Pinball at the Zoo ’19

Me with Christian, Shaun and Levi at Arcadia Brewing Co.

IT’S BECOME A TRADITION that we look forward to for months. Every April, Shaun and I drive up to the Expo Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the annual “Pinball at the Zoo” pinball show. We go up on Friday, play the silver ball that night and all day/night Saturday, and head home bleary-eyed but satisfied on Sunday morning. We hang out with our friends Brad Czernik and his boys, Levi and Christian, as well as other friends we have made in the “community” like Chad Dentandt. and Mike Gaspar. And Mike Schudel, who hosts an after-party on both nights where we probably play more pinball than we do at the convention proper. It’s an amazingly good time with friends and fun that always resets my head from the trials of life to a place of “this is why we’re alive!”

Classic Bally machine row!

This year (last weekend) was a little different, because Brad was out of town at a wedding, but since his boys are now in college, they went on their own, so we still had most of the crew together for a Friday night dinner at Bell’s Brewery’s Eccentric Cafe  (pictured below) and our traditional lunch with some other pinball fans at CJ’s Pub. And I took the boys on Saturday night to Arcadia Brewing (pictured above), though I was the only one who could drink! (They had great barbecue though!)

The Whole Crew: Shaun, Mike, Levi, Christian and Chad at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

It was also a little different this year since Mike’s after-party almost got shut down by a power outage the first night, and a snowstorm the next! But the power came back on, and we all braved the snow for (hopefully) the last time this year and… in the end it was all a great time!

Celebrating classic Bally tables!

People bring dozens of games to the Expo Center for attendees to play, and every year, I find one new (well, new to me) game that I haven’t played before. This year was no exception. A group of fans brought several classic Bally machines from the late ’70s/80s (including Mata Hari, a table I own) and set them all up in a single aisle. I got fixated on the Medusa table as well as Viking (which is laid out much like Mata Hari, but with a bank of inline drop targets). And I played an old favorite, Paragon, a bunch of times. Shaun knew that if he needed to find me in the hall… just walk down to the Bally aisle.

I also played both versions of the new Munsters table by Stern, which comes in both an all black and white art version (with a lower playing field) and a color version with no lower field insert… which I actually liked better.

The Play Continued After The Expo Center Closed…

At the after-parties, I fixated on the Star Gazer table, as I always do. It’s a 1980 Stern machine and I love the art and the field play. Everything is set up to take the ball in curves which makes for some interesting ball slingshots. And this time around I cracked 1.2 million on the table, which I think is a record for me!

I also spent a good amount of time on other favorites like Attack from Mars, Elvira’s Scared Stiff, Medieval Madness and a table I’ve played before but never appreciated until now — Circus Voltaire. That table has a rubber ball in a “cage” on the field, which deflects the pinball in interesting ways, and also has a figure that rises from the field — sometimes with your ball magnetized and stuck to the top!

All in all, it was another super fun weekend at Pinball at the Zoo which Shaun and I will both remember for a long time!

About John Everson

John Everson is a Bram Stoker Award-winning horror author with more than 100 published short stories and 10 novels of horror and dark fantasy currently in print. His first novel, Covenant, won the Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel in 2005. His sixth novel, NightWhere, was a Bram Stoker Finalist in 2013. His tenth novel, The House By The Cemetery, was released in October 2018.

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