The corner gas station that fed my card habit also had a magical money dispensing pinball machine in the back pool room. It only ‘dispensed’ money for the known locals. To any another other out of town player it was just a normal pinball machine…normal in pinball machine shape, but different in every other aspect. This pinball machine had no flippers and kicked out 5 pinballs as fast as you could shoot them. The machine was called New Orleans and it was a bingo pinball machine. The back glass had six cards and you would play to complete lines, corners, magic lines, so on and so forth. This machine was magical for a kid my age and it sat for years without me knowing what it was or how it would later go on to have a big effect on my childhood.
I headed out to the gas station one snowy Christmas afternoon to play some pool and grab my routine chocolate milk. Back in those days I was just as anxious to get to the pool hall as I was waiting to see what Santa Claus had brought me. The Christmas and Thanksgiving afternoon trips to the pool hall in the back of this little gas station soon became a ritual for me that later spread to my summers as well. I couldn’t wait to play New Orleans, and it was tough when we would travel back to our home in Maryland where I went to school. The little town where my vacation house was located was 3 hours by car from where I was born in Maryland.
Back to Christmas afternoon 1990 something. As I headed back to the pool room after grabbing some quarters, I noticed an old man playing the weird pinball machine with no flippers. At that time is was just an old boring machine I had never paid attention to before. For some reason the way this old man was playing the machine intrigued me. I wondered over with my quart of chocolate moo and soon found myself mesmerized by the old man’s pinball skills. I would notice him calculating what numbers he needed and soon see him bang, slam, and hit the pinball machine making the ball bounce right where he needed it to land. I had no idea what the rules were, but the old man new I was in a complete state of amazement.
The old man looked over at me as a sat on a long black Nichol Cola wooden bench overlooking the machines. “Hey kid, you’re Junior Shaw’s boy, right? You gotta be, you’re a spittin’ image of your daddy when he was that age. Come one over here and I’ll show you how to play.”
For some reason I wasn’t scared to answer the old man and tell him that I was indeed the son of the man he mentioned, the one that was known in ‘these here’ parts as having one hell of a wicked and unhittable curveball.
I strolled over with half a roll of quarters in one hand and my chocolate moo in the other. I didn’t know how memorable what was about to happen would be. The old man taught me the rules of the game. Imagine pinball mixed with bingo…that was the game. The old man shared with me that for every 100 points scored the lady out front would give you $5. Wow, $5!
Before long I had the hang of the game and the old man turned the machine over to me. I dropped 50 cents in, hit the credit button, and cablam, I could hear 5 pinballs drop onto a wooden catch basin and load into the pinball shooter. I remember being nervous as I still only half understood the object of the game. Before long I hit for a win that made the old man howl, “5 in a line, 5 in a line!” 5 in a line was one of the biggest wins you could hit for on the machine, plus I had gotten what was called a Magic Number (#1,7,9,18,25 were Magic Numbers) which automatically doubled my score. Plus the 5 in a line hit on what was know as the Super Line, marked in green. Any wins on the Magic Line also double the hit. The machine would not stop racking up points, I had hit for triple the original score. Before long I remember the machine stopping just over 1,000 points. I had hit it big.
The old man recommended I play off some credits and play the machine down to 1,000 and then cash out. Cash out? How do I do that? For this win the old man said he would help me out. He headed out to the counter and soon returned with the woman from the front that ran the gas station part of the business. She swiped a magnet across the back glass of the machine and my points began to tick away, all the way down to 0. She then returned to her post at the front of the store.
After she walked away, the old man handed me $50, 2 20s, and a 10. ”Here ya go kid, here are your winnings!” I couldn’t believe it, with the old man’s help I had turned 50 cents into $50 in about 45 minutes time. Can you imagine how many baseball cards I can buy? I then took my winnings back to the front counter and bought a complete set of 1990 something Topps for $20, a couple of packs of Topps Series 2, a Slim Jim, and a chocolate milk for the road. It turned out to be one of the best Christmas’ I can remember.
For years through my childhood, to my teens, and then into my mid-teens I played the hell out of that machine. The old man turned out to be one of the best pinball players I have ever seen, especially on flipper machines. He used to tear up the Addams Family machine that was once on site. I remember him as being the first pinball wizard I had ever met. Yes, I went on to meet other pinball wizards, but those are stories for another post.
So that’s the round about story of how I supported my baseball card addition as a kid, yes, by gambling on pinball one quarter at a time. It took me many years, but I now own that pinball machine, and though I have yet to prove it, I think I ended up with that very same machine from the gas station. In 2011 or 2012, I found the machine for sale 30 minutes from where I used to play it, with all the same scuffs and markings I remember it having when I played it as a kid. I was ecstatic when I found it, and even more so when the seller accepted my offer.
Here is a picture of the aforementioned New Orleans pinball machine:
As the years of playing went by, I got to know some of the local guys that enjoyed playing the machine as well. They know who they are and I don’t want to mention their names without having their permission. I had a lot of fun times playing New Orleans, and it led to some lasting friendships and uncountable memories.
How did you support your sports card habit as a kid? I would love to hear some of your stories. Please post them below if you would like to share.
Until tomorrow my friends, go play some pinball and crack some wax!