While growing up I spent many hours directing a metal ball around the playing field of any pinball machine that would accept a coin. Playing too much pinball was just another chapter in the long book of my misspent youth. When I began playing the game, the machines were electromechanical marvels. On these old games, the play is punctuated with the clangs of the bells and the sharp mechanical sounds of the actuating solenoids. Not long into my pinball days, modern solid-state and digital machines, with their electronic noises and sound effects, appeared in the arcades and eventually replaced the electomechanicals.
The newer machines are fun, but there is just something special about the old electromechanical pinball machines. It is hard to define what is special about these old machines. Is it their simplicity? Or maybe the appeal is that the game play is more dependent on skirting the fine line between shaking the machine forcefully enough to manipulate the silver ball’s action while avoiding the boding evil of the “tilt” sensor’s activation? Who knows? The electromechanical machines appeal to the pinball purist in me. To be fair, the newer machines tend towards being more consistently playable. You can walk up to new, digital pinball machine and expect decent game play and interesting action. It is true that some older machines have dull action that quickly becomes boring. But, to me, there’s nothing like a good electromechanical machine for the essential pinball experience.
We recently learned of the Pacific Pinball Museum and the Lucky Ju Ju Pinball Arcadeum in Alameda. Featuring vintage machines, the museum allows its visitors to try their hands on many different models. With a forty-minute drive from our house, we embarked on a pinball pilgrimage.
At the museum, we paid our $10 fee and entered. The host gave us a brief tour. Lucky Ju Ju is expanding with a new section that will include exhibits and a throng of old-school wood rail machines. With the work being done, the oldest of the games were unavailable for play during our visit. Trying the wood rail machines will have to wait for a future visit.
The pinball machines in other rooms of the museum were plugged in, lit up, and working. Our entry fees allowed us unlimited play on 40-odd well-maintained electromechanical and solid-state machines. “Winning” free games on machines set for unlimited play loses some of the pleasure it had when falling short of free game mark meant reaching into your pocket to pull out your last coin. But when the bells and flashing lights of a long bonus count off yields to the wooden clack of a free game registering, the result is still satisfying. The visit to the museum brought up many distant memories of pinball games in musty, smoky arcades and bars. It recalled the days when running up the score on a pinball machine gave license to delay finishing the day’s schoolwork or other scheduled tasks.
Becky and I played pinball at the museum for a couple of hours before we finally left. I never would have imagined this could happen, but my wrists were sore for days afterwards. I’ve completely lost my pinball conditioning. And I didn’t even know I needed to be in shape to play pinball.
All in all, our visit to Lucky Ju Ju Pinball Arcadeum was way more gratifying than it had a right to be. Alameda is a good drive for us, but we will be certain to make a return visit. If the museum served good beer, we just might have to move to Alameda.
Lucky Ju Ju Pinball Arcadeum
713 Santa Clara Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501
Directions and more can be found here:
P.S. As baby boomers and pinball machine collectors are growing older, pinball museums are cropping up in many cities including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, just outside of Paris, and Maryland. Check out the links below for more pinball opportunities.
http://pjspinballmuseum.com/INDEX.html, 4350 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City