Mine is a common story. Told by many.
Rewind to about 1977. I grew up in a suburb outside Washington, D.C., that had a 7-11 about a 200 yards outside the boundary line of our somewhat idyllic subdivision. During the summer, my friends and I would gather up loose change from the top of dryers, or coin trays, or the couch, and ride our bikes about a mile to get candy and Slurpees. There was a Captain Fantastic game parked at the front windows. We may only have 85 cents in our pocket, and a 25 cent game of pinball might mean no Slurpee, or no M&Ms. We left 7-11 with no money left. If pennies were leftover, we bought Bazooka gum. (Elton John was later replaced by Gene Simmons et al.)
Then I started to hit the Time Out arcades in the area malls, especially Springfield Mall. I never had a favorite. I just learned what I didn't like: games with a bumper post between the flippers, or the double flipper that allowed balls to sneak by when you held the fllippers up.
Fast forward to 1982. Virginia Tech. Arcades on every block of downtown Blacksburg filled with video games and (in fierce competition for players) token dispensers that would dish out as many as 12 tokens for a $1. Pinball machines in the back looking low tech and maybe a little anacronistic to the spawning digital age. No matter how cool Tempest, or Donkey Kong, or Centipede were, I was always drawn to the physical, tangible nature of pinball.
Skip to 1986. Still in school. A place called Top of the Stairs. Friday happy hour. An odd assortment of guys who inexplicably were drawn together by pinball. Townies. College kids I didn't know outside our little klatch of pinballers. Six to eight guys gathering weekly for game after game on Playboy. It only took about 12 quarters to get the free credits perpetually paying for all games for the entire two hours. And walking away with 8 credits on the machine. The rule: top two scorers stay, two players swap in. Every one of us had that game down pat. The credit knocker hitting with frequency.
A short time later. Marriage. Then kids. No pinball. Except for Microsoft Pinball Arcade on a home computer, and some of the Little Wing games on early Macs. (It was Little Wing that reminded me of the fun of Eight Ball Deluxe, which is a favorite.)
Now, today. Kids are older. Built a rec room in the basement. The childhood dream of owning a pinball machine started to become an obsession. Ebay and Craigslist with frequency. Knowing full well that the cost of a good machine would be rejected by my wife. Then a Williams Flash shows up for $400. I read about it. Ok, Ok, so its not the coolest machine (i.e. art) in the pinball museum, but I need to start somewhere. I wanted something to learn on. Convinced the cost won't send my wife into shock, I go check it out. It's not good. Playfield worn where all the flippers dragged. Back glass has some flaking around the bottom. It doesn't power up. But the full manual is inside. That gives me some confidence. I offer $300, we settle on $350, then into the minivan it goes. (I shoulda held out for the $300, knowing what I know now, or maybe $200.)
With y'alls help, and reading a lot, I got it working. Everything working. So there it is, sitting next to my son's full sized 80s claw machine. He's loves arcades as much as me.
Now I'm on the look out for the next bargain (from the) basement pin just like everyone else.
I'll be ready. Fixing it will be the easy part. Convincing the wife, not so much.