I watched the Adam Sandler movie Pixels last weekend on cable. I’ve read enough negative reviews to know that the vocal majority hated this movie, but I watched it anyway. I have to say the movie entertained me and I did enjoy some mindless fun for an hour and a half. But the movie also unlocked some more nostalgia for me , a lot actually. So much in fact I’ll have to write a couple posts to cover them all. Most of these pangs of nostalgia happened in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. I could relate with the beginning of the movie. I too was a kid in the 80’s who rode their bike to the local arcade. But instead of snatching a jar of quarters from a lemonade stand, like in the movie, I brought a zip lock bag full of pennies. The old guy that owned the place hated seeing me coming with my bag because he knew he had to count out a couple dollars worth of pennies. After I would hand my bag over, I would pace around the place looking at all the games. I would make a game plan of which ones I would play and in reality I would sink all my money into one game, wanting to get just a little further.
Blazing Flippers was my local arcade for many years. It was located at the shopping center up the hill from where I lived. The shopping center was also home to the grocery store my parents and I went to weekly. Every week we would pass by Blazing Flippers and the pizza place that was attached to it. When I was really young I was not allowed to go into either Blazing Flippers or the pizza joint. In the super early 80’s the arcade was more of a pinball and pool hall than what was to become the “arcade” in the near future. From the windows I remember I could see it was a dark place with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. The only light I can remember seeing was from the round red and white neon “Blazing Flippers” sign and the muted glow of the pinball tables and screens of the arcade cabinets. My parents said there were fights there nightly and adult “things” going on under that thick cloud of smoke. The shopping center and the sounding area had a bad reputation on the weekends. It was the cruising place in my town and was ripe with under age drinking, drugs, and sex. Even though I was always a good kid this cast a shadow on anything I could ever do, because of that it would be years until I was allowed to go there by myself.
We also never went into the pizza place. To be honest I can’t remember if it had a separate name or was lumped into Blazing Flippers. What I do remember was all viewed from the windows. It’s décor was south western (?, maybe it was a taco joint…who knows.). The walls were built up with fiberglass to look rocky and it was painted a rich tone of tan. A wall had a Arizonian type mural painted on it and fake cactus’ stood in planters at the corners. The had booths on two walls, small tables in the middle and the ordering counter in the back. The best part was a tunnel between the restaurant and the arcade, a small tunnel but one none the less. It makes me sad that that’s all I remember. When the pizza parlor went out of business a video store moved in, the same video store that supplied my parents with Pete’s Dragon and other children’s movies, good and bad .
I think my first time inside was when I was Seven. My parents and I were shopping at the Ames department store, which was just a couple store fronts away from the arcade. For the most part, while I shopped with my parents I had free range of the whole store by myself. On one shopping trip I slipped outside and ran down the sidewalk to Blazing Flippers. I remember walking gingerly to the front door, after my breakneck sprint I could hear my heart pumping wildly in my ears. I scanned the sidewalk from where I came from to see if my parents have caught on to my escape, it was clear. When I opened the door the sounds that enveloped me were raw and almost primal to a seven year old. Hair metal music intertwined with the sound of pool balls knocking into each other and blended with the sounds of alive and loud game cabinets. The din of the mostly denim clad patrons filled out the concert of a Saturday night at Blazing Flippers. Everywhere I looked I saw the glow of screens, the bright lights of pinball tables, and people that I only thought existed in music videos. I wish I could say I played one of the classic games that night, but I chickened out. I just walked through quickly and received a couple of puzzled looks from people playing pool in the back, before running back up to the Ames. My parents were never the wiser.
The appeal of going to Blazing Flippers kind of died down when the mall opened in 1986. The mall had a bright and shiny new arcade that my parents had no problem dropping me off at while they did their shopping. My favorite game at that time was Rolling Thunder and I would play it until every last quarter I had was gone.
Going to the mall became a Friday night tradition and Blazing Flippers was quickly gone from my mind. We even went to a different grocery store on the other side of town also the video store and the Ames department store went out of business, so we didn’t go to that shopping center much any more . Out of sight, out of mind.
The year was 1988, in 8th grade I made a new friend. He lived in the neighborhood near Blazing Flippers and he was a video game junkie (and from what I saw of his home life I didn’t blame him). After a couple of months of talking about Nintendo games, movies, and the brand new Sega Genesis , he asked if I wanted to meet him after school at the arcade. I was a little hesitant but I said “yes”. In my mind Blazing Flippers was still that dark, smoky place that was a taboo to go into. On that early spring afternoon my childhood perception was shattered.
Like with all night spots, the magic gets stripped away in the light. Every stain in the carpet, every fleck of peeling paint on the wall, every inch of marring in the façade is on display. My friend was a regular so this was no new revelation to him and to be honest it only bummed me out for a minute. I had no time to wallow in the reality of my El Dorado being made of fool’s gold, there were games to play. One thing about the mall arcade was that it had the newest games and seemed to revolve them out regularly, Blazing Flippers had the classics with a couple of new ones mixed in. On this trip I became obsessed with Mario Brothers.
At this time Super Mario was old hat. I played it to death on the Nintendo and I rented Super Mario 2 from the video store a ton. But this older gem was something new and I spent the rest of my first trip to the arcade sinking quarters into it.
From than on I was a Blazing Flippers addict. I was able to play through the history of the arcade through pinball tables and arcade cabinets. And experience oddities like Time Traveler by SEGA.
Blazing Flippers was home to around 24 to 30 cabinets. They were in rows, against the walls, and set up in small circles with their backs facing each other. In the center of the room was a glass display cased island that also served as the cashier station. I never remember the display cases ever having anything in them. It must have been a hold over from the days of an arcade being an “amusement center” and tickets were legal tender. Against the side back wall were the pinball tables and in the very back were 6 pool tables and a jukebox. The old guy that ran the place that ran the place acted and looked like the novelty of running an arcade were long gone. He was very grumpy but it added to the charm. The clouds of cigarette smoke were gone by my time there, but the smell was still strongly clinging to every inch of the large room.
Than one day in 1991 while in homeroom my buddy turned around and said “Hey, have you played Street Fighter 2 yet?” I had no idea what he was talking about. Street Fighter 2, I never heard of Street Fighter 1. That whole day he filled my head with stories of one of the coolest, weirdest games I ever heard of. A guy that stretched to kick and punch, people that threw fire balls, and (my personal favorite) a green furry guy with electric powers. That day after school I rushed to Blazing Flippers and was blown away by the world Capcom created. After that day I honed my skills with Blanka and no matter where I went if I saw a Street Fighter cabinet I had to take on all challengers. I wasn’t that great but I felt like it was the first time there was a gaming community. I gave all the fighting games that came after Street Fighter a shot but Street Fighter was always the best in my eyes.
As the years went on I drifted away from the arcades and sadly that included Blazing Flippers. It moved location to a smaller place nearby, under new management. The last time I was in there was 1995 and all the magic was gone. Since than I’ve seen dozens of arcades disappear but none left such a lasting impression on me like Blazing Flippers. It was the place I first tried pool and the first place I realized I sucked at pool. It was my home for a couple days a week for a few hours a day. No matter what friends came and went in my life during those years, we all made our way to Blazing Flippers. Heck, I’ve even had dreams somewhat recently that included Blazing Flippers in them. I’ll remember that place forever and miss it everytime I think about it.
*** Writing this I was reminded of hundreds of games that I loved and played regularly. One day I’ll hit upon them but for now I was trying to remember what I could about this cultural childhood landmark. ***