I’m no wizard, but I do love me some pinball.
Most of it has to do with nostalgia — playing it in the arcade of my hometown’s regional airport while waiting to greet family members or at the theater before a movie. But I’ve always loved the creativity of the tables: the ramps, figurines, and graphics, the clangs, dings, buzzers, and thunks of the ball hitting or bouncing off obstacles, and actual sound bites from whatever movie, TV show, or band featured. The game becomes hypnotizing as you focus on propelling the silver orb with a precise hit of the flipper.
There’s a semi-underground group of people in the southeast region of Michigan who are die-hard pinball fanatics — otherwise known as pinheads. So much so they know the ins and outs of the table, and how to repair them. They formed a club years ago called Vintage Flipper World (Ann Arbor Pinball Museum), and it has become the third largest dedicated pinball venue in North America. It’s currently only open to the public twice a year, and these men and women show their huge hearts on Black Friday, as they host a public-but-not-publicized event to benefit those who are less fortunate during the holidays. And if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a preview of what I’m about to write.
To attend, you must bring a new toy to benefit Toys for Tots and canned food items. And this isn’t the place to be stingy about it. Your donation should be fit for not only those who will receive the gift, but also as a way to say thank you to the dozens who allow the event to take place. The club members not only show their generosity by providing free food and drinks, but open up their doors to what I have come to believe is the Mecca of Pinball. Once inside, you can play pinball all night long, on every table, without quarters.
Inside an old VFW hall sit between 150 and 200 pristine pinball machines, dating as far back as the 50s and 60s. Four rows and a back room showcased dozens of tables alight and ready to be enjoyed. It’s an incredible sight! It definitely created an excitement in me as my eyes glittered with their reflections. Which to play first? How do I even begin to choose?
Upon walking up each row, I immediately recognized a number of tables: The Addams Family, Earthshaker, Elvira, The Simpsons, Terminator, Fun House, and Star Trek to name a handful. Others, such as Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Pirates of the Caribbean, Iron Man, Metallica, and Phantom of the Opera, I was especially drawn to and made sure to play, and the retro tables also charmed me over due to their simplicity and sound. It’s like being transferred to another era when the silver ball hits each bumper, making the bell ring.
While the experience of playing pinball for hours on end was exhilarating and extremely fun, it really felt like you were part of something special. And I give tons of props to the members of Vintage Pinball World for hosting such a night of entertainment like none other. They really showed they care about giving back and enjoy sharing their passion with others. Each club member I spoke with was kind and informative if I had questions (and I had quite a few, believe me!).
I hope to return again for the same event next year! However, I’m going to try and snag tickets for their other public event, the 2018 Ann Arbor Michigan Pinball Showcase, where two additional rooms filled with tables will be available for play. Can you imagine?
Thanks to these Michigan pinheads, you may not have to!
Written with permission by Clay of Vintage Flipper World Ann Arbor Pinball Museum
—Photos by Justin McKee—