Not sure how it happened, but in the summer of 1977 at the age of 11 a few friends and I really started getting into pinball. May have been due to the fact that Mom started letting me venture off my own block in Philly. With a bike I was able to ride around a few neighborhoods over from where we lived. At the time, it felt like we were venturing into far off lands. Now, looking back, we were really just on the other side of a playground. Hey the playground had a football filed and a soccer field, so it was at least 1000 feet further than we had ventured before.
As we made our way past the shops, there it was. A little storefront with a clanging noise coming from inside and about a dozen or so bikes lined up and laying there on the sidewalk. Fickle Flipper was the name on the sign. The glass storefront had a broken and torn shade, completely dirty, they were getting no "curb appeal" for sure. But it was the sound that first got me. I had to see what was going on in there. The place was lined with pinball machines. There were at least 60 of them and almost as many kids playing them. One older man on a stool, cigar poking out of his face, handing out change to the line of kids. The old man would bark out commands if he saw someone get out of line, or smack one of the machines.
From that day forward, all summer. It was all about trying to earn some money to go play those machines. We would look for money in the street. Turn out the laundry going through pockets. Knock on every door in the neighborhood looking for odd jobs, just to get some quarters. There were a few machines that played for a dime, and when we had difficulty earning some extra money or we were low, we would always hit those dime machines to feed the addiction until we got the next windfall.
We soon realized that we were obsessed. We needed to do something about this. If we only had our own machine, we could end the madness. Looking back now, that bit of logic was significantly flawed.
I did wind up getting a machine that Christmas. My Dad bought me a 1968 Williams Pit Stop. We got it for $100 from my cousin Jimmy. Man did I love that game. We would play it for hours. It seemed like the right flipper would always jam up and have to be rebuilt. Can't remember how many times the repair guy in the TR-7 would show up to rebuild that flipper. I know it was enough times that my Dad started charging me and my friends 5 cents a game. The flipper rebuild cost about $27 bucks back then so it was probably not even close to a break even for him. That machine stayed in our basement and was a champ right up until my parents moved in 1993. At the time, I was in basic training at Fort Sill, unaware that they were even moving. The machine never made it to the new house. They were downsizing and didn't have the room. It was left at the curb, at the curb. Unbelievable. I have never seen a pinball machine on the curb in my life and that's where my Pit Stop wound up.