Saturday, June 26, 2010
pinball astrology pac-man blues – a coin op amusement arcade interlude
Silver Shack Haunts Me Still
Battleground Drive was where you’d find me after school when I was in the 3rd and 4th grades. I stayed with this lady named Mrs. Green next to a duplex where a girl a year younger than me, Shelly Davenport, lived. We’d play behind the houses in the woods where someone kept beehives or at the pond just beyond Mrs. Green’s backyard fence. I’d dream away my afternoons waiting for my father to pick me up. Time moved slow and sweet even when Shelly and I were getting yelled at by motorists for throwing gravel at their cars or when I broke her skateboard. She threw at me as my father picked me up and yelled that I should pay for it. My father told her she shouldn’t have let me ride it and we laughed as we checked our empty pockets.
One day Mrs. Green’s son stopped by with a new motorcycle. I talked him into giving me a ride on it knowing my parents would have never allowed me. I jumped onto the back and away we went roaring down the street. It was so cold. Now I knew why motorcycle riders could wear leather jackets in the summer. We hit Broad Street and went by the place where Murfreesboro’s first mall was being built. Dirt was piled up between huge yellow machinery just waiting for the future to begin.
The mall was called Stones River Mall and it was anchored by Kmart which had no entrance to the mall section which ran along past it and then made an L bend to a Kroger store. It wasn’t really a mall. It was more like a strip shopping center that just happened to have a roof over the frontage area. No matter, because I loved the place. It featured a Wal-Greens that had these little mechanical bar entrances that we loved opening and closing. There was Readmore Books which is where I got my addiction to rock and roll magazines. Port o’Call Records provided me with records I still own. And then there was the Silver Shack.
It was a cramped and small game room filled with pinball machines, video games, and other amusement devices along two lengthwise walls. It was a dark cave illuminated by the spectral glow of LED’s amidst a symphony of analog bells and beeps. When you walked in there was the pinball games to the left and video games to the right stretching back towards the infinity of the back interrupted by the odd machine like the horoscope scroll machine which I also loved. There were so many times I begged for the money just to get a Sagittarius scroll even though I barely read it later. It was the mere idea and look of it I loved.
The horoscope scroll was a mere pop cultural artifact compared to the main draw of the Silver Shack. I saw my first Pac Man game there, but this was nothing compared to my unbridled lust for the game of pinball. This was what I saved my quarters for and what I devoted myself to mastering. When I first began to play I was terrible. A few hits from the flippers which I would flip both at the same time – a couple of targets dropped – some play from the bumpers – lots of noise signifying nothing – and then maybe I’d be lucky to get a match. So my dollar of two worth of quarters didn’t last long. This was a blessing in a way. It gave me the time to watch guys play that were actually good at pinball.
No matter how much I might have wished to see cute girls lined up to play pinball, apparently the movie Tilt which featured Brooke Shields as a precocious silver ball playing genius was pure fiction. So I observed surly pimple faced teenage boys and grown up men as they pushed and shook the machines without tilting them. I saw how they would work the flippers and learned tricks on how to stop the ball cold or hand it off from side to side. I figured out that it was wise to understand what each bumper, target, or lane did in the game. I learned how the scoring progressed per machine and how to light up the “specials” and win free games and earn extra balls. Really good players would eventually get bored or just have to go and they would give their games they had earned to me and I could play for free while I improved.
I got better. I got much better. The Silver Shack cave wasn’t enough. I hit the other game rooms in town looking for the best tables. I would search out pinball machines in tiny markets. Once while visiting downtown Nashville on Lower Broad I spied a pinball machine in a storefront. I went inside and dropped a quarter in and began playing. Soon a grungy guy told me I had to leave. I hadn’t even noticed that I was in the lobby of a peep show place. My favorite pinball machines over the years were Kiss, Evel Knievel, Playboy – which I could flip the score over on, Mata Hari – another one I could flip, Pin Bot, Eight Ball Deluxe, Black Knight, and Flight 2000. I took my cue from The Who and I tried to play them all. Bally machines were my favorite, but Williams tables were futuristic, fast, and fun. Gottlieb one’s always seemed slightly second rate and there weren’t very many Stern made ones around, but if it had a silver ball and flippers I was ready to part with my quarters.
Time has not been kind to pinball games. Video games and computers have put paid to them. The Silver Shack vanished many years ago and the original Stones River Mall is just another standard strip mall. My babysitter Mrs. Green’s house is still on Battleground, but the pond and wooded area behind it are now just rows of houses. So the beat of time must go on as Joe Strummer sang and most of the pinball games (classic Williams tables recreated) I play are on a Nintendo Wii. But I still search for the real ones and every now and again I stumble upon one sitting in a dusty corner of a truck stop or market or sometimes find an actual row of shiny ones in an arcade and I’m immediately in a place of joy and discovery amidst a remnant of golden youth and Silver Shacks.
I snagged the photos from the Internet Pinball Database.