Remember Your First Time? Tales of a Pinball Operator

Mark Czarnowski of illini pinball association has reached a time in his life when he’s ready for the ultimate pinball adventure: Operating.

coin-pan-pinballMatt Walsh helps us live that first time all over again…..

There is that magic feeling of doing a collection that people who haven’t experienced it can’t really understand.

coin-door-bee-hiveThere is that moment that you approach the game just before you unlock it. You kind of look it over as if you can tell if it got played a lot. Well, and also you’re looking to see if it’s working because if it isn’t, you know it won’t have much in it.


Then you unlock it. Maybe a latent quarter or two clinks down that was stuck somewhere to greet you. Maybe a little shower of stuck quarters rains down from a coin mech, and you momentarily curse the American stone-age coin mechs that haven’t changed in 50+ years in comparison to the much more reliable Euro ones.

You kind of make your first assessment visually…maybe you shake the coin pan a bit. And then you start counting. Anyone that’s worked in an arcade can grab a handful of quarters and tell you what $10 feels like. So you run your fingers through the money – dirty money, sure – contaminated by countless hands – but money nonetheless – each an anonymous vote by someone expressing appreciation for your equipment. A brother or sister you’ve never met that liked the game you bought and placed in hopes that they would. Maybe someone played one game and walked away. Maybe there are 10 quarters from one guy that plays every day. Who knows! Actually, sometimes you do know when a die-hard fan talks to you during a collection and embarrasses you saying how many of those quarters are ‘his.’ Yeah, right. They *were* his.

first-week-operatingNot to mention, it’s cash – untraceable, pure and simple income big brother doesn’t need to know about and has no way to find out about. Freedom. The way George Washington, whose head is scattered inside, would want it.

Though maybe they’re not all George. Maybe there’s a Canadian quarter in there, and when you see it you get a tinge of insult; fraud’s ugly specter robs your joy for a moment. Maybe somehow a nickel made its way through, though you know it didn’t register a credit. It’s a fallen world; all *have* fallen short of the glory of God, even pinball patrons.

These are the feelings I remember, collecting quarters out of my Target Alpha (and later Space Invaders pinball) in 1988 in college. Average earnings were around $2 a day for TA and $5 for SI. That I could then buy food and drink (or beer) with this magic money I would not otherwise have…wow. –Matt Walsh


photo by Don Starnes
Musee Mechanique at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Thank you to Matt and Mark for sharing their experiences. Best of luck to Mark. Stop by Quality in Champaign, IL and play his games.¬† Don’t forget to tip your bartender!


Best 5 Days of September

A few photos from the Pacific Pinball Expo, definitely my favorite five days of September!

Charlie Kuttner and I filmed the whole load in, an amazing 2 day transformation of an empty room to a pinball wonderland, and then of course I got to meet and talk to a lot of you, play pinball, see cast and crew members, eat donuts, and screen my films. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the show and to the amazing volunteers of the Pacific Pinball Museum who make the magic happen!

child plays pinball at pacific pinball expo 2012

photo by Charlie Kuttner

 pinball playfield at pacific pinball expo 2012

giant backglass mural at at pacific pinball expo 2012

volunteer repairs pinball machine at pacific pinball expo 2012

pbdg preview screening at pacific pinball expo 2012

photo courtesy Matt Walsh

Jeri Ellsworth Matt Walsh Anna Newman

photo by Charlie Kuttner

And congratulations to Jeri Ellsworth on her 2012 Maker Hero award!

PBDG hangs out with Wade Krause

Pinball artist Wade Krause was in the Bay Area last weekend to meet with customers and do some research at the Pacific Pinball warehouse. Wade was kind enough to let me, PBDG Director Don Starnes, and Cinematographer Charlie Kuttner tag along.

wade krause

photo by Charlie Kuttner

While Wade worked at the PPM warehouse and we filmed him, I snuck in some photos of games.

Time 2000 Pinball by Atari

Time 2000 backglass

Bally Hot Rods playfield detail

Bally Hot Rods playfield detail

In addition to the wonderful games waiting their turn to be exhibited at the museum or PPE, I’m always fascinated by the machines under repair and the store of components and parts.

Beehive detail on EM game

Beehive detail on EM game

EM guts

EM game under repair

pinball game legs

Wood legs for games

room of stored woodrails

Woodrails waiting room

I was happy to visit a Pinbot we used in Pinball Donut Girl.

pinbot playfield detail

Pinbot Playfield detail

pinbot playfield

More Pinbot

Pinbot Playfield detail

Pinbot playfield detail

Wade and Charlie and I also made a quick trip to the De Young Museum and hit the Gaultier exhibit.

wade and anna at the de young

photo by Charlie Kuttner

Even if you aren’t into fashion, the projection technology of the exhibition itself and the over the top construction and materials of the garments never get old. I think this was my fourth visit. It runs through August 19, 2012 and is totally worth a trip.

gaultier exhibit

Gaultier exhibit, San Francisco

While you are in Golden Gate park, you can go across the way and also visit the Academy of Sciences — that museum has been redone in the last few years and is amazing too.