Monday, April 14, 2008


Another one of my technological loves is pinball machines. Can I blame this on educational television? These classic "Sesame Street" clips that are surely responsible for planting the seed. I can remember them vividly, and are my favorites: 1-2-3 and counting to twelve (sing along!) Years later, I remember ignoring my loved ones during a family vacation at Salt Fork so I could waste away time playing Haunted House down in the game room. I'd already played a lot of pinball, and would seek out those machines even during the heyday of arcade mania that was about to hit even our sleepy little town. The unpredictability and challenge of playing a game with an actual physical element to it was far more interesting than the purely twitch-based play of an arcade machine. Our childhood summers were spent at the local pool, which featured a 1960s-era table set up near the jukebox and sun-faded Space Invaders machine, off on the deck just under a shady roof. This was a Real Machine with score wheels, electro-mechanical parts that really buzzed and clunked and thunked, and that wonderful gut-loosening knock that you felt when you made a match or crossed 57,000 points and won a game. I can still smell the chlorine in the air when I see one of those old machines. One of these days I will have to make a pilgrimage down to Lucky Ju Ju and relive this thrill. Typewriters and cameras are functional remnants of a past time, but pinball machines are purely entertainment, and live to be played.

I'm in awe of those who have the technical and artistic knowhow to restore these beauties. Pinball machines are harder to come by these days, usually being a heavily-played model tucked back in the corner of a birthday venue. Sticky flippers, filthy gameboard, broken elements... it's sad to see. Like other mechanica obseleta, pinball machines are unwieldy, expensive to maintain, noisy, prone to misuse and abuse, and very complex... everything I love, in other words. Unlike all the other machines that I'm dragging home these days, I have no room in my home for pinball machines: actually, I have no room for the other stuff, either, but being a pinball collector requires a certain degree of insanity that even I have not yet attained. Emulated tables in software are good enough for me for now, though it's far from the feeling of the real thing. I keep the old rites alive on modern technology, and keep my eyes open in corners of cafes and coffee shops, looking for a chance to drop a quarter and reacquaint with an old friend.

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