Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1977 was the epicenter for middle class vacations. Motels advertising in-ground swimming pools ran up and down the strip, and the little squares of blue provided some visual relief from the parking lots, go-cart tracks, and miniature golf courses. Closer into the center of town, these gave way to souvenir stores, taffy shops, attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Guinness Book of World Records, and, of course, the arcades.
With Mom, Dad, three boys, three girls, and a 14-hour Country Squire station wagon ride from Illinois to a too small motel room, getting out and on the strip was critical to everyone’s sanity. With a family this size, however, the budget allowed for limited activities – a go-cart ride, miniature golf, a trip through the Guinness Museum. With Mom and Dad spending the rest of the time relaxing at the pool, the kids, including three boys aged thirteen, eleven and nine, were left to fend for themselves. Back then, you could give the kids a few bucks and set them on their own to explore the world, with the only instruction being “be back for dinner”.
Naturally we headed for the arcades, the only entertainment we could afford on our meager funds. A 1977 resort city staple, arcades peppered the Myrtle Beach strip between souvenir shops and numerous eateries. While Skee-Ball was the undisputed champion of the arcade, a pre-video arcade staple was the electromechanical pinball machine (EM), which filled the arcades with its classic chimes. Also at this time, pinballs were transitioning to solid state (SS), and the particular arcade we choose was one of the first to get the fancy new SS Evel Knievel. My older brother was a huge Evel fan, and for Christmas 1976 he got the Evel Stunt Cycle, among other things. My younger brother was a huge fan of Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, and he would receive the Steve Austin Action Figure with the bionic eye and bionic implants that year. (The pinball machine, alas, would not be out until 1978.)
After putting a few quarters into Evel, we moved down the arcade line, trying other machines until I saw the pin for me – Aladdin’s Castle. The voluptuous genie on the backglass mesmerized me. With only a few quarters left, I knew I would not be playing for long but was compelled to step up and give it a try.
The first time up, something magical happened. As I recall, the machine malfunctioned, giving a free game without either a true match or a high score. This game led to another, and another, and another until my brothers and I had spent the rest of the afternoon playing this one pin, on one quarter, hitting Aladdin’s Alley time after time as we became accustomed to the game and the shots. The whole time, the backglass image of the curvy genie was being seared into my head.
Family vacation ended and we headed home with lasting memories of the ocean, the strip, and of course, pinball and Aladdin’s Castle. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last family vacation spent all together. The next summer, my older brother would be killed in a tragic accident.
After that, life and family vacations were never the same, and although I continued to play pinballs (the 1978 Playboy, for one, a story for another time), I slowly drifted to arcades (Galaga) and foosball until high school graduation, the army, marriage, college, work and children took me away from the games of my youth. Throughout all of this, I kept a list of things to do, and on that list was the ever present but never acted on “find an Aladdin’s Castle”. I would occasionally look but never really put any effort in it. Between consulting engineering, service in the National Guard, a working spouse and raising kids, there was never enough time.
Recently, with kids out of the house for college, a career change, and an ever closer retirement from the Guard, the urge to find an Aladdin’s Castle pinball rose again. A chance finding of a Pinside ad led to a 5-hour trip to Indianapolis. The pin wasn’t perfect (small crack, one corner of an otherwise flawless backglass), but the price was right. I got it home and plugged it in and…it worked! One of the rollovers wasn’t registering, so I read up and figured it out (dirty contact), also learning in the process the first rule of pinball home ownership – learn to be at least a basic pinball service repairman.
After a month, I learned the second rule – the number of pins you have is directly related to your budget and space. After acquiring a couple cheap project EMs, Card Whiz and Solar City, another childhood pin from 1981, Volcano was next and then, to my surprise, a 1978 Six Million Dollar Man less than an hour and ½ away. The Six Million Dollar Man got me thinking about that Evel Knievel Pin, and after a long drive to Ohio, I brought one home.
Aladdin’s Castle, Evel Knievel, and the Six Million Dollar Man will all get the full restoration treatment someday. For now, though, I am content on playing them. My younger brother, who is about an hour away, visits frequently to play these and the other pins in my collection. It reminds me of a simpler time when three young boys played pinballs in an arcade in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, exploring the world on their own with only one guiding instruction – be back by dinner.