do you like vinyl records, cocktails and pinball?
5 min read

do you like vinyl records, cocktails and pinball?

that’s what my cousin diane asked me when i arrived in boise to visit her for a long-weekend. i love vinyl records, i don’t drink (anymore), and i don’t know much about pinball, but it sounded cool — why?

she told me her friend was having a party combining all three things that saturday and it was something “fun” we could do. she’s been curious about these parties, but never goes because they are always ‘after dark’ and she’s more of an up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-to-feed-the-horses-kinda-gal (and she has a dash of our familial anti-social tendencies…), but if i wanted to go, she would tough it out. since boise isn’t the most happenin’ place on earth and i am not a crack-of-dawn-kinda-gal, i said we should go.

the party was at dave’s “shop,” which isn’t so much a retail space, but more like where dave keeps all of what he has shopped — pinball machines, vinyl records, stereo equipment, plants (thanks to diane - she’s his plant supplier), books, and who knows what else.

dave has a book that pairs a record with a cocktail inspired by that record, and each party he features one of the record/cocktail combos. when we walked in to dave’s shop, my eyes were overwhelmed, but my ears were elated — i recognized the record right away — one of my all-time faves — wilco’s yankee hotel foxtrot.

we made the right decision.

there were pinball machines everywhere you looked and it turns out that most of dave’s friends are also pinball-lovers. together, they have a pinball museum in boise with over 50 machines where they host open-play on weekends, parties, and even pinball tournaments.

after diane got her cocktail — a cloudy blue elixir in a fish bowl inspired by the line “i am an american aquarium drinker” — we found some cool pinball machines and started playing. though we were brand-new to the game, everyone was so welcoming and friendly.  a guy named chad showed us how scoring works, how to use a multi-player mode — most machines can score 4 players at a time! he invited us to play in multi-player mode with him and we each beat him once (we found out later that chad was really good and wasn’t easy to beat).

diane beat him at one called Jungle Attack (?) that was Vietnam-war inspired (i think? could be Korean war...). you hit the ball into a ‘jungle’ (so you sometimes could not see the ball), you hit ‘tanks’, there was a ‘chopper’ that came and rescued you — there was a lot going on, and i learned that these were the 'features' that distinguished games and made some more fun than others. they all have different 'skill shots', some machines have a 'multi ball' feature where you play like 3 balls at the same time, and they all have different ways to enable point-multipliers or bonus balls.  

and i beat him at another called Xenon with a really cool futuristic 80's sci-fi theme. chad was a big fan of his one (he had it on his t-shirt) and he told us all about it — it was the first pinball machine with a soundtrack created with synthesizers that just sounded like “pew pew — pew pew pew,” a noise i made at diane all weekend. the woman who created the soundtrack was very interested in synths and even used her own voice to record some of the sounds.

they told us all about the pinball museum, the events they have and invited us to come there the next day for an all-women’s league tournament held every month. and since it was scheduled at 1pm on a sunday, we didn’t have to worry about the dark! belles and chimes is an international network of pinball leagues organized by women, for women and boise's chapter was pretty active. there were around 20 ladies there and i'd say at least half were gay, so i felt right at home!  

the museum was hard to find and didn’t have a sign. i was told it was in ‘an abandoned church’, which sounded cool, but… it was not an old church — it was a small building on the side of a highway amongst dozens of other similar non-de script buildings. but inside was great — they had tons of cool games from my era — my favorites (in no particular order):
 - terminator 2 – loved the machine-gun trigger ball launch
 - tales from the crypt – sooo creepy! just like i remember the show...
 - earthshaker – machine actually shakes
 - south park — i killed kenny! (you bastards…)
 - kiss — i shot a ball out of gene simmon’s mouth!

they also had older pinball machines made of wood with hand-painting. these were more generic games — they had ‘football’, ‘tennis’ and ‘baseball’, which was the most fun to score – points were based on your 'hit' – home-runs, triples, doubles, etc. there was a ‘disco’ machine that was one of only a few games ever that featured ‘banana-shaped’ flippers (instead of straight, they were curved).  the artwork on these machines were great, including one called ‘buggaloo’ which featured that real angular atomic-looking 50s vibe. and then there was one called 'old chicago', which debbie said was her covid-project — she painted the flippers pink and told us she loved it because it was the “last one with real tits.”

i had so much fun playing pinball!  

the vibe was great – it was competitive, but friendly and supportive. it was social, but not toooo social — you didn’t have to talk to anyone if you didn’t want. you’re playing for points, but the points are almost random. i mean, if i could beat chad, anyone can win.

the other thing that struck me, talula, is that all these flashing lights and sounds did not affect my brain the way flashing lights and sounds do on the computer. at no point did i have an aura or fear that i would have a seizure. i'm not sure why, but i'm so happy to have found something fun and visually stimulating that i don't have to worry about going to the ER over!

pinball seems like play for the sake of play, which i don't think we have enough of today (at least i don't...). i looked into belles and chimes chapters near me -- nothing too close to where i live, but there's one in nyc that typically meets in brooklyn. they have a tournament coming up in december on a saturday afternoon in manhattan. since it's an hour+ for me to get there, this is a perfect chance for me to get involved. BUT... registration was supposed to open today... and upon visiting the event page, i learned that it was cancelled... so i looked at their regular league-play schedule... they meet in brooklyn late on tuesday nights... which is not only terrible for travelling back and forth, tuesday nights are my favorite yoga class, so... ::sigh::

diane says i have to start my own chapter near me on long island. someone recently opened a pinball-only arcade not far from me with ~100 machines, so there's a venue, at least, but i'm not sure if there's a crowd for it, and ... i am not the type to organize groups like this... so... we'll see...