ASCII by Jason Scott

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Pinball Perfection —

Travel for the Text Adventure Documentary put me in Pittsburgh for a little of the Memorial Day weekend; I headed down on Saturday, did a great interview on Sunday, and got back into town on Sunday night.

But of course I’m doing two documentaries, and when I don’t have extra text-adventury stuff to do, I see what I can do about the Arcade documentary. To that end, I ended up doing a quick web search on Friday for “pinball” and “Pittsburgh”, figuring I’d get something or other.

And I did. I got a site called Pinball Perfection, which said it was a museum and “gamer’s club” for video and pinball games. I figured hey, looks OK, a little over-active on the web side of things, but so be it. I called and got Dan, the owner and operator. We talked a short bit, and I mentioned I was doing a documentary, and I could stop by the next day, would that be OK. Dan said I was certainly welcome to stop by.

Now, let’s let drop a little bit of hard-won knowledge I’ve gotten in 6 years of doing documentary interviewing: it is very, very bad to try and arrange interviews based on cold calls within the span of a week. You are not giving people enough time to mull over what you are doing, who you are, what the project is about, and so on. If you do it within a few days, you can go from very very bad to absolute disaster if you don’t watch it. Trust me. This is hard-won knowledge culled from multiple tearful, screaming, wish-I-could-use-a-modified-bug-zapper-and-remove-from-my-brain episodes. And I knew this, talking to Dan on the phone and preparing to stop by.

I found Pinball Perfection with not much effort at all; located a few miles north of Pittsburgh, it’s in a hilly, laid-back area full of small shops and industrial-looking buildings. It’s actually quite industrial itself, spanning multiple floors and entrances.

Inside, it was basically astounding.

That is, astounding if you’re the same kind of person I am, and that’s a bit of a leap. A lot of times people say “this is really important/incredible/amazing” and what they forget to say is “if you find that sort of stuff at all interesting, and you’re like me”.

So let me say: if you like pinball machines, and by pinball machines I mean the idea of them, not just “The Addams Family and The Simpsons and nothing else”, then this place is a critical junction in your life’s path. It’s so good, so amazing, I would suggest a flight or drive to Westview, PA just to see it. Yes, that good.

Imagine a warehouse, a multi-floor warehouse. In the front are rows of restored, working machines, with notes on them indicating age or facts. Beyond these rows are more rows, of stacked, waiting-for-repair pinball machines. Beyond them are even more stacks, this time of machines waiting to be sorted. You realize very quickly that pinball machines come in two pieces, because you are looking at literally tons of these pairings. 100 machines are playable, ranging from some of the earliest examples to very recent productions. Hundreds, literally hundreds more are standing in rows, waiting to be repaired or fixed, many of them rare or even one of a kind. You can walk the rows like a true museum patron, standing inches from historical pinball machines designed and assembled by people long gone, with art that follows its own unique spectrum throughout the decades.

Dan showed me games that he believes are one of a kind, some of which he had to spend countless hours restoring from flood damage or the ravages of time. He gave me two pennies to play a game of pinball on machines from the 1920s and 1933, before they’d invented flippers. We sat and talked about pinball history, about where one finds old pinballs, the love of the art and the craftsmanship, and the motivations for having such a huge collection.

I took neither a photo or a frame of video.

Now, the reason for this is important; bad experiences are in the past with Dan and people coming in hauling cameras and recording equipment and promising the moon or demanding access by dint of their ability to film. And the goal I have always shot for since I started doing this thing seriously is to never have someone regret having been interviewed or filmed by me. I could not guarantee that with 24 hours of warning and no time spent getting to know Dan or his museum, so filming will wait.

This is another reason I’d be doomed working in “the industry”.

One day I will return, and I will film this place. Until then, I implore you, if you are a fan of pinball machines, a person who considers himself a student of history, to consider a trip this summer to Pinball Perfection to see a unique and amazing place.

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  1. You should come see PAPA next summer, then. 300+ pinball machines all running at the same time…