Happy Retirement, Steve!
Jack Reflects on His Start in the Biz
by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball & PinballSales.com
I met Steve Schulman, who recently announced his retirement from HMS Monaco, on an early September morning in 1975. We were in the basement of Fascination at 1597 Broadway in New York City. I had answered a help-wanted ad in the Daily News for a “pinball mechanic.”
Steve was working his Uncle Mitch’s game route, which included almost every college in the NYC Metro area. Steve explained to me that with colleges being back in session, he had to hire another person to repair pinball machines and games.
I remember we had a nice interview. I had no experience repairing pinballs, but I had experience repairing CB radios and other electronics. I had just graduated from South Shore high school and intended to go to college to learn electrical engineering. I knew that was the future.
After the interview, I took the subway back home to Brooklyn, and on my answering machine when I got there was a message from Steve asking if I could return the next day for a second interview. You bet! When I called back, Steve told me I’d be speaking with a guy who was in the business for more than 30 years repairing games. Holy cow, 30 years! I was just 17 at the time so I figured the guy must be ancient.
The next day, I was back at Fascination in the basement offices of Jepco Amusements. A gentleman came in, looked at me and went into an office. A few minutes later, he came back and introduced himself as Heinz. He had a German accent, but I understood him very well.
After a few general questions, he asked, “Do you know how to read a schematic?” “Yes,” was my reply. “Do you know how to solder”?” “Yes,” I answered. “When can you start?” “Right now!” I said. And with an “Okay kid, you’re hired!” my career in the coin machine business was launched.
I remember Steve coming out to congratulate me and asking that I complete some paperwork. Before I knew it, I was carrying a bowling ball bag filled with quarters out to a faded, yellow Chevy station wagon a few blocks away while Heinz carried two. We took off for St. Francis College in downtown Brooklyn and I guess I never looked back.
As the day went on and it edged closer to 5 p.m, Heinz said he was going to drop me off at the subway and I was to meet him the next morning at Brooklyn College. Asking where he was going after that, he said he was headed to fix more games at another school. I said, “Great, let’s go.” I can still see his face as he looked at me over his glasses. He must have thought I was nuts. He told me I already worked a full day but I countered that my day wasn’t over until the job was done. He must have thought, “Looks like we have a live one!” Anyway, off we went. What a first day!
After spending another day or two training with Heinz, they gave me a car and a beeper, and I was off to fix games. Other people repaired games, but it seemed that after a few weeks it was only Heinz and me. Steve was busy making collections, negotiating location contracts and hiring people. He also wrote those dreaded black-and-white “Out of Order” signs that went on games that didn’t work.
I wanted to make sure that whatever I repaired, stayed that way. I didn’t want to hear that what I just fixed yesterday was broken again. I saved up some money and bought a Jensen tool case like the one Heinz had. I was proud of it. In fact, one day Steve was at Queens College and saw my tool case and asked me where Heinz was because he didn’t see his car outside. I told him those were my tools and I think it was then that Steve knew for sure I was serious about my job.
Steve’s Uncle Mitch was a smart businessman. I thought so because after all, he chose Steve. I think throughout my employment there, Mitch and I probably only spoke two dozen words to each other, but I remember he always treated me nicely. (I also remember he was always tan and had a nice, convertible sports car.) Once, Steve asked me to go to a friend of Mitch’s to fix his pinball machine at home. At home?! I thought this guy must be really rich to have his own pinball. The man was a car dealer in Long Island and that always left an impression on me: he had a pinball machine in his house, wow!
I have a million stories about my job at Jepco and all are good. Whenever I’d see Steve at a trade show, I thanked him every time for hiring me back then. And if I was with someone at the time I’d run into Steve, I would always laughingly say, “It’s his fault that I’m in this business. Blame him!”
It’s interesting to reflect on how that early job set my life on its course and how I’ve surpassed Heinz’s 30 years in the industry with my own 45. If it had not been for Steve, would I have gone on to be an engineer instead? We’ll never know, but one thing I do know for certain: Steve Schulman is a class act. Steve, thank you again and I hope you, Candy and your family enjoy each other in your very well-deserved retirement. You’re one of a kind and the industry will miss you.
Jack Guarnieri started servicing electro-mechanical pinball machines in 1975 and has been involved in every phase of the amusement game business since then. He was an operator in NYC, then began a distributorship in 1999, PinballSales.com, selling coin-op to the consumer market. In January of 2011, he founded Jersey Jack Pinball (named after his RePlay Magazine pen name), which builds award-winning, full-featured, coin-op pinball machines. Email Jack at jack@ jerseyjackpinball.com.