My fascination with pinball started about the time I began pestering my dad for loose change. What dimes and quarters didn't find their way into gumball and candy machines were plunked into pinball games.
At the mall. At the bowling alley. At the pizza parlor. At the bait shop near a cottage my family rented one summer. A dime per game, three games for a quarter. I was hooked.
Then one Christmas in the 1970s my parents bought a pinball machine for the family. I haven't lived in a house without one since. In fact, I have discovered one game isn't enough. Pinball machines are like potato chips. You can't have just one. That's how I became a collector.
Over the years, I have owned more than 50 machines. I've sold some, traded some and even given some away. My collection now stands at about 25 games. That's all my basement space will allow, and my most-tolerant wife (who plays and once had a fondness for Black Knight) prohibits games above ground level.
Almost all of them are set up to play. I figure there's not much purpose in storing games that were meant to be played. For collectors, there's a story behind almost every game. Some were games we played as kids. Others are great deals we found at a yard sale or auction. The most I ever paid for a game was $1,700. The least was $50 ... if you don't count the game I got for free because I saw it sitting in a guy's garage while I was out taking my dog for a walk. I knocked on the guy's door to ask about it, left my name and address, and a few weeks later he drove to my house and gave it to me. See? A story behind every game.
In 1985, my wife encouraged me to get my first game--a Williams Grand Prix that I still own. She saw a classified ad in the newspaper and we bought the game and hauled it into our three-story apartment. I'm sure I annoyed the neighbors day after day until we bought a house.
Grand Prix and about eight others populated that house. But it was a baby and not space for more games that forced us to buy a larger house. A bigger house meant more games, and my collection gravitated toward the EM games of my youth. My kids grew up playing pinball, but like many Gen X'ers, they were also drawn to PlayStation, Wii and, later, computer games. My daughter has a sign hanging on the front of Magic City, claiming it as hers since she accompanied me on a pinball safari across the state to obtain it. My son still plays a bit when he's home, and one of the games he likes best is Grand Prix. The apples don't fall far from the tree, do they?
My dad always told me to spend those borrowed dimes and quarters wisely. He never imagined 10 cents would bring a lifetime of pinball fun.