Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas to me!

Ever since I was a young boy, I've played the silver ball...
Similarities between me and The Who pretty much end there (although Pete Townshend could have been looking at any of my high school report cards when he coined the phrase "teenage wasteland" for "Baba O'Reilly") but I have always loved, and still do, the game of pinball. My dad got me started, no doubt as a way of passing on his beloved juvenile delinquent tendencies from the '50s. I'm of the first generation of kids to grow up with video games, and those are lots of fun too, but while I like video games, I've always loved pinball.

FUN FACT: The night I was stood up for my senior prom, I spent much of the evening in a diner somewhere along 196 near Saugatuck, Michigan, playing pinball while wearing a tux.

One reason I prefer pinball to video games is that there are no patterns that can be followed for success in pinball. You can have a strategy in going after targets and bonuses, but success or failure is going to be determined by impossible-to-predict bumps and bounces. No two games will ever be exactly the same. I also love the bells and flashing lights. Pinball machines always remind me of miniature amusement parks. And as someone who grew up loving comic books, the artwork appeals to me.

FUN FACT: Most summer nights between high school graduation and when I left for basic training in August were spent with my friend Mark and his girlfriend Pat playing the Xenon machine at the Benton Harbor Holiday Inn.

I've always wanted a pinball machine of my very own. A real one, not a toy; not some pinball game, with Snoopy or The Six Million Dollar Man on it. I'm talking about a big, heavy piece of machinery with lights and bells and buzzers that you put quarters in. And now, finally, I own one. Specifically, this one:
For those keeping score at home, it's Pinball Machines: 1, Furniture People Can Sit On: 0.

It's a "Big Brave", manufactured in 1974 by D. Gottlieb & Company, bka Gottlieb (who knew there is such a thing as an Internet Pinball Database?) and I can still hardly believe it's in my house!! Manufactured at the very dawn of people worrying about political correctness, it was originally called "Big Injun". The theme and graphics aren't that offensive but they're not something anybody would dare put out today. If I had the time and resources ($$$) to really shop, I probably would have preferred something with a sports theme and/or depictions of voluptuous cartoon babes.

Like this!
But I didn't have those options. I wanted an older machine because while the modern ones can do some pretty incredible things with lights, sound and gameplay, I wanted something more "classic". I like the simple bells and flashing lights and I really like the spinning numbered wheels that go "ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk" as they rack up scores. The backglass of a classic pinball machine reminds me of Bill Veeck's exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park, which brings things full-circle, since a pinball machine was the inspiration for that scoreboard.

The problem is, finding old pinball machines isn't easy. There simply aren't as many around as there used to be. It takes patience and luck to find one that is in pretty good shape (playable) and not crazy expensive. I've been looking for years and finally got lucky.
So this is my Christmas present to myself this year. If anybody is wondering what they can get me, quarters would be nice.

No comments: