Folks, I just had the single worst, most insane pinball buying experience I have ever had, and I thought it might be therapeutic to share it.
On Saturday, I saw an ad for a Flash Gordon machine in Mt. Airy, NC. It was listed for $350. Yes, $350. The ad had been up for 23 minutes and I immediately messaged the guy and told him I would drive straight to Mt. Airy right then (it’s exactly one hour from me) and pay him $500. I figured I was too late, but I got a message right back saying that it was mine if I wanted it but I couldn’t pick it up until Monday morning. I thanked him, and I mentioned to him that I’d been looking for another Flash Gordon after I sold mine to a friend. I don’t regret selling it because that sale allowed me to get my grail pin, but I do miss FG from time to time and I’d love to get another one (especially at that price).
Last night, the dude texted me and said to call him at 8 a.m. Monday morning and he would give me his address. He added, “first one here takes it.” I asked him how many people I was competing with, and he told me that he had invited one other guy to come look at it just in case one of us decided not to buy it. I had already told him I’d buy it, but whatever. I just resolved to be the first one there by leaving for Mt. Airy at 7 a.m. and calling him at 8 a.m. while I was already in town.
So this morning, my pinball moving buddy Mike came over and we rolled out at 6:45 a.m. At 7:45, the seller called me. I called him back and he said he had accidentally called me while messaging someone. I asked him if I could go ahead and get his address while we were on the phone and he gave it to me.
I drove straight to his house, and sure enough, I was the first one there. He came outside and got a phone call from the other buyer. He answered it and told the guy to come on over. I told the seller that the guy didn’t need to come over because I was going to buy the machine, but he said since the guy had driven to Mt. Airy from an hour and a half away, he felt he owed it to him to look at it.
I immediately had a terrible feeling.
The seller told me to pull my car around to the basement, so I backed my truck up to the basement door and we stepped inside. The machine obviously wasn’t in great shape — the playfield was shot, high scores and settings weren’t being saved due to battery damage on the board, etc. But the cab and backglass were in great shape, and I knew I could get a spare populated playfield from the same buddy I sold my first Flash Gordon to.
And so, I handed the guy five $100 bills.
He did not take them.
“Just hang on to that until the other guy can look at it,” he said.
I immediately knew I was screwed.
The other buyer showed up about this time and stepped into the basement. He stared at the machine, and I immediately knew he knew nothing about pinball machines. Not that that’s a bad thing — everybody has their first — but I knew he had no idea what he was getting into. The guy said that he’s starting a home arcade and his wife wants a pinball machine, and he wanted to get this one.
The other buyer, the seller, my buddy Mike, and myself stared at the machine for awhile.
“Well,” the seller said, “sorry about this fellas. What do ya’ll want to do?”
“I want to buy it,” I said.
The other buyer indicated he felt the same way.
“Welp,” the seller said, “reckon it might come down to a coin toss. Either of ya’ll have a coin?”
“Listen,” I said to the other buyer, “let me show you what you’re getting into. (Seller), do you have the keys to the machine?”
He gave me the keys. I tried to remove the backglass but the lock was rusted shut.
“Have you ever changed the batteries on the board?” I asked.
The seller indicated he did not know the machine had batteries.
“Well,” I said to the other buyer, “I was going to show you the battery damage on the MPU, but the lock is busted. But I can tell you that it has battery damage because it’s not saving high scores and settings. You’ll need an Alltek Ultimate MPU, which is going to run you about $200 plus shipping. As for the playfield, it’s shot. None of the drop targets or bumper caps are original and half of them don’t seem to work, so you’ll need to fix all that or replace the whole shebang with a populated playfield. If I buy this machine, I’m going to be spending, at minimum, about $1,500 to get it to where it needs to be. And that’s because I’m doing the work myself. If you hire a good tech, they’re going to charge $100 to come to your house and $60 to $75 for each subsequent hour. So that’s where this is right now.”
There was a long pause. The other buyer indicated he still wanted the machine, and the seller indicated he was right sorry about this whole mess.
We ended up flipping a coin. I lost.
I walked out without saying a word. As I was leaving, the seller shouted, “Hey, hang on a minute, we gotta make sure he has money!”
I did not stop.