Entries from March 2010 ↓

My Skeeball Adventure

My latest adventure started as the best adventures do, impulsively. I bought a couple of Skee Ball machines from the Boardwalk. Now it’s fun to recount this adventure as it appears to have worked out well for all concerned but perhaps a bit of history will help to explain. I have long been known as a person who has interests, or finds value in other people’s discarded items. I love flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I can always find something I find amusing or interesting and then force my find on my friends and family, who have grown to except these intrusions as harmless fun. What I have really grown to appreciate is how many people want to try and contribute to my habit by submitting items to my collection of detritus and ephemera. “I saw his and thought of you”  Seven simple words that have come to strike fear in the heart of my poor wife Amy. “O.K., tell me again why your friend thought you needed a bag full of broken Barbie’s?”, Amy will ask. Knowing full well I wouldn’t have any rational answer other than…”they’re cool, and I’m sure I can use them somehow…it’s ART!”

So now I have a perfect pretext for my folly and a wife, family and friends acting as enablers. Not to mention, my recent state of unemployment driving me to spend more and more time perusing interesting items. Which leads us to my Skee Ball machines.

I am going to assume most that will read this will not need the introduction but just in case, Skee Ball Machines are a very simple and addictive arcade game, http://www.skeeball.com/about.htm that I first encountered in Capitola, California when I would visit my grandfather, Arch Moen. My Grandfather is an entirely different story that hopefully I can share someday but for this story I will try to stick to Skee Ball. But some background is required. Grandpa Moen had retired from the Heinz Corporation and moved to Capitola to be by a group of his friends that had all retired to this sleepy little California village. They all bought shacks on little lots on the same street with the intent of joining the nearest golf club and pass their golden years with shared meals and golf. The one intrusion to Arch’s plan was his daughter Grace, who was blessed with six children and was either desperate to force us on her father or just trying to lighten her load a few weeks every summer. Anyway, every summer from the time I was about nine or ten my mother and father would ship two of us off to Capitola. They would only send two at a time as that was all the little guest room tacked onto the back of the carport had room for. So in the late 60′s either my brother Tony or my sister Kathy and I would take Pan Am flight 838 from Honolulu to San Francisco to spend a couple of weeks with Gramdpa Moen. This always felt a bit like a Mexican stand off. It didn’t seem like our Grandfather was particularly pleased to have us there intruding on his life of leasure and having left our friends on the beaches of Kailua, we certainly were confused on what the benefit was to us as well. Here is where we found our salvation. Skee Ball. After our annual day and night of awkward “how are you’s” and ” so…how old are you now’s”… our Grandfather would basicslly release us into the wild. Gone by 8:00am, back by 6:00pm those were his rules. No questions asked. I finally had the epiphany…we were absolutely free for 10 hours a day. No rules, no parents, nothing but free range access to all things enticing. And  the most enticing thing in my mind was the arcades at the esplanade. Back then the Capitola esplanade was not much more than a row of  beach front arcades trying to compete with the Boardwalk for nickles and dimes. There weren’t any rides except for the Merry-Go-Round at the end of the strip. All there was in Capitola at the time was a Theater at one end, a bowling alley in the middle and four or five dark noisy arcades facing the water that smelled of mechanic’s oil used to keep all these machines humming and blinking and rolling and spitting out little yellow tickets. Those little yellow tickets, the fools gold of the arcade. And of course the prize cases. Large glass cases holding what seemed like Solomon’s treasure to a 12 year old. Everything from your basic Chinese finger handcuff to life sized stuffed animals and real radios and cameras. I think I spent as much time pressed up against the glass cases as I did actually playing any of the games. Planning how long and how many games I would need to acquire enough tickets to actually get anything other that a spider ring or an cricket clicker. ( I ended up with quite a collection of those two items.)

