Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pinball on the Road

Photographs by Nicole Holt

My fascination with pinball has been long in the making. Growing up, we had a pinball machine in our house and living in Southern California meant that there were always plenty of machines to play in arcades and even at the local hobby shop. When I moved to Oregon, I could easily find pinball in pizza joints, bars and even at some gas stations. In short, access to pinball is something that I have taken for granted.

About a year ago I became acutely aware that as far as pinball is concerned, all places are not created equal. Before deciding to move to the Boston, MA area, I did not check out the pinball situation. This turned out to be a mistake as there just aren't that many places to play out here. When I do find machines, they aren't always in playable condition. If you've spent much time playing pinball you know that playing a malfunctioning machine can be worse than playing no machine at all.

When my travels took me back out to Oregon, I made it a point to visit one of my favorite pinball destinations: Ground Kontrol.

Ground Kontrol proudly advertises itself as a "barcade" because after 5PM they serve a variety of bottled and canned adult beverages. This is a wonderful strategy for an arcade since the more you drink, the worse you play.

The ground floor houses the bar along with a variety of arcade games, but I'm always more interested in going upstairs where the pinball machines are located.

On the second floor, you'll find a large variety of pinball machines which will appeal to both the hard core fan, those with just a passing pinball fancy and members of the video game generation who get lost trying to find the restroom.

There's usually an old electromechanical machine in the mix, but most of the machines at Ground Kontrol are from the 80's through present day. On my last visit I counted 23 machines, nearly all of which were fully functional. They take pinball maintenance seriously here, so if a game is not 100% they'll turn it off until they can fix it. I appreciate these efforts greatly.

Ground Kontrol may be my favorite place to play pinball, but there are two other pinball destinations that I'd like to mention. The first is Shorty's of Seattle, WA and the second is the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, NV.

Shorty's is another barcade, but they boast a full bar, a food menu and the booth tables are made out of old pinball tables. To get to the pinball "cave", just pass by the bar, but don't forget to show them your ID as pulling it out mid game is not fun. Shorty's is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

The Pinball Hall of Fame boasts over 200 playable pinball machines at any given time. I don't know if you've ever seen 200 pinball machines in the same room before, but it is a sight to behold. If I ever get back to Las Vegas, this will be one of my first, and likely last, places that I visit.

As long as I'm on the subject of pinball and travel, I must mention the mythical "pinball train". A couple years ago, my father-in-law was on a train from Portland, OR to Eugene, OR and claims to have found a whole car that was full of functioning pinball machines. I've searched for mention of this on the internet, but I haven't found any details or pictures. If you have any information about the pinball train, I'd greatly appreciate it.

I would also be grateful to anyone that can point me toward good places to find Pinball in the Boston area.

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