Larry and his Bingos

Service Date : 09/06/24
Wild PocketsI hadn`t seen Larry since 2001, and before that, in 1992 when I sold him his Bally bingo machine. So that sums up to one visit every 8 years for a machine that is now over 50 years old and still working beautifully. During my latest visit of this 8 year cycle pertaining to his 1953 BEACH BEAUTY, he shared a bunch of great stories. Before sitting down upstairs at the kitchen table with watermelon slices and my cell phone doubling as a sound recorder, I went to repair a ball lift/count problem on his machine and gave it the once over. It stands proudly on varnished solid oak legs in a corner of his basement workshop amidst real tools and "girly" calendars from years past. I couldn`t help but observe that most of the women on those calendars were much more beautiful to me than what I now see on the web or elsewhere. I wondered why for a moment, and then I noticed that these buxom women were all smiling without exception. So with that and other things in mind, I fixed and tested his bingo until everything was good again for probably another 8 years. Of course I put chances on my side by waxing the playfield, changing a few lamps and playing a couple of dozen credits to make sure.
Beach ClubWhat Larry really wanted back in 1992 was a Bally "BEACH CLUB", (also a 1953) but all I had in stock out of the 13 bingos I had picked up from Turmel amusements was a BEACH BEAUTY, pretty similar I thought as a novice, but to this day I am still trying to find Larry his BEACH CLUB, and rightly so. He told me that there was a certain 4 in line combination on Beach Club (9-10-2-1) that he enjoyed "hitting" when he played it back in the 50`s at a restaurant called Chez Henri situated literally on the corner of Beaubien and Chabot. (Yes, and that`s why they were called corner cafés and corner groceries as well) I figured that if Larry could remember a four-in-line combination from that long ago, it must have been a pretty strong feeling being able to hit that combo. You had to be 16 to play in line bingo machines, but Larry was 12 or 13 when he cashed in his first credits. Other places Larry told me about where near Rachel and Clark, when the Plateau was a place where people brought up their families and not just their self-importance. Even though Larry seems quite pleased with his Beach Beauty, the memory for him of a Beach Club stays strong to this day. Just like that feeling you get when landing a numbered hole that connects and makes that desirable 5 in line win that gets you the big pay off. I think that a Beach Club may represent just that sort of feeling for Larry.
I learned a long time ago that in line bingo machine players are a special breed. They are sharp, calculating, and you won`t easily convince them of something that they already have an opinion about. I also noticed that many of them are hunters and/or fisherman for some reason, probably related to the high that gaming provides vis à vis the catch/kill thing. They are from a generation of men that seems a lot tougher than the ones that followed.
After the repair, Larry spoke with me in the presence of his wife and seemed quite surprised at the memories that the many bingos he played over the years helped to conjure up. They both relived decades of their life together by telling me about all the locations in Montreal where he played. From St.Anne`s & Ile Perrot to Wellington street in Verdun, Larry said that bingos were everywhere. Montreal, from all angles was a huge bingo town. So much so that in 1954 a crusading young lawyer recently elected mayor of Montreal (Jean Drapeau) pushed to have a bylaw on the books by 1956 rendering all pinball machines illegal in our city. When Chicago and New York finally redefined pinball as a game mixing skill and chance and thus lifting their respective bans in 1976, Montreal followed suit in 1977. I think that it is safe to say that in line bingos contributed more to these restrictive bylaws than pinball machines themselves. In any case, it must have been a difficult bylaw to enforce in our city, since Larry told me (amongst other reliable sources) that pinball and bingo machines were still being operated in back rooms of restaurants and several other businesses across our city during those prohibitive years. If the mighty Bally Manufacturing Corporation practically stopped making pinball machines during the 50`s in order to get their production lines to produce 96 plus different models of bingo machines over two and a half decades, there must have been a financially viable incentive. (i.e. distributors screaming for this particular product and "tons" of people playing the machines).
Regardless, my intention for this blog was to try and describe how great it was to listen to Larry and how he looked at his wife when he asked her questions about where they lived and what year it was when this or that happened. Through these stories they recalled their first apartment together after getting married in 1962, and a particular vacation they took in Florida where a bingo machine in a gas station contributed to getting them back home to Montreal. Larry recalled that they had stopped to gas up before crossing state lines on a rainy night in Ste. Augustine Florida. Larry dropped one sole nickel in the bingo machine, shot the five balls and hit a five in line. For those of you who have played bingos you know that this does not happen often, to say the least, maybe once or twice in a lifetime if at all. The winnings served to fill the gas tank for the long trip back up to Montreal. They both laughed at recalling the memory of that summer night in northern Florida.
Surf ClubAnother story had to do with a Bally SURF CLUB machine which would end up following Larry around for a few years. He and his brothers were playing this particular 1954 machine in Ste.Anne de Bellevue one bright morning in the early 60`s, when they were suddenly told to stop and get away from the machine because the police were coming to raid every pinball spot they could find. The youngest of Larry’s brothers asked the panic stricken operator how much he wanted for this old machine and ended up buying the thing off him for $110. The three brothers picked it up and took it away as fast as they could before the cops had a chance to come down the line. They schlepped the 350 pound bingo up four flights of stairs of what Larry`s tricky landlord at the time called "the third floor" (to avoid installing an elevator). Larry assured me that they lived on the fourth floor and that all they had in their first bedroom together was a mattress on the floor and a Bally Surf Club bingo in the corner. Recounting this story sitting at the kitchen table in their peaceful and beautiful Pierrefonds home made them both smile. A simple and clear memory from the early `60`s in Montreal when everything was possible for anyone with intention.
When Larry`s wife got tired of having to watch the Surf Club machine move with them as they grew their family, Larry decided to give it away to a friend (pretty smart I thought, that way you knew where it was if need be). But then Larry told me where it went. He gave it to a good friend who lived, out of all places in Paris, Paris Ontario that is. Even after his friend Gordon Macdonald passed away, Larry was unable to get it back from his widow. He called her a couple of months after Gord passed on to see if he could get the machine back, but she basically told him to .... for some reason.
Finally, the phrase that Larry uttered to me near the end of our nostalgic conversation that stuck so clearly in my mind was, "I just could never resist them", and I think that once you`ve made a hit on a 1950`s Bally bingo machine, (or a United bingo for that matter) you never really get rid of that bug. I know this from fixing and testing these electro-mechanical wonders before putting them up for sale. And even in the early 1990`s, 40 years after their creation and deep in my basement workshop, I understood the appeal in the feel and sounds of these brilliantly engineered rhythmical computers. There are few experiences that I enjoy as much as holding a roll of 40 nickels in my hand, warming them up while I consider the particular backglass, and letting them drop feed into the slot until the odds & features are just right for me to finally decide to shoot up the first of those five granted balls. The moment after they have found their numbered seats, the balance of the warmer nickels usually serve to buy up to three extra balls. Each one those just ends up luring you into higher possible wins that only help to make you believe that you can score that other bigger elusive hit. The beauty is that if you do make that hit (or not), you only need to get up for another beer or another roll of cold nickels to continue the romance. It is simply an experience where sound, feeling and expectation are blended in such a beautiful moment that I think I have to stop writing about it for the danger of damaging the magic of the experience.