I enjoyed reading the stories. A lot of variety and similarities.
I'm 52, and these are my stories.
My first memory of pinball is getting to go with dad to league bowling night somewhere in Cleveland or the east suburbs. I can't recall the exact age. It might have been 8-10, but I feel like I'd remember more if I was that old, so it might have been 6-7. What I do remember is the atmosphere of an early 70s bowling alley, just a bit grungy, with tall counters and cases full of bowling paraphernalia, the back room (ie, the bar), manual scoring, and the noise. And while it was neat to be with dad and his bowling buddies, the real thrill of the evening was getting a small stack of quarters and getting to sit on a stool and play the one or two pinball machines behind the scoring tables. Don't remember what games they were. Wish I knew what lanes we were at. I am sure that this is the reason I asked my dad to teach me bowling when I was in college, and why I bowled league from 1996-2015. In a year or two I'll return to league.
I recall having a small table top pinball machine as an early teen, maybe 12"-16" high, 8"-10" wide. I liked it well enough, but it was no match for the handheld Mattel Electronic Football game. Man, I loved that thing.
In junior high and early high school, I remember playing the video arcade games - Space Invaders, Galaga, Asteroids, etc, and loving them. Main reason to go to Pizza Hut. I also recall the arcade at Cedar Point in Ohio. One cool place to go for a break when it was really hot.
Video and pinball fell out of my consciousness for a while in high school and college. I would play a pinball game if I came across one in the wild, but the video games had moved beyond me and I didn't care to learn new games and rules. Just liked the "straightforward" pinball.
My love of pinball was rekindled in graduate school at the University of Mississippi. They had a few arcade games at the student union. I'd take a break from studying or lab work, and play Cyclone. A lot. I got so I could hit those ramps repeatedly and build the score. From then on I was hooked, and would always play a game when I came across it in the wild. I never sought out arcades, but if I was in one with my kids, I always played pinball if there was a machine.
It never really dawned on me that you could have a pinball machine in your home. If I had thought about it, I would have assumed that you had to be an arcade owner or restaurant owner, and buy a pinball machine from a dealer that only sold them commercially.
Then, shortly after Thanksgiving, my lovely wife said she wanted to get me a pinball machine for the holidays. She was going to make it a surprise, but after 2 minutes of research, she realized that I had to make the decision. This led to another discovery - in 2018, there are a lot of really cool arcades and bars in the Seattle area that actually cater to pinball players!!!! Who knew that pinball was enjoying a renaissance? There are leagues. There is an arcade show in the summer. (OK, I knew this last one because we almost went last year.)
So began the fun ride of playing a lot of pinball, and that eventually led to the purchase of a Lord of the Rings machine in December. I love it. My wife loves it. Her son and my daughters enjoy it. I'm also learning to fix it. Already replaced 2 VUKs and (with help) re-wired the Balrog hit switch. But now the Balrog return is finicky, and the right slingshot activates when both flippers are pressed or other high energy events occur. More repairs on the horizon.
This has led us to the decision to buy a NIB machine. You know, so that there is still a machine to play at home when LOTR is down for repair. This of course requires more research, including a trip to Canada this weekend to visit Nitro headquarters.
What a fun ride!