Anyhow, on vacation, after a long day's drive, my dad would take me (or should that be an Imperial We) to the game room. And we'd play pinball.
There is an art.
Fine, there is no art. It's just about keeping the ball in play, do what it takes, jiggle the machine a little, just lean into it, get that Body English going, just enough, not too much, don't want to tilt the machine.
But, hey. The ball is going down, the same way as it did last time, same cause, same bum ball thrower, same eject, straight down the middle, or better, down the side aisle, just nudge the machine, up, a little, just give it a little nudge, lean into it, just a bit more, more, more...
Hey, does this thing even have a tilt? Well, I don't want to find out. But then, if it doesn't have a tilt...
So, there is Body English.
Then, there is the obvious plunger play. Do you pull it back all the way? Some of the way? Hit it? Hit it hard? Put a spin on the knob? I mean, I don't know if that last did any good. But it sure was fun, made me feel classy, like I was working the machine, getting to know it.
Maybe, I could get a little feel for where the plunger was at. Is it tight? What is this sucker going to do? Can I place the ball? Can I try? Am I really not that good?
I was not so good at plunger work.
But a guy can try.
And I was pretty good.
The last technical item is flipper work. Like, at first, a person, a kid, I must have been six, three, four, maybe, younger...
My father wanted to play. He liked it. It was fun. And we'd play.
I, we, whoever...
There were three people who I played pinball with over the years, really played pinball with, year-after-year, for years... for at least, some period of years.
The guy who taught me.
The guy who I played with as a team, he working the right flippers, while I worked the left. This means they always did the plunger work, as well.
Maybe, that's one reason my plunger work was not so spot-on... or why I wasn't working the plunger in the first place.
And then (to complete the list), there was the guy who was more than happy to play with me after I had racked up a bunch of Free Games.
Yeah, I guess there might be some mixing between categories. But I never had the privilege of letting my father ride free.
I don't know why.
Well, I do know why. At some point my father stopped playing.
Maybe, he was a poor loser.
Maybe, the entire point was to keep me occupied, happy, not being a pain, and as soon as I could do that on my own, he was out of there.
Who really knows?
I likely was a poor sport, a snotty winner.
It's, also, just as likely, it got boring.
See, I got good... real good.
I played Centaur my senior year of high school. It's the name of a pinball game.
Destroy Centaur!Centaur was great!
I played it at the old Le Mann's Speedway in Lincoln Mall, which had been subsequently bought by and rebranded as an Aladdin's Caste, the big chain in the area.
One night, they were having a charity thing and you could buy ten (maybe it was twenty) tokens for a dollar. I forget. I think I bought $20 worth. But even at that, I should have emptied my pockets and bought whatever the guy was willing to sell. It was supposed to be one bag per person, a five dollar limit. But he had a bunch of bags left over at the end of the night. And who knows how much money he was skimming off the top...
Anyway, Aladdin's Castle used to be Le Mann's Speedway, which also was an arcade, back when arcades included Skee Ball machines. But Le Manns beat that by having an Electric Bumper Car Race Track!
Eh, it cost too much. I hardly ever rode those Bumper Cars... maybe, only twice.
Once video games became a thing, all the other items became loss leaders... and then, liabilities.
They took out the Bumper Cars. Rumours abounded. Of course, they weren't so much rumours as speculations, because I never formed a concrete theory. It didn't seem that anybody knew.
Anyway, in the back of Le Manns Speedway, which became Aladdin's Castle's flagship store, if those rumours were correct...
We got some of those games early.
How many games?
Let's guess the space was 5,000sq', which seems high. Anyway, the back area was the Bumper Car Race Track... so, really, it was more of a race than a bumping thing, even if the cars were not fast enough to race, and all I can really remember is getting bogged down in an all-car pile-up crash.
Where the track was, they put in pinball machines. It was a big empty area with maybe a dozen games, when they had room for fifty. And up front, where the video game money making machine was humming along, they had upwards of 100 games. I never counted.
