Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pinball Wizard

We all have some memory from childhood that we want to take with us when we're grown and living in our own homes. For me, that was the pinball machine I grew up with.

My parents bought it when I was either late in junior high or at some point in high school. I think they were operating with the philosophy that if we were the cool house where kids hang out, they could keep a better eye on me (and my friends). For the most part, it worked, and I'm going to go with the same theory for the wee ones.

I spent more than a few evenings playing with it, and it was a great thing to play with my dad, too. Good way to bond with a teenager in general, really.

When Mister Man was born, my parents moved from Minnesota within four days (literally). They brought the pinball machine with them, but they had no room in their new house, as their basement is unfinished and the house much smaller than the one we grew up in. It lived in their garage until my husband and I moved to a house that had room for it.

Two years ago, we bought our house. I was soooo excited to have my pinball machine again. While the movers were moving our stuff in, we were loading the pinball machine into a U-Haul.

As you might imagine, pinball machines are really heavy. We removed its legs to make it easier to get onto a cart. We also laid it on its side, knowing that it was pretty top-heavy. And to remove some weight, we tool out the clear protective glass atop the playing field. We definitely didn't want that glass to break on the way.

When we arrived at our new house fifteen minutes later, disaster awaited us. Apparently the innards of the playing field are not at all attached to the base. When we took off the protective glass, the guts fell out somewhere along the way and shattered the backglass (where the scores are).

With a heavy heart, we moved the pinball machine into the garage in the hopes of salvaging it someday.

A few months after moving, my dad and I finally found a pinball shop that appeared to also have a repair service. We drove the forty minutes there to talk to the guy in his tiiiny little shop. He could probably fix it, but he wasn't optimistic about finding new backglass. Apparently machines made in 1982 don't exactly have a huge spare parts market. He promised to look, and if he couldn't find it we could sell our machine to him for parts and buy a "new" one.

I checked in with him perioidically, but he always seemed a bit sketchy and off. I searched eBay and Craigslist for High Speed backglasses to no avail. Finally, I found someone on eBay selling one. For $300. Ouch. I kept looking.

Eventually, I discovered a website that specializes in the pinball culture and had a free classified section. I wrote up my ad and posted it. Once a month, I'd get an automated message asking if I still wanted to keep my ad posted. Sadly, I did. Over a year after I posted the ad, I was contacted by someone with a backglass in pretty decent shape. I talked him into free shipping and $175 for the backglass (the dealer I had talked to usually paid $150-200 per backglass, not counting shipping).

I held my breath from the time I hit send on that Paypal transaction until I finally received the backglass. When I called the dealer back, his phone was disconnected. Apparently, he'd moved his business and was operating solely by his cell phone. Way too sketchy for me. Oh yeah, and I'd have to pay at least $100 each way to ship the machine to and from his shop.

And so the backglass sat in its unopened package in my foyer for a few more months. This February, I went to a preschool fundraiser for a friend of mine at Suiteplay (as a side note, this was one of the cooler fundraisers I'd ever been to, and yes, Suiteplay is now out of business). Ah-ha! I asked one of the people who worked there if they did repairs. They didn't, but they had a business they referred their customers to. I took that number home with me.

I called the next day and got a recording. It was obviously a small, family run business, but it was something at least! I didn't get a call back for a week, and initially I was disappointed, as they don't do repairs on older machines. However, they had a guy they used for people who had older machines, so I got his number.

This one was definitely someone's cell. I left my message and waited patiently. After a week and a half, I'd given up hope again and was planning to start a new search. But I got a call back from him, with apologies as apparently his phone and voicemail hadn't been working for the past three weeks.

Since he'd come to my house and his rates were reasonable, we set an appointment. And he showed up when he was supposed to. And when I finally opened up my backglass package, the backglass was as promised and pictured (and yes, I had mental paranoia that the box would be empty when I finally opened it).

Six and a half hours later, he was done. I still have one error beep when I first turn the machine on, but it all functions. All the glass has been vacuumed out of it. And it works beautifully. Had I been thinking, I would have taken a picture of the machine with all the glass in it, as it was truly impressive. But all I have is this:

(For those of you who are wondering, yes, that is a Homer Hanky in the background, vintage 1987. And all sorts of fun NU stuff, of course.)

