I can't remember my first pinball played, but I grew up close to the Jersey Shore where there was an arcade on nearly every corner during the late '70s and '80s. I'd spend many weeks every summer down at my grandparents' house in a tiny bungalow about a block from the beach. All I wanted to do was hit the arcades. Would I walk over to the local ones a few blocks away, or take a further hike down the road to the bigger Barnacle Bill's, or beg my mom for a 10 minute ride down the road to Seaside where there were towering arcades as far as the eye could see? Didn't matter, they all had great games from old EM pinball and EM arcade machines, to the newest pins and cutting edge video games from Atari, Williams, Data East, Nintendo, and all the rest.
Vaguely, the first pin I remember playing was Gottlieb's Atlantis. The blue-green playfield and rollover lanes stuck with me. I also remember playing a lot of old pitch-and-bats. For whatever reason, the Jersey Shore had a ton of those from the '50s on up. Great memories of spending warm afternoons in one of those open air arcades (as they all were), the breeze blowing in from the ocean, putting in a full nine innings of quarters and happily wasting the day away. Maybe I'd get a chocolate/vanilla swirl ice cream cone on the way home.
One of the next pinballs to make a big impression on me was Cyclone in 1988. I favored video games a bit more in the '80s, so when I first played Cyclone, its humor, personality, and complexity (for the time) both surprised me and won me over, and at one point I was making trips to Barnacle Bills just to play Cyclone over and over. Along with some Zoo Keeper and Rolling Thunder. My summer routine.
My family owned a Bally KISS in the '80s, given to us by my cousins, and from what I remember the glass was hopelessly scratched, plenty of mechs and lights didn't work, and there were rubber bands in place of snapped rubbers. It didn't get played very often.
I owned some arcade games in the '90s (Tron, Elevator Action, Tempest, Time Pilot, Satan's Hollow, others) but wasn't really plugged into the pinball enthusiast world, so I had no idea how to acquire them. Throughout the 2000s arcades were becoming very scarce, so I was spending more time with home video games. But in the late '00s I discovered pinball emulation via Visual Pinball and Future Pinball, then the Pinball Arcade, which re-ignited my love for the game, and I started seeking out pinballs where ever they might be found with help from the Pinside Pin Map. It even found me the few pinballs on the island of Aruba on my honeymoon in 2012! In the 2010s I was a frequent visitor to Lanes & Games in Cambridge MA, and the incredible, sadly gone Pinball Wizard Arcade in Pelham, NH. Not to menion at least four or five trips a year to the amazing Silverball Museum in my old Monmouth County. Literally hundreds of different pinballs at my disposal was a pretty nice way to spend the first half of the decade.
Finally, within thew last few years hard work and luck paid off my wife and I, and I've fortunately acquired both the space and the money to have many of these wonderful machines at home. But it's not just having them at home that's fun, it's going to conventions and league nights and meeting all the other players and collectors, most of whom are really friendly people. From buying and selling, learning and repairing, meeting and chatting, watching videos and trying to improve my own skills, it's a wonderful, all-consuming hobby that keeps on giving.