So the other morning I happened to look on Craig’s List under the collectible section and what should I see but two Skee Ball machines being sold. Not only that but they are being sold right out of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk arcade. I can’t believe it. They have even posted pictures. I think my heart may have skipped a beat. I can’t believe the price. I can’t believe the Boardwalk would actually sell them in this way. The posting says the buyer has to take both machines and they have to be gone by Thursday. This posting is on Wednesday morning. I immediately went to see my sister Kathy and asked her to call her husband Larry. Larry has worked at the Boardwalk for over 10 years and could find out quickly if this was on the up and up. Kathy called and Larry confirmed the deal was real. Not only that but let the contact person know that I was interested and would be calling. Now I was really excited. I might have an edge on what I assumed would be a bidding frenzy on these gems. My son’s Aubrey and Ian happen to be home when I called and left a message for my contact at the Boardwalk. When I explained what I was considering, buying two Skee Ball machines from the Boardwalk there response was adamant. “Dad, you have to.” No hesitation, no concerns. When I mentioned I hadn’t run it by Amy yet they assured me she would understand. I also sent out a few e-mails to a few confidants to bolster my position and all the responses basically stated it was imperative that I make every effort to obtain these Skee Ball machines. And so I did. When Brian called me back and asked if I was willing to buy both units and pick them up by tomorrow I just stated, “Yes.” I was desperate to win this treasure no matter how many yellow tickets this was going to cost me.  So here is one of my scary moments of this adventure. There was a pause in my phone conversation between him confirming the price and who my brother-in-law was when I had to quickly catch my breath. I had just agreed to buy two full size, 10 feet long 400 pound Skee Ball machines….”as is”. There was no backing out now, the die had been cast. I immediately called my friend Brooks to ask for his help in transporting them to my house. My plan was to temporarily put them in the garage until I could make room for one of them out in my studio and then hopefully quickly sell the other. I mean, how hard could it be to sell a Skee Ball machine, everybody loves Skee Ball. I also needed to let Amy know what I had done and that she would have to park in the driveway for a few days. I have to admit, that last part might have struck fear into the hearts of many men but I am blessed with the greatest wife, whose response on the phone seemed to have the same tone of concern as if I had called to tell her I was going to try out a new recipe for dinner. “O.K. hon, if you’re sure. I will see them when you get them home I guess.”

So the next day I meet Brooks and his son Chase at the Boardwalk to do the deal. The large bay doors were open and we saw the two Skee Ball machines parked right inside the doors. My first reaction was panic. They are not only bigger and heavier than I imagined but they are also pretty battered and bruised from being on the front lines at the arcade for who knows how many years. Brooks is finding my obvious apprehension very amusing but does his best to offer words of encouragement. “Wow, these are huge!” “Are you sure Amy is o.k. with this?” “Where are you going to put them again?” I was starting to really question this decision. I don’t think buyer’s remorse had ever set in quicker. After a few minutes of milling around we asked an employee to radio the office and let them know I was here to pick up my Skee Ball machines. A couple minutes later a gentleman arrived to complete the deal. As we were loading one onto my truck and the other on Chase’s truck two female employees approached and stood there watching. At first I thought they were just finding amusement in our escapade but it turned out they were delivering the wooden balls for the games and the bolts to fasten the legs back on and were part of the maintenance crew with first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the machines. Great, I thought, they can explain what problems they currently have and how to get them to work when I get them home. The answer to my question as to whether the machines really work was, “for the most part…” and all other queries asked received the same response of, “you’ll figure it out.” My confidence about my purchase was definitely not soaring at this point. Burrowing. Can burrowing be a term to indicate my level of confidence level at that moment? But yet I stood fast, concluded the transaction and directed Chase and Brooks to head back to the house and unload the fun. How I would have loved to hear a recording of the conversation between those employees after we had left.

Brooks and Chase made it back to my place a couple minutes ahead of me. When I drove up I saw my son Ian talking with them. Great, we definitely need a fourth to unload. After a couple of minutes to discuss unloading options we basically decided to put Ian and Chase on the heavy ends and shove them into the garage. A bit of umph and a few grunts from my end and I was standing in front of my garage looking at the back end of two machines taking up the entire area my wife usually parks her car. Once again, my emotions felt like they were on another ride at the Boardwalk, the roller-coaster. Seeing the Skee Ball machines surrounded by all the other items in my garage, a drum set, amplifiers, beach gear, old books and posters, various dolls and doll parts, a theater spotlight, fishing gear, card tables and chairs, camping gear and paint and tools, they looked so right. Then I remembered I hadn’t even tried them yet to see if they even work and the euphoria evaporated and panic set in. Brooks and Chase had to run so I thanked them again and promised to invite them to the first Inaugural tournament held. I guess I must have been standing there looking a bit dazed so my son Ian said, “well let’s at least plug one in and see if it works.” Ian grabbed an extension cord, plugged one in. Again excitement. A fan immediately started to whirl and the lights on the back board lit up and the machine started loudly playing a classic sounding carnival tune like a Calliope would make. At this point, seeing the response from my son I knew I could rest assured I had made the right decision to buy the machines. The price I had paid had already reaped  a reward you can’t put a price on. Admiration from your children. “well, let’s put the legs on and try it out.” Ian said confidently.  Of course this also proved to be a much bigger endevor than the young lady from the Boardwalk had implied. Luckily another friend, Bill showed up to see my new purchase and with his help we managed to get the legs on to raise up the back end so we could actually give it a roll.