I am rounding down. The numbers could easily have been twice what I am reporting.
The place was huge... you know, compared to the typical arcade.
But I've been in bigger arcades:
- Santa Cruz Beach Board Walk
- Some Disney World Hotel
- The Tall A-Frame Futuristic One
- You Know The One
I loved Centaur.
They put up a sign saying Centaur was for sale towards the end, right before I moved away. And the attendant said I should buy it, that I was the only one who ever played that particular game, which was probably true.
If I had the money and hadn't spent a lifetime moving around, I'd love to have owned that machine.
I can't remember if it was $600 or $800. Even if was only $100, where was I going to put it? A few weeks later, I'd be moving to California with precious little of anything, much less a pinball machine.
Anyway, back in the corner, with a few other pinball machines, maybe four next to each other, lay Centaur.
I'd put in a token, play the game...
And now, I'm just going to stop writing.
For the day?
- Body English
- Plunger Work
- Flipper Control
- Yeah, I still need to talk about this.
- But not right now.
- My mind is sick of thinking about the same thing for so long.
- It wants a break.
- See how quickly my thoughts are going meta, now?
- As if that wasn't a perpetual/perennial problem.
- Some Guy
- Some Other Guy
- And Another Guy
Is there anything else?
If so, you can be sure I will list it.
But for now, I am done.
And then, I really am done.
There is an implied open parenthesis in the above: Flipper Work and/or Flipper Control.
For many (I presume), playing pinball is a matter of keeping the ball alive. And in the end, that is what it is for everyone. But at a certain degree of skill, one learns how to direct the ball and make a shot.
Cup the ball.
Hold it still.
Let it roll down...
Did it go where intended?
Often, the angle desired requires a live ball... or one just needed more oomph.
Ball goes in hole.
Points are scored.
Ball is kicked out of hole.
Comes down at flipper.
Catch it just right.
And send it right back to the same hole.
Some of those holes, targets, and what not were progressive. Hit the same little target six times and get an Extra Ball. Hit it one more time and get a Credit, a Free Game!
I got good at directing the ball.
Remember Centaur? The game that started this rant?
On the machine I was playing (as these things are variable), if one got the first two center targets in order (or at the same time), an extra ball would enter play. And if one got the second two in order, another ball would be released. Nail all four, and five balls would shoot out.
That's two called shots for a five-ball multi-ball; during which time, I would continue to make the same called shot, releasing more balls, up to the maximum, back up to five.
Meaning, it was not unusual for me to have two balls in play after my first flipper shot; and five, after my second.
Sure, at this point, I was just trying to keep the balls alive. But there were other called shots, other ways of making multi-ball and several ways of earning a free credit.
One token (after hundreds, if not thousands, of tokens spent in practice), and I could play for hours.
I loved that game... that particular game, that particular machine.
I've played on other Centaurs.
But it's never been the same.
I should have bought that machine.
Well, I should not have spent so much time playing pinball or playing that particular machine.
But after all that playing, I should have bought that machine.
It was like an old friend, like that baseball glove, the only one I ever had, that just felt right in my hand, until someone else lost it for me.
The glove would be on a shelf... or disposed of long ago, in pursuit of a travelling lifestyle.
And the pinball machine would be stuck in a corner of my basement, paint cans stacked underneath, maybe a light box of photographs, memorabilia, or old clothes stacked on top, scratching the glass, the entire thing laying in disrepair, waiting for a flipper to be repaired.
There were plenty of other games that I liked. But I formed a bond with no other machine... at least, not like this.
It's almost like we were friends. And this machine is who I played with after school for much of my senior year in high school.
Goodbye, Old Friend.
I'd say I miss you.
But in truth, if you were in the room with me right now, I doubt I would have the desire to play.
Hitting a ball at targets does get to be a bit tedious after a while... perhaps, much like typing words onto the written page.
Time to move on.
Yeah! That's the ticket!
And if I were to visualize a game of pinball, could I do it?
And more importantly, would it seem any less tedious?
Any less trivial?