I grew up in Queens, NY during the late 70's, early 80's in what was the height of the arcade craze. I was fortunate to have a 3,000 sq.ft. arcade called "Super Amusements" within a 15 minute bike ride from home. It was the most amazing place to a young kid. My friends and I would meet at whoevers house was closest to Super "A" as we came to call it and made the pilgrimage to what was the "Mecca" of all Saturday destinations.
The amount of quarters, allowances, birthday money, etc.. that poured into these machines was unfathomable. Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Robotron 2084, Defender Stargate, Frogger, Dig Dug, Zoo Keeper, Elevator Action, Tempest, etc... were there in all their seizure inducing glory. The day would melt away in a kaleidoscopic array of sights and sounds. The cacophany of which was complete sensory overload. The Chexx tournaments were epic with their fast-pitched, feverish pace as they coincided with the heyday of the NY Islanders dynasty. Running out of money was that all too dreaded, inevitable reality that no one wanted to face but, had to accept.
There was always that strangely alien part of the place however, that quasi-forbidden zone that the older kids, dads and other adults would always congregate at. There were about 25 pinball machines there, taunting and beckoning with their dazzling light shows, slick, surreal cabinet art and the most captivating mechanical and often quirky and perplexing sounds.
I was too inexperienced however and nowhere near patient enough to understand the complexities of these marvels. Each one seemed to have its own personality but, I failed to realize that there was more to pinball than meets the eyes and ears. It wasn't just banging around and that it took real and involved gameplay to make any progress. I was mesmerized watching the really good players that just seemed to be in complete control of the board. Wishing I could get the mult-balls, make the crazy ramp shots, etc... In short, I sucked and soon dismissed them.
This could as easily have started off with I'm a KISS fan or rather, a rabid and devout member of the KISS Army... the real band mind you, not the watered down, Disney-esque sham of a money-grab that is being peddled but, the hard-driving, kick you in the gut, change your life forever real Medina in all its bombastic, fire-breathing glory!
Growing up during that time and coming from a small family I idolized my older cousin. I never got to see him much though as he lived in Jersey City, a very hard place back then. The few times he would come by with his mom however were what I looked forward to most back then. Long hair, ripped jeans, Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin or, KISS T-shirts, he was the epitome of cool for me growing up. Naturally, we would go to Super "A", he was one of those cool older kids that actually "knew" how to play silverball. M'fer never did teach me though.
I was a rowdy kid and went to a parochial school during grammar school, my parents felt I needed the discipline. More on that later.
My summers however were mostly spent on the north shore of Long Island, NY in a place called Southold. My cousin and his family would also make that pilgimage as we would spend 2 weeks a summer, every summer there. Star Wars was new and everywhere and so was KISS. I remember seeing them on 2020 and listening to them wherever we went.
Southold although "Beachy" still had that small town USA feel with the most amazing of carnivals and fairs. Completely alien to a kid who would play stick ball in the street while looking out for passing cars and the Son of Sam. I learned how to swim, fish, throw eggs at passing cars (my cousin's doing) and got to play mini-golf there. The Mini-golf place "Tick-Tock Mini-Golf (still there) had a small but intimate arcade where the younger and older kids would cross paths. Donkey Kong was king then and I stll sucked at pinball.
The details and exact timelines are murky but, my cousin's dad passed away unexpectedly some time soon thereafter and the fun-times and family reunions abruptly came to an end.
Fast forward to 1986. I was graduating 8th grade and going on a graduation trip to Busch Gardens VA. All the kids were broken up into groups and bunked with each other in the cheapest roadside hotel imagineable. I got to room with the priest who was chaperoning because I was so well behaved... THE BEST time I could have possibly had!!! Everyone had curfew at 9:00 or so in order to be ready for the amusement park the next morning and i was up all night with a priest who said he would kill me if I ratted him out for smoking!!!
I watched Carson and Letterman for the first time and got to stay up at least until 3:00 AM. I had soda, he had Marlboros... It was one of those flat one-level roadside places that you'd find in a cheap horror flick. Blinking, buzzing fluorescent lighting with a green carpet everywhere and the hum of the ice-machine in the distance. We decided to hit up the vending machine for a late night sugar rush when as soon as we turned the corner... WHAM!!!!!!!!! Staring right at me, a Bally KISS!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was like discovering the Holy Grail. We must've dropped $50 playing that sucker ALL NITE!!! I learned how to play pinball that night, taught by a priest no less!!! Apparently, he played a lot growing up. The coolest guy ever! That became a memory instantly seared deep into the recesses of my brain. I hadn't seen another until some time in the mid 90's in NYC when I came upon a ratty, beat up example in a boutique memoribilia shop. Suffice to say it carried a ridiculous price tag. At some point I bought a Taito Zookeeper and much to my parents dismay kept it in the kitchen and then moved it to my bedroom on the second floor! They were relieved when I eventually moved out with it in tow.
Some 25 years later, I held my daughter's 8th birthday party at Modern Pinball NYC, a spectacular place. Out of all the games she never left the KISS pro that was there. Had a custom made Bally KISS birthday cake too! I've toyed around with buying a Bally KISS many times but never found one that was in the condition I would've wanted. I ultimately sold the Zookeeper to a member on Pinside to help fund the purchase of a new Stern KISS LE. I suprised my daughter (and wife) with it when I presented it to her a few days after her party. I'm proud to say its the centerpiece of my basement gameroom right next to the multicade, air hockey and Super Chexx pro in our weekend place 5 minutes from that very same mini-golf that was so formative to my youth and now to my own daughter's... I also no longer suck at pinball!