Patti (whipartist) wrote,

On Vox: Being a kid again

As a teenager I spent countless hours in the arcade at the local shopping mall playing video games. I'd spend countless quarters too, blowing through my allowance and bumming money off of my mother so that I could play.   Before I was old enough to drive I'd spend one of my precious quarters on bus fare to get there, and later I'd hop in the car and go. 

I loved video games, and was moderately good at several, but what I was drawn to most of all was pinball.  There was something about the clank clank and the non-simulated physics that fascinated me and kept me coming back for more.  Over the years, the arcade had several classics-- Fireball, Eight Ball Deluxe, Comet and Cyclone, High Speed, Pinbot, and quite a few others.

My attention span for these games was far deeper than my pockets.l  I always swore that when I was an adult and had money I'd play as much pinball as I wanted to, whenever I wanted to.  Sadly, these sorts of childhood dreams rarely become the reality of our adulthood.

Today I had a free day in Las Vegas, so I wandered over to the Pinball Hall of Fame and Museum.  This is basically a pinball arcade on steroids, a couple hundred classic pinball machines tucked away in a low-slung nondescript strip mall in a low-slung nondescript neighborhood a few miles from the strip.  It's also a nonprofit-- proceeds go to upkeep of the games, and any excess funds get donated to charity.

Walk in and you find yourself in a long, dark room.  Grungy blue carpeting covers the concrete floor.  The air conditioning doesn't work as well as you wish it would, and a couple of fans on the ceiling don't really help that much.  In front of you is a bill changer with an old Iraqi dinar note and the caption "We No Longer Accept Old Saddam 20s."  Classic pinball machines are jam packed together for several yards in each direction.  Walk to one end of the shop and you find that there are a few more rows of machines.

Walk the aisles and you'll find most of your old favorites.The list of games is long and distinguished, including almost all of the classics.   The machines are well-loved, and they're all in excellent repair.

I walked the aisles spotting my favorites.  There was a Pinbot, and next to it a Bride of Pinbot.  A few machines down I found Comet and Cyclone.  Eight Ball Deluxe and Fireball were in the next aisle.  I recognized quite a few more, though they weren't as familiar to me.

Targets acquired, I broke a five dollar bill then settled in for a game of Eight Ball.  At five balls for a quarter it was a bargain-- cheaper than 25 years ago.  The machine felt incredibly familiar, but I quickly discovered that I sucked at it.  After about ten frustrating games I threw up my hands in dismay and wandered over to Pinbot, only to find that I sucked at that too.  Most of the shots were familiar to me, but I couldn't hit them with any degree of confidence. 

After the quarters were gone I grabbed a soft drink and broke another five. I played a few games of Fireball, but it didn't hold my interest.  I dabbled in Comet for a bit, and threw a few quarters in a couple of old mechanical machines, then went back to Eight Ball.

And then stubbornness set in.  By god, I was going to win a free game, and I didn't mean by matching.  I used to be good at this game, and dammit if I was going to let it get the best of me.  Nobody seemed to be waiting for the machine, so I played again and again and again.  I was getting better, but slowly.  I took a brief trip back to the bill changer, this time to break a ten, and got back to work.

It took a million points to get a free game, and I was barely breaking 500K, but I was getting better.  To my left I heard the loud bang that tells you someone has won a free game, and glanced over to see a tall slender black woman playing aggressively, a small smile playing across her lips.

Finally I did it.  CLICK.  1,180,230.  That wasn't the end of it, though-- I wasn't through. I still had quarters in my pocket and the game still had my attention.  I won another free game, then a third-- 1.6M.  The high score on the machine was 4.4M, and I really wanted to get it, but I was pretty sure that the day didn't have enough hours for that.

When the last quarter was in the machine and the game over, I decided I'd had enough.  I'd been there two hours, maybe two and a half, and then I looked at my watch-- four and a half hours of intense, nonstop pinball.  I stumbled out into the desert heat and the sun was low in the sky.  Unlike my teenage years, I still had money in my pocket-- my bankroll now exceeds my attention span.

If you're in Las Vegas and you like pinball, go there.  It is the single best use of a pocketful of quarters in the whole city.

Originally posted on

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