One other point you said to meet other pinball people. You might try to PM some asking if you can meet or just talk about pinball related stuff. Not everyone will want to respond but you never know. Some of my best friends were met that way.
My first 6-8 pins I bought were from a local shop but I never interacted with other pinball people. The hobby is more fun when you have a bunch of guys and gals who you can hang with.