Quite a few years ago, I decided that I didn’t know enough about the fundamentals of electronics, so I decided to find a hobby that would force me to learn about it. Since I practically grew up in a 1980’s arcade, I thought collecting and repairing arcade games would do the trick. I love to find a vintage arcade game that is not working and bring it back to life. I find it very rewarding to be able to breathe life back into 30+ year old electronics, plus it takes me back to innocent days where five bucks could take you a long way.
Circa, Summer 1979: The Sub-Station II (a sandwich shop) just got a Space Invaders cocktail. We were on the way back from Bobby’s Records (had to pick up AC/DC’s newly released “Highway To Hell” Album – hey, I had to mow two yards just to get up enough money to buy it!), when we saw it. A two player sit down video game? We were on the top of the world. We ran the place out of quarters that day. Man those were the days. Some of you might remember when:
– Your only form of transportation was a Schwinn bicycle with a sissy bar and banana seat. (some of you even had the 3-speed shifter)
– You mowed yards or collected glass soda bottles to make money.
– You stood in line for hours and hours just to get a ticket to Star Wars. (we even had a Darth Vader walking around outside the theater)
– You didn’t have cable TV and you had to physically get up to change the channel.
– You had two forms of recorded media for music, Albums or 8-tracks (Remember when songs would switch from one track to another right in the middle of the song?)
– Baseball cards (that came with bubble gum) were something that you took a clothes pin and clipped onto the spokes of your bike to make a clicking sound. (I remember doing that to a Topps Pete Rose Rookie Card)
– A VCR was the size of a small trunk that only had a top load mechanism.
– You didn’t have to lock your doors.
– You could ride across town (which seemed like 15 miles) on your bike and your parents didn’t worry.
– You stood at the threshold of the classic video game era…and you didn’t even know it.
Fast Forward a year or so: We had games like Gorf, Galaxian, Defender, Asteroids, Star Castle, and Centipede. Video arcades started sprouting up all over the place. We had three in our town that we visited regularly. We first started hanging out at “The Underground”, which was the basement of an old train depot that was converted into an arcade. The place was huge. I bet they had just about every video game produced during the time. I remember when they rolled the first Galaga machine in. I was the first one to play it. I got 107,000 points the first time and thought I was the king of the block. Naivety is such a lost virtue. All the machines used tokens and you could cut combo deals with the owners for pizza, soda, and tokens. We also hung out at a place called “Starcade” which was so packed with kids on Friday and Saturday nights that the Fire Marshall had to eventually close the place down. What a shame.
Then came 1982: They closed The Underground and Starcade, but Shopping Malls started springing up like weeds. They built one right on the outskirts of our town and put up a Putt-Putt Golf & Games right beside it. What a place! Don ran one mean arcade with the largest variety and the latest games. We practically lived there! I remember when $10 would get you 80 tokens, a pizza, and a couple of drinks. We used to pray for snow so we could stay out of school and hang out at Putt-Putt. It’s funny how we couldn’t make it to school on snow days, but it didn’t matter how deep the snow was….we always managed to make it to Putt-Putt. The place was so packed on the weekends that you could hardly breathe. It was about this time when I had my first encounter with the game Robotron: 2084. In my opinion, the best video game ever built. Not everybody could master it. I remember the first time I “flipped” the game (upon reaching the hardest level 255 – the game reverts back to level 1). It’s like going through a time warp. I’ve played Robotron for 16-18 hours straight. Of course, the other popular games of the time were Gyruss, Phoenix, Mr. Do, Track and Field, Dig Dug, and Pac Man (or at least mine were). We played Crystal Castles, Tempest, Joust, Tron, Xevious, Zaxxon, Karate Champ, Spy Hunter, Space Duel, Pole Position, and Gravitar. I became such a regular fixture there that I became part of the family. Don would let me and my friend Chris spend the night in the arcade. He’d give us the keys to the games and we had unlimited access. It was very common for me to build up so many men on a Robotron that I’d go to sleep and Chris would wake me up when they would start disappearing from the screen. Eventually, Don put me to work. I used to love to go to the distributor on Fridays and pick out the latest games that were just released. It was one day at Putt-Putt that Don said, “Come on, let’s go pick up this new game I bought called Dragon’s Lair.” I asked him what it was all about and he replied, “Oh some kind of new laser disk game.” So we hopped in his old ’72 Chevy pick-up truck and headed to the distributor. When we got that thing home for the first time and turned it on, we all stood around opened jawed. The game immediately became the most popular. Don had to install another video monitor and put it on top of the game so everyone could see because there were so many kids crowded around it. There were so many tokens across the screen for “rise” (who had next turn) you could hardly play it. Dragon’s Lair paved the way for games like Space Ace, M.A.C.H. 3, and Cliff Hanger, but I don’t think I’ll ever see another video game make an impact like that one.
Unfortunately, people eventually have to grow up and become productive members of society. Over the years, the arcades started dying off as my generation slowly aged. We didn’t have time to stand in front of a video game all day. Don eventually became the best man at my wedding. I went back a few years ago and they had torn down the Putt-Putt and put a car wash in its place. I’ll always reflect back and remember those years of my life as some of the best. Now every time I fire up and old arcade classic, a flood of fond memories fills me with happiness. Kinda like an old comfortable pair of tennis shoes.
Please enjoy what I have posted here and maybe some of you will find it helpful. Drop me an e-mail if you have questions or comments.