It has been fantastic throwing myself back into pinball in the past few years. As a young boy, I connected more to video games than pinball - part of that was probably being able to see the Atari 2600 and the TV but not being tall enough to see over the pinball cabinet onto the playfield. That said, I may have also been scarred. One of my earliest memories was getting my finger stuck in the coin return of a Williams "Pat Hand" machine at my aunt's house when I was about 6 years old. In my mind, I figure experiences like mine were probably the reason most coin returns don't have the metal flap-door on them anymore.
I don't remember playing pinball again until my teens when I would go with my gramps to buy lottery tickets at the Bowl-O-Drome bowling alley. It became a twice-weekly event. My gramps would go buy lottery tickets for the family and give me an allowance to go play video games and de-stress for an hour or two. I usually played video games - Shinobi, Street Fighter II, Narc, Off-Road... you name it... but then one day, I walked past a row of pinball machines they had on the other side of the alley. Terminator 2 caught my attention. I always loved the movies, and the call-outs and flashing lights and 'gun' handle pinball launcher caught my attention. I decided to give it a try. I absolutely sucked, but I would always play a couple of games.
As time went on, the bowling alley added more and more pinball machines and a few of them captured my imagination and tokens: Funhouse gave me the creeps because Rudy reminded me of the ventriloquist doll, "Fats," from Magic, a horror movie with Anthony Hopkins that terrified me as a little kid. I played it to somehow scare myself and conquer my fears at the same time. Addams Family was amazing. The callouts, the magnet, all of the fun toys. That was probably the pinball machine I played the most at that time.
My gramps passed away a few years later and I went to college. I hadn't really kept up with video games or pinball - just too busy. But then one day during my senior year at USC Cinema, in 1998, I found the Student Lounge and it had a Theater of Magic machine. At that time, I had been heavily involved in card magic and illusion, and I loved how the game used staples of different types of magics as its' objectives. The voice call outs and smooth layout lured me in again, and I played heck out of that machine. It would remain a favorite and I would stay close to magic, becoming a magician member of The Magic Castle private club in Hollywood when I was 21.
When I graduated and went to work in the real world, I would sometimes go to arcades to relieve stress. It was a sad point for arcades as most of the retro games were gone, and besides a few fighters, most offerings were giant driving games or redemption games. The arcade I grew up loving was dead. But there was still a few pinball machines. I found Scared Stiff and fell in love. Scared Stiff is still my favorite game of all time. Again, a fan-friendly layout, fun artwork, the eternally sexy Elvira and a great sense of humor. Sadly, the mini-golf arcade where I used to play Scared Stiff eventually removed ALL of their pinball machines and went strictly to redemption games.
I didn't really see much pinball from the early 2000's until 2012 when I had an accident and a near-death experience that laid me up for several weeks without the ability to go anywhere or do much walking. I was desperate for entertainment and started searching for games on my iPad when I came across The Pinball Arcade. It wasn't perfect - but the ability to play Funhouse and Theater of Magic again? And all of these other tables that I wasn't as familar with? This was heaven! So I bought every table that came out. Imagine loving pinball but not knowing what Medievel Madness was? I had never played Monster Bash before. Because my emphasis at USC Cinema was on horror, and I had always loved the dark side of things, I naturally gravitated to horror themed tables - Monster Bash, Creature From The Black Lagoon and Scared Stiff... I didn't even KNOW there was another Elvira game! (Elvira and the Party Monsters)
For weeks and weeks, it was nothing but re-kindling my love for pinball and retro-gaming. And now, with the internet, I could find out everything else I missed. I started reading forums, doing research, and finding places to play. In December 2012, on crutches, it was a really big deal for me to find the energy and be able to stand for a couple of hours and visit the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. It may sound silly, but I actually cried at one point because I was just so happy to be alive and happy to be doing something that brought me joy when I was close to "checking out" earlier in the year. As time went on, I visited the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda. I make regular trips to New York, New York in Vegas a couple of times a year to play the row of Sterns that are well maintained as well.
I don't have as much to offer in way of knowledge (and especially not in mechanical and repair skills) as many of the people on these forums - but I make up for it with a voracious appetite for research and pinball knowledge (I've listened to every episode of Coast 2 Coast Pinball. Thanks Nate!) and a passion for pinball. I'm a true fan - introducing a whole new generation of younger people who I work with to the hobby. We're building a virtual pinball machine for a bunch of middle school & high school kids. It's not like physical pinball, but it's a great entry into the history and excitement that pinball has to offer.
In Southern California where I live, we're starting to see a resurgence in pinball. I just visited "Button Mash," a pinball/retro games/asian fusion place. I'm looking forward to visiting "Ayce Gogi," a Korean BBQ place that has a ton of pinball machines. And I'm excited to say that I just received delivery for Spooky Pinball's "Rob Zombie's Spookshow International!"
So that's my story. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is my favorite Universal Monster, but it's not my favorite pinball machine. That's still reserved for Scared Stiff. If you're ever in Southern California and want to talk horror movies, video games and pinball, drop by the lagoon