The moment of truth my friends. The machine is set, we plug her in, she whirls and flashes her lights at us and pipes out her merry little tune, “do-doot-do-doot do-do-doodle-doodle-doodle-doodle-doot-do-do”, I pick up the worn, smooth, hardwood ball and make my first pitch down the lane. Straight down the middle, up the ramp and right into the 50 point ring! (I have a witness.) This was so cool. I was just giddy. I didn’t care that I hadn’t figured out what to do with the other machine or whether I could actually fit this one in my shop or even how the heck I was going to get it in there. Right now I was playing Skee Ball in my garage with my son and my buddy. Ian immediately started devising plans for incorporating Skee Ball into the BBQ he was planning for his 21st birthday.

The really wonderful part of this story, for me was the universal appeal these machines seemed to hold for people of all ages. My youngest son Colin came home and actually did a little jig when he saw them, got on the phone and notified a few friends to come right over to play. Amy came home from work and went right out to bowl a couple of games with me. Every person I told seemed genuinely happy with what I had done.

But now for the epilog to this wonderful tale. I started the next day trying to figure out what to do with the second machine. I posted on Craig’s list, I mentioned to various friends and on Facebook and was amazed at the quick responses. My first reaction was relief that it looked like I would have no problem selling my extra Skee Ball machine and was second thought was, “dang, I should have asked more for it.” But just as quickly I took comfort in the thought that I wasn’t going to lose any money on this deal and someone else will be getting as much excitement as I am from having their very own Skee Ball. I also stopped in to see a friend Dennis, who has a jewelry store in the Antique Fair in Aptos. I asked him to mention it to some of the vendors he knows that I was selling a Skee Ball machine cheap. I was home for about 10 minutes when Dennis called and said he had a potential buyer. I thanked him for the quick work and agreed that the two drink minimum finders fee would indeed apply. At the buyers request I e-mail a few pictures and he immediately called me up asking to come over to see them. He was there that afternoon and after a quick review forked over the cash and said he would work on picking it up in a few days. Now I was really able to enjoy my Skee Ball machine because I no longer had to worry about what to do with the spare. But as they always say, all good things must come to an end, and after a couple more days of sharing my treasure with family and friends I came to the conclusion that there was no way I was going to fit it in my shop and I certainly couldn’t keep it in the garage much longer and I needed to sell the second machine. I contacted one of the Craig’s List responses and accepted an offer she had made, which was half what I listed it for but figured it’s better Karma to make a little and pass along the fun. Before I heard back from this other buyer I got a call from Clayton, the gentleman who had bought the other machine and when I said I was going to sell the other as well he couldn’t believe it. He pleaded with me if I wasn’t going to keep one for myself to please sell him both. As I knew he was planning on giving one of the machines to his 8 year old granddaughter I already had a good feeling about him and seeing as how he had already seen both machines and was well aware of the condition they were in I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about him being disappointed when he came to pick them up. I relented and told Clayton he could have both. He was so excited he called the next day and asked if he could bring his wife by to see them. It was his birthday. I’m not sure what year he was celebrating but I know he said that he had all sorts of places to go and people to see. And yet, first he wanted to bring his wife by to see the Skee Ball machines. I knew I had made the right choice, I had had my glory and a weeks worth of fun, a great story to tell and couldn’t have been happier with who was going to provide them a more permanent home.

So thanks to all my friends and family who assisted me with this adventure. Now on to the next!