Maybe they’re pretty good. I’m going to try to mellow out. But you haven’t lived if you’ve never tried to conquer a pinball machine.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what my day looked like when a new pinball machine was delivered to Marge’s Luncheonette. Marge kept three pinball machines lined up in her store at all times. When an old one was switched out for a new one, it didn’t take more than twenty-four hours for the buzz to circulate throughout the neighborhood.
So, here’s my perfect Saturday afternoon before video games ever existed.
A couple of my friends and I converged on Marge’s. First stop–the soda fountain. I always ordered a cherry coke; the cherry syrup came straight from the fountain, not a bottle. One of my friends ordered a vanilla coke, the other a chocolate coke.
While we waited for a turn at the new machine, we interrogated anyone who already had taken a stab at it. How much shaking would it tolerate before it blared out the dreaded “TILT” sign and the game ended? Who had high score so far? Did the flippers drag or were they smooth?
The wait wasn’t too long because no one had that much money and each game cost a dime, after all. But in the meantime, if the jukebox wasn’t playing, we’d pool our money and select three of our favorite songs. It cost three for a quarter.
Then our time would come. If we were lucky the darned machine wouldn’t Tilt. But that was rare for a first try. It took time and patience and practice to learn the idiosyncrasies of every pinball machine. But when you did, it was heaven, even though in all those years my name never appeared on the readout as the top-scoring player.
Pinball machines were my generation’s video games. If I were forced to admit it–both are pretty cool.