold the family home. She had some spending money. 

   The machine was like brand new. and I managed to hang onto it untill I was around 17 I guess.

When I was around 14 I was bumbling down the street one day, I saw an open garage with some guy in there. What caught my eye was an old pinball. It was Rack-a-Ball.  I asked the guy about it and ended up paying him 75 dollars for it. My dad thought that it was kinda cool that I was out hustling. I worked alot back then and always had spending money.

The end of it came one day when after another move, dad grew tired of hauling these machines about. They ended up in storage in pleasanton ca.   one day he told me to move them out, that he was giving up on paying for the storage.  I eventually found someone to help me go get my machines and I opened up the door and they were gone :(

   I asked dad what the heck happened to my machines and he said something that I will never forget,....he said,   " didn't you get the envelope? "  

Well, I'm 53 now, I have worked a long hard time.  Have a great place here in north Idaho and a couple of great kids. and,.. enough room for a few pinball machines!  a couple of months ago I saw a craigslist ad for this "Space Mission" game, I thought, cool!  I remember that one.  So I went and got it.  then about two weeks ago I picked up "Surfer".  and I may have a problem... I keep looking daily for these machines!!!   Is this some sort of disease?    I will be converting my downstairs into a great gameroom soon.

When I first wanted to go get Space Mission I told my girlfriend about it, I kinda felt silly about it thinking that she would think it is ridiculous. Funny, she plays them near daily!   says, Don't ever sell this!!!   mosly because I buy and sell all the time. I have always had a fondness to these old pinball machines, not just then but now as well as they remind me of a time when things were just,...different.


Story photos

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30 days ago
Nice story Lenny! I grew up around the same time and remember the tidal wave of game departures around 1978/1979... we still had pins around the city but mostly those dopey videos.
30 days ago
Agreed, great story with an all too familiar ring about "a different time". I only wish my three could experience being a kid in the 60s and 70s. The freedom, the 24/7 sandlot sports, the 20 cent soda machines, the arcades!
Pinball...Everyone gets the "bug" my man!
Be good!
The Bally Lama
21 days ago
Great story, Lenny. I can identify.
Yes, it was a different world back then. As Frank Zappa asked, "whatever happened to all the fun in the world?"
Oh and, yes. It is a disease. Well, actually more like an addiction!
Happy pinball!
13 days ago
Great story. I can identify with it, and I agree that this is an addiction. I’m a little younger than you but I can appreciate where you are coming from. It’s really great to open up a pinball machine and just see the old fashioned circuitry and solenoids, free of CPU chips. A parallel is when cars started being run on computers! Am I the only one that hates the ignition cylinderless cars? I am constantly losing my keys!!! It’s stupid!

Anyways, happy collecting. Pinball is about nostalgia, plain and simple.

One thing that my kids always ask when O get a new pin is....does it take quarters? They really want to use real quarters!!! It’s really cute!

Take Care, Tim
2 days ago
I was right there with you back in the 70's Still am today...dreaming of better days gone by! That's the problem. The more I dream the more I buy! lol

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