Once a junkie, always a junkie

By Rdrcntct

May 30, 2020

45 days ago

I moved from suburban Chicago to East Lansing, MI when I was in high school. For a while my older brother worked in a very popular arcade named Pinball Pete's, a block off the campus of Michigan State University. (Pete's is the brainchild of Tim Arnold, the same driving force behind the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, I went to school with but was a year behind his youngest brother). Since I was starting fresh in a new town, the arcade quickly became my home away from home. While many might consider this wasted time - I won't argue any accusations of wasted money - I had the advantage of a brother willing to teach me what it was all about. This was in the early days of Space Invaders and Asteroid but the video cabinets, with the eventual exception of Front Line, never really called to me. Silverball Mania had recently been released and wound up being the game I did most of my "training" on. The goal was always to earn a credit to continue playing but the expectation was that I had to actually practice to improve my skill in the many dynamics of what is pinball play; selecting and taking specific shots, reading carom angles, flipper saves, forehand and backhand shots, flipper control, a bump or a shake to keep the ball in play. I took my practice pretty seriously and eventually mastered those skills enough to become pretty consistent at lighting up the game enough to keep playing for a few hours. Eventually, the primary focus on that one game led to the desire to apply my skills to others, something Tim's arcade was more than capable of supplying. I played them all, often traveling to his other locations looking for new and entertaining game play that would pique my interest. I have no idea how many different games I've played and just a few are really memorable to me at this point, those games typically the ones I spent a lot of time playing with the guys I hung around with. Games like Laserball, Xenon, Flight 2000, Black Knight and Haunted House saw a lot of our quarters, I joke now that we probably did our fair share of financing the arcade's expansion, one quarter at a time.

Well, adult life eventually catches up to you and the time once spent in the arcade became time spent working to provide for a family so my frequency of play diminished while the love of the game did not. I often thought of owning a machine but the money or the space availability never really made it practical so it became one of those back burner nostalgia things that never made it high enough onto the priority list to make happen. Over the years, I would stop into an arcade here and there, get my fix and head on down the road with the thought of maybe  owning a game refreshed but yet unfulfilled. One day I stopped in a local convenience store and saw a couple of games so I decided to play. I can't tell you now what the game closest to the door was but Bride of Pinbot was the other and I dropped some quarters into it. When I lnoticed the current high scores I got the notion that my initials needed to be at the top so I set to breaking off the rust that infrequent play had induced. It took about three visits to get back into a groove and really acclimate to the game and I started to creep up on the high score list. In short order all of the high scores belonged to me and the shop owner took to announcing "Pinball Wizard's in the house" when I walked in the door to play. I retired from my job a short while later and moved, when I went back to visit a year later the place had been sold and was now a cell phone store. Fortumately, a small pinball "museum" had opened up about half mile away so I was able to get my jones taken care of but I had been looking forward to seeing the owner and making Pinbot's bride make her funny noises...

Fast forward five years. The kids are all out of high school and we moved back to the east coast of Florida, finding a home that had enough room to house my dream. Within a week of moving in I'd found and purchased a Silverball Mania, the game where it all started. She's not collector perfect by any stretch but it's a good playing machine and I definitely have gotten my money's worth out of it in entertainment value alone, not to mention the fact it was a very useful thing to have to kill some time during the pandemic stay at home order! Playing it without quarters (and being able to have a few cold ones while playing at home) makes it even more enjoyable than I'd imagined all those years ago but I noticed something: I'm playing about 75% less total games than I was when it showed up but I'm playing a lot longer. There are days I will intentionally erase a dozen credits just to get it off 40 so I can get the satisfaction of the triple thwack when I turn it over and I've created a Miliionaire's Club list for the game to document every time it happens. Yeah, my name is the only one on it but my son's game is coming along nicely so I expect to see his initials up there soon. It's a crying shame my brother passed a while back, I think we'd have a heckuva great time challenging each other on it. My younger brother is also a pinball fan and he's promising to come play when flying across the country (He's in CA) is a little more sensible.

I have a feeling there's another game or two in my future - not because I'm getting tired of the Silverball Mania, she's my "first girl" in the pinball sense - but because there are others that are worth owning. It's like my title says, once a junkie, always a junkie...

Thanks for reading.

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