Most everyone’s heard that a key to happiness is to work as if you don’t need the money. Sometimes, people wonder why successful performers like Robert De Niro or Mick Jagger keep making movies and going on grueling road tours when they have enough money already for five generations. Such is often true of veterans of the amusement machine business whose definition of retirement is not unlike a “death sentence.”
Why do some people see their job as a sense of personal fulfillment and others like eating lemons? Why do some folks love broccoli and others not? Speaking in food analogies, the Sept. 6 issue of The New Yorker ran a series of stories under the common title “First Tastes” about the pleasant memories people enjoy when they eat certain foods like honey, remembering the first time they ate it. So, where does a coin-operated game or jukebox come in?
My own “first taste” of a game arcade happened in Rye Beach, N.Y., as a youngster at a big, sprawling place they called the “Casino.” The smell of its old wood floor and of the hot dogs and hamburgers, and the noise of the mechanical machines combined with the sea breeze from the nearby Long Island Sound (ocean bay) are still back there in my memory. Just like smelling fresh-cut grass, it makes me smile.
My favorite machines were the Chicago Coin Hockey table, the Seeburg Bear Gun and a Williams Record-A-Voice booth where my friends and I would jam in and, for one quarter and one dime, fill a small disc with either bad singing or foul language (usually the latter). Life didn’t get any better than that, and that’s why I can still…at the age of 82…relate to the smiles on the faces of kids when they enter our game rooms even before they jump on their favorite rides or ticket machines.
Of course, I know what’s on the other side of the curtain: the sweat required moving machinery, of fixing it, of uncrating new games hoping they work out of the box and of paying for them when you see add-ons like freight surcharges and the like. But I also know the thrill a lot of operators get when that brand-new attraction is rolled out onto the floor, the front door opens and the fun begins.
In this time of Covid and Delta, of scarce machines and scarcer employees, it’s nice to look at the reason this trade is called “the amusement machine business” and take a moment to savor your role in this often-taxing world we live and, yes, work in. Whaddya think?