Time Warp: Pinball Wizard

Posted by on February 5, 2016

I feel like it was just early November a second ago, and then I blinked. Bam! It’s February. What happened?

The holidays. Taxes. Life.

But just before the days took off at warp speed, My Knight and I traveled to Roanoke, Virginia for our anniversary and to visit our brother and sister-in-law.

OIMG_0544n a relaxing, lazy, chilly morning, my brother-in-law took us to charming downtown Roanoke to visit the Roanoke Pinball Museum. I had no idea such a thing even existed. I’ve later discovered there are many such locations throughout the U.S., all paying homage to an almost obsolete favorite pastime.

At the Roanoke Pinball Museum, you pay one entry fee and then you can play unlimited pinball for the day. Holy Cow! Gone are the days of digging through pockets and car consoles for quarters just to play one more game.

I don’t remember the first time I played pinball, but I played it most often during my college years.

Being in the pinball museum surrounded by the flashing lights and old familiar sounds transported me back in time in many ways.

I could clearly remember the rush of releasing the plunger on the first ball. The exhilaration of Roanoke Pinball Museum, pinball wizard, Violet Howehitting multi-ball and watching the board go crazy. The panic of trying to coax a ball away from the side alleys. The sinking feeling when the ball comes straight down the middle and into the abyss out of the flippers’ reach.

As My Knight and I traveled from machine to machine, rediscovering old favorites and finding delight in those we’d never seen before, it was amazing how much it all came flooding back.

We’d only been there a few minutes when an old familiar sound popped above the constant din of bells and sirens. A loud crack that sounds almost as though the ball has struck the glass. Hearing the sound immediately gave me a little thrill, a little burst of excitement.

“What was that?” My Knight asked, and though it had been probably over 25 years since I heard it, I immediately knew.

Roanoke Pinball Museum, pinball wizard, Violet Howe“Someone just won a replay,” I answered with a grin. Each machine had a threshold of points that would award a replay if you passed it. Back in the day, it was an accomplishment to be proud of. A goal to achieve. A way to enusre you could play again even when you were out of quarters.

It was funny how my body and my mind reacted to the sound and carried me back to the way it felt to hear it years ago. The same thing happened when our game ended and we breathlessly waited to see if we got a “match.”

If the last two numbers of your score matched the randomly chosen number at the end of the game, you got to play again without needing a quarter. Watching the match numbers spin still filled me with hope and anticipation, even though we’d paid for the day pass and didn’t need to “win” a free game to keep playing.Fun House pinball, Roanoke Pinball Museum, pinball wizard

We even found my favorite all-time machine—The Fun House. I squealed like a kid on Christmas. I couldn’t wait to show My Knight my mad skills at making the balls ride the rails and locking in for multi-ball. Unfortunately, the mouth on the Fun House no longer opened and closed, which I am positive contributed to my astounding loss.

In addition to playing on a variety of machines–many so old they didn’t have digital numbers and eventually rolled to all zeroes if you scored high enough–we learned quite a bit about the pinball industry through the displays, photos, and video slideshow.

I never knew pinball was outlawed from the 40s to the 70s, and only got reinstated in New York City as late as 1976. Because it was seen as a game of chance and not luck, it was branded as a form of gambling.

pinball wizard, Roanoke Pinball MuseumPinball didn’t disappear during those years, but it was relocated to speakeasy and seedy bars and largely became associated with mafia activity. The police would often raid the establishment and destroy the pinball machines.

In fact, even after it was legalized, pinball was still seen by many as a corruptor of youth, which explains why so many movies, songs, and TV shows often portrayed the pinball wizard as someone on the margins of society.

Who knew I was being a rebel all those years ago, standing in a convenience store in my tiny hometown, cramming in quarters and craving the distinctive pop of a replay?


4 Responses to Time Warp: Pinball Wizard

  1. Michael O'Feild

    Gving all the years I lived in Virginia I never knew about this place. The law must have missed the little town of Scottsville because we had pin ball machines in one service station and out pool hall all during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

    • The Goddess Howe

      Maybe they weren’t thinking that Scottsville had a huge mafia problem, eh? Haha. I think it’s relatively new. Definitely opened since you left Virginia.

  2. Steve

    Let me know the next time you stop-by, and I’ll give you a personal tour. We also have 2 new machines since you were here; Mustang and Wrecking Ball. Funhouse is being repaired. Thanks for coming by.

    • The Goddess Howe

      We definitely will! We had a great time and can’t wait for our next visit!

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