With pinball a part of the Rockin’ The Park celebration happening in White Cloud now through Saturday, the news spurred a small trip down memory lane.
My first pinball machine encounter was at home, actually.
My Dad was in the car business, something he gravitated toward soon after he returned from what he once called his “All expenses paid walking tour of Europe.” It seemed back in those days the term “trade-in” had a considerably more generic flavor to it. It certainly wasn’t limited to cars since I recall a number of eclectic items arriving at the lot or the house with an explanation that involved said items being part of a deal for a car. Most were non-living things if memory serves.
One such item was a pinball machine.
It was like having magic in the basement to a 7 year old. While my (much, much) older brothers dominated the early action on it, they were already involved with sports and girls so the machine soon became vacant.
I was, of course, lousy at it. There was so much involved what with flippers and lights and trying to boost myself high enough to know where the silver orbs were flying I rarely made flipper-to-ball contact thus games ended quickly.
Sometime after that it was gone. Things like that always seemed to come and go a lot so little thought was given to its departure and it wasn’t until junior high before I became re-acquainted with the silver ball.
There was a bowling alley nearby with about 5 machines and when quarters or dimes could be somehow earned or begged a group of us would gather to test our mettle against the unforgiving machines.
Once again the action of pinball gave way to other interests (sports, girls) and some years went by with infrequent play. Then I met my friend Tim (who says he’s not my friend but really is) and after a softball game we were enjoying a couple of brews when he asked if I payed pinball.
Dozens of quarters later an ongoing competition that has lasted decades was born. The First Street Tavern in Manistee had a particular game we tended to focus on and the quest for pinball supremacy was such that frequent visits to that particular establishment became nearly mandatory.
One day soon after Space Invaders, the neophyte of high tech games though a considerable step up from Pong, arrived on the scene we were visiting Milwaukee with our incredibly patient wives. We had stopped at a bar (of all places) and discovered the Space Invaders install guy had slapped something like 40-50 free games on the machine.
LSC Lil and Sandy bid us adieu (they could see the gleam in our eyes when we asked about staying an extra hour or two) and we agreed to meet later on at a designated place. Tim and I feasted on the free games finally leaving despite there being a few left because, well, we’re both still married since those days some 40 years ago so lessons had been learned along the way about how far to push the envelope.
This weekend the Rockin’ The Park celebration at the White Cloud County Park will be offering folks the chance to do personal battle with these venerated machines. It’s part of the fun to be had at what looks to be a great way to kick off summer. Trails, kayaking, kids games, a whole lot of music, a beer tent, and food vendors all make for a fun family time in the Cloud.
And beyond all that?
They got pinball!
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