The game itself is pretty cool, and it isn't super high tech like the newer games. You try to make the ball go up the ramps, you hit the markers that represent stoplights, and you try to "escape the police" once the lights are all red. Totally doable.

When you "escape," it looks like this with most of the lights out on the playing field to represent that you made it to your hideout and now get multiple balls. And yes, I scored well over a million on this particular game (no one around to take my picture playing, though!).

It almost feels like I'm back in high school again. My husband has started disappearing down there, and our friends think that's the coolest room in our house. Here's hoping the wee ones and their friends do when they reach their teenage years!


Angie's Spot August 13, 2008 at 8:29 PM  

I'm so glad this story has a happy ending! Pinball is my absolute fave next to Skee-ball. If I ever win the lottery, I'm opening an arcade in my basement with all the old school classics.

Cookie August 14, 2008 at 12:45 AM  

That is so cool!

And, yes, the slurpees did come out of the carpet. But my carpet is a lovely shade of dark blue and the slurpees were bright red. Also, our carpeting came with some kind of stain resistent treatment. Liquids tend to bubble on top of it.

Kori August 14, 2008 at 7:46 AM  

We are slowly working on finishing our basement so we can make it into a gameroom/ hangout for the boys and their friends.

So glad you got it fixed. Way to go!

Mabunny August 14, 2008 at 7:59 AM  

Wow, glad to hear it got fixed! I was getting nervous reading that post that you were gonna say it went to pinball heaven or something. Hope the wee ones have as much fun with it as you did:))

Michelle August 14, 2008 at 8:08 AM  

Angie - Yep, me, too! It's a fun thing to have and brings back good memories. Having a bunch in the basement would be fun.

Cookie - Glad the Slurpee came out of your carpet. Of course you had a lot going for you in that department... we aren't so smart with our very light beige carpeting.

Kori - Having the basement like that is definitely a good idea. Here's hoping your boys think so, too!

Angie's Spot August 14, 2008 at 9:30 AM  

Hey Michelle. Just wanted to say that I saw your rant (that I guess you decided to pull) and completely feel your pain. You're not alone sister, you're not alone. :-)

anymommy August 14, 2008 at 3:12 PM  

Wow! I love it. Sometimes perserverence really does pay off. It's so cool that you stuck with it and didn't just give up and trash it. Memories like that are worth saving.

Kellan August 14, 2008 at 4:22 PM  

Very cool - what a great heirloom!

Have a good afternoon - Kellan

Jules August 14, 2008 at 4:38 PM  

Yay for happy endings!

And are you still the Pinball Queen of House and Hearth? And can you beat 'em all hands down?

Michelle August 14, 2008 at 6:21 PM  

Angie - Ummmm. You'll get to see that post again. I wrote it last night and meant to publish it tonight but hit the wrong button. It was literally only up for about two minutes before I fixed it. I'm impressed -- are you stalking my blog? ;)

Anymommy - It was WAYYY to heavy to trash, plus I'm stubborn. My mom last summer once almost gave it away to the guys who troll for valuable trash the day before trash day, but fortunately I arrived home before it was gone from my garage.

Kellan - I didn't even think of it as an heirloom, but you're right. How cool if one of the wee ones one day had it in the basement, too!

Jules - I don't know if I'd go that far. My husband sadly spends more time down there than I do, so he's catching up to me (plus I'm still rusty, but I can make it go up the ramp better than anyone!). I will say that we babysat a four year old who totally rocked the pinball machine, which shocked all of us. And yes, he was standing on a chair to see the game.

Michelle August 14, 2008 at 6:22 PM  

Mabunny - Whoops, almost missed you! Fortunately it didn't go to pinball heaven. I was frightened for it for awhile. The wee ones like to watch us right now, but they aren't even into trying it. And I'm totally cool with that -- more games for me!

Angela August 14, 2008 at 9:14 PM  

Fun fun!!! I am so jealous. I would love something like that. (Although, like Angie, if I had skeeball I might never come upstairs. That game is so addictive!)

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