I remember that first introduction to pinball like it was yesterday. I was in California, late spring 1968. It was another business trip for my dad, but this time the family got to tag along. The hotel we stayed in down the road from Disneyland had a game room filled with various electro-mechanical machines. It must have been the flashing lights and bells and chimes that first attracted me. I spent many hours (and far too many quarters) in the small, pool-side outbuilding. The sensation playing a pin was intoxicating, and I was hooked.
Up until that glorious week my addiction to gaming machines was limited to summertime Skee Ball on the boardwalk. At five cents a game a roll of nickels presented a near all-night affair. Throw in a few rides and some cotton candy and the evening was complete. But having returned from the west coast enlightened with a new perspective, the power of pinball took control. The following summer, in the coastal resorts of Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach, the sounds of EMs emanating from small out coves along the boardwalk enticed me to darkened arcades. A quick stop at the change machine and I was ready for my fix from a beautiful pinball, its blitz of flashing lights and mesmerizing sounds creating absolute bliss. The following Christmas I received a home version pinball. It wasn’t much, but man did I play the crap out of that game.
As time rolled on I noticed pinball was everywhere – pizza parlors, bowling alleys (and, some years later when I turned 18, bars) – the allure front and center. Pinball was all around me, and it was heaven. My fascination reached its height during summer 1977. Following high school graduation I piled several close friends into the family wagon for a 2-week beach spree that included nights on the boards with copious amounts of beer and pinball. I’ll never forget the pinball arcade – Fun Time USA, Ocean City boardwalk. It was my sanctuary, my temple. It was there I discovered Fireball. The fire demon on the back glass hurling a fireball and the chaotic clanging and chiming emanating from inside the cabinet certainly drew me in. But it was multiball and that classic spinning wheel on the playfield that sealed the deal. A six-pack and Fireball – I found nirvana.
Solid state machines soon became the norm, and the beautiful EMs I had grown to love slowly disappeared. For some reason I didn’t find the solid state machines as attractive – too much Atari at home perhaps. The movie theatre I worked for during college had but one machine, Missile Command, a video machine. We’d set it for free play after the last show let out and play for hours. Pinball slowly faded from my view. It was the end of an era.
Now, so many years later, I’m ready to retire to the eastern shore to spend my days reviving former passions. I converted my garage to a man cave tricked out with all the standard amenities. But recently I realized it’s incomplete: The cave needs pinball. I thought, “The wife will never agree to it.” And sure enough when I suggested it the conversation got heated. Funny, the disagreement wasn’t about whether we’d buy a machine but which one we’d get: I insisted we buy a Fireball; she wouldn’t discuss any pin but Firepower. Her choice was not one of the glorious EMs from my past, but it has multiball and a cool lane change feature. I gladly gave in.
So now, as I watch my wife play our recently acquired Firepower, I realize the premise of her demand: It was her fix back in the day. I can’t fathom what my aversion was to SS pins because this sucker is compulsive. The sound card offers a whole new experience. The addiction has returned. Convincing her we need to add a Fireball in the cave next to the Firepower was easier than I imagined. Do we go EM or SS version? What a glorious dilemma.