Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pinball Machines: Now and Then

"Pinball Machines: Now and Then"
Darrel Hammon

I haven’t played pinball for many years. I suspect it is still around in arcades— probably more jazzed than in times past—or in places I do not or would not frequent. Some years ago, my came home and told me about a hot new game they found on someone else’s computer. I asked them what it was. Their reply: pinball.

Highway 93, that long drink of water heading north to Birch Creek, Leadore, Salmon, Idaho, and beyond, took me to my first encounter with a pinball machine. We often went to Birch Creek to fish and camp or motored further north to Salmon to visit my Uncle George and Aunt Ora who had the most wonderful POA ponies. No matter where we were going, our tradition was to stop at Blue Dome, Idaho, to pick up a pop or ice cream or on special occasions have lunch or pie.

Blue Dome served up my first taste of pinball. When I first saw the machine and watched some guy play it, I thought maybe this was something I wasn’t supposed to do. Initially, it didn’t seem proper to stand in front of clanging, pinging machine that had inappropriate pictures—or at least to my way of thinking—at the head of the machine. Besides, it filled the Blue Dome Café with a rush of noises and created a sense of uncomfortableness of us making too much noise while people sat quietly on stools.

It only took a dime to make the machine whine. My brothers and I looked at Dad who sat casually on one of the old swivel stools at the counter for his wink and nod. Receiving his approval, we pulled dimes from our pockets and shoved one into the slot. Several balls—in marble talk, they were steelies—slid into place in the right hand corner. We pulled back the spring-loaded gizmo and let the first on fly.
Instantaneously, the lights pinged and dinged and clanged as the ball bounced of the gadgets. Each direct hit caused the numbers in the counter to flip, higher and higher and sometimes more rapidly and quickly than other hits.

Initially, my oldest brother provided the flipping power. It was almost a defensive basketball stance: legs apart, crouched at the waist, arms spread apart as if some Jordonesque player strolled our way. Instead, his fingers poised around two buttons, one on each side of the machine and flipped for all they were worth, trying to keep the ball in the high ground where the prize for the dings was a larger score.

Finally, the ball made its way to the bottom where my brother used his extreme knowledge of finger dexterity to flip the ball back to the top where the dinging resumed in grandeur. But in most games, you can flip so long, and then the ball, like some green broke horse, knows to head straight for the stall and into the hole where it would not return.

Fortunately, we had about three balls left. It didn’t take us long, though, to flip our way out of balls. The clanging, dinging, pinging, clattering, and other bizarre and noisy noises could keep up so long. Soon, all the balls had found their way to an underground hole, submerged until we inserted another dime. Each of took turns, inserting shiny dimes, flipping balls to the top of the machine where we hoped our numbers would exceed those of our brothers.

Now, you don’t need shiny new dimes. With a good sound card, adequate speakers and hard drive, a big monitor, and a mouse that can click “new game,” Presto! You can be in business.

But it’s not the same as it used to be in the Blue Dome Café. Now, when I hit certain keys on the keyboard, the pseudo-clanging still reverberates, and the virtual ball still pings its way down to the flippers, now mere keys on the keyboard. Perhaps, the ambiance of an old café on the banks of Highway 93 provided a more clandestine yet authentic feeling.

Instead of air conditioning, a 17" monitor, and the ability to click “new game” anytime I want, then it was just me and the machine surrounded by swivel stools, pie stacked in the cylindrical glass palace, the Coca Cola bottle machine against the wall, the freezer full of ice cream bars, and a single pinball machine with all its glamour, lights, and dinging sounds, as I sipped orange Crush from a real glass bottle.


Hailey said...

Dad. I love this. It has to be one of my favorite things you have written. Love, love, love.

Darrel and Joanne Hammon said...

Thanks, Hailey.