Observations from a Stool - # 1

"Cast my memory back there Lord, sometimes I`m overwhelmed just thinkin` about it." - Van Morrison.


And then, - why not just have the devil cast it forward again several times for contrast. Shit !

I as well am simply overwhelmed just thinking about what has happened and will happen to this industry. In fact, my whole coin operated amusement machine experience from beginning to end can be compacted into a fly fishing session of telling tales with papa Hemingway, bragging rights aside ofcourse. It all seems to have been a lengthy repetition via trends, demographics and the occasional cry for something new.

But back to old papa for a moment and his unpleasantly boisterous & competitive character.

In general, I don`t appreciate the animal nature of competitive people, they seem primitive somehow and are sort of an embarrassment to be around. They always seemed poised to ruin the fun of a social gathering by wanting to compete in order to prove something or other. So knowing this, I will leave papa alone at the fishing hole to fend for himself .

So tonight, from the juxtaposition of this observation stool I can still feel that big fish at the end of my line weighing about 35 pounds, which means that it can`t be a trout anymore. But as we may have said in a previous life, we are trying not to talk about fish from this point on, right? Mainly because it may be time for "the truth", whatever the hell that is these days.

So if there is no longer a need for fish tales, or anything of that sort, what is there to report from this stool ? Well, I can honestly say that I am no longer concerned about the latest wave of hype & noise surrounding pinball machines as such. Basically no longer concerned, because it all just seemed to have occurred on it`s own anyway while I was working hard at making all the angles of my own play field jive before the WWW invaded our lives. The hype is now only an annoying distraction from the real work that needs to be done in order to provide some real physical & social playtime for people.

From player to hobbyist to collector to route technician to parts & service manager to industry vet and certainly not back again. I admit `tis a sort of sickening trip when you realize that you have been an amusement industry whore for the better part of your life. Hence, that is why it can get pretty tiresome to hear others talk about pinball so seriously or with such annoying puppy love excitement. This is not meant as snobbery, and not caring about pinball in the same way as before is simply an evolution which has become necessary in my case as a form of self-preservation. I have understood that now, especially in lieu of what lies ahead with this next wave of "green" operators coming up from down the river. May well be time for me to relax and sit on the shore after bagging that 35 pounder.

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Alice and the clay rabbit

But as I watch a slender young woman play Old Chicago tonight with incredible style and stance, hips nudging and gunjing at the most popular Bally pinball which enjoyed the spotlight after the federal criminal code was amended back in 1976, I can`t help but think about what is happening to pinball in 2016. Bill C-71 allowed pinballs to be operated legally on the streets of Montreal (and other Canadian cities) after being banned here in the late 50`s by Jean Drapeau and Pax Plante when they were on a crusade to "clean up" Montreal. So when the flood gates opened at the end of the 70`s, many fish-like "come to be" operators went up river by the simple force of things and it got messy, much like what may happen soon on a much smaller scale ofcourse.

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But that was long ago, way back in 77. This is now 16.

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Already 40 years ago in Chicago.


And now on the Plateau Mont-Royale there is another smaller flood gate opening, that will push many collector/enthusiast types poised to become the next generation of operators in this new age. This means, and you guessed it, that like any man worth his coin & spunk I will need to get some distance from this madness of late and find another goal real soon. Having been through two waves of this craziness, you can understand that I am a little seasick by now. Spring is here you know, and there are many, many other things that need attention.

I know Papa Hemingway would approve of my above intention. He would say that there is nothing poorer than a person with only a few mental interests.

In 1980 when pinball machines invaded the streets of Montreal again, I as well was swept away by that current. And now as I sit here on this river side boulder called the North Star - Machines à Piastres on the Main and watch the general public play pinball machines commercially again while wondering which one of these 25 year olds may start exploring the world of coin operated amusement machines as a livelihood, I feel at peace somehow. Gonna be a hard sell for sure, much like I was told when I was 27 and began doing home service for a living and was laughed at by the operators I knew. They all said that I would starve to death. Goes to show that you never really can tell.

When I stared collecting pinball machines at 17, I naturally found a certain adolescent thrill in that which is now long gone, thank God. But back then, when I wanted to see more machines than what was in my collection, the best way I figured to satisfy this need was to start a home service repair business after I finished university and get into people`s homes on a service pretext. I firmly believed that there were a ton of these things in basements all over Montreal since they had been banned since the mid 50`s, so I started to fish them out. I was right, there were hundreds of them. That would be 1990 to 94 for those who need a contextual grasp on what I am alluding to. There were too many pinballs out there, (and there still are) so I left collecting behind., It became stupid and redundant. It was time to get a life, the gig was up. So I got a job at Laniel Automatic Machines in order to gain some kind of respectability in that somewhat shady industry at the time.

So these long winded observations harken back to the basics of what started it all, adolescence, playful passions and pinball. Which brings me to what a young man said to me once we installed a 1963 Major League baseball machine at the North Star. After he played it for the first time in his life, unaware that such a wide variety of these pitch and bat machines were made, (possibly William`s answer to Bally bingo machines as far as a machine that could be used as a gaming device) and which practically disappeared when it was redirected to "for Amusement Only" status, here is what he said to me.

"This is the coolest pinball I have ever seen !!"

Didn`t have the heart to tell him that it wasn`t a pinball per say. But his youthful excitement was so superb and refreshing that I left it at that and agreed that this machine was really cool. My hope was that this would prompt him to do some research with his i-phone as to what this thing really was and how many thousands & thousands were made. He had instant info all over the WWW in the palm of his hand, which is something I never had access to when I saw a new and amazing pinball machine in an arcade. I remember once telling a house tech that I found that those two level pinball machines were freakin` cool.

He just said, "get lost kid."

Oh, how things have changed.

Sometimes it is good to speak and inform, other times it is best to let it roll when people are happy and let them discover things on their own. The curious ones who can interpret the massive amount of info out there will naturally evolve, others will remain ignorant and waiting for the next hook via a misinterpretation about something that showed up on their screen as "an answer". And there will always be those loudmouths who always have an opinion on everything even though they have little grasp on the context. Many of us older guys must relearn to shut up and listen, (myself in included), but I still have trouble shutting up when I realize that you can fill a book with what some people don`t know about this industry. I will be gracious and not speak about what I am fairly certain will happen soon, but I can certainly tell you what it was and meant to me anytime you ask when you find me sitting here on this stool.


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Let it roll I say.

 Observation date - 2016-05-01