Of pinball and parking

I would have to describe my level of anger as "elevated" right now. Enough so that I can't sleep, at least. And the thing I'm mad about won't even seem like a big deal to anyone else, but it's important to me. Basically, the one thing I liked about Washington that was also unique to this area has been ruined.

Exposition: I love pinball. It's just one of those weird, quirky things about me that I'm always laboring to explain to people. I started playing pinball as a kid, when I would spend the summers visiting my father in Montana, and after spending enough hours in the arcade, I figured out you could win free games if you played well enough. The best manufacturer of pinball was the the Williams company, and it hit its peak in the early 1990s, which is also when I really started to get good at the game. Later, in high school, I would go to bars just to drink Cokes and play pinball for hours. In college, I would spend hours on the weekends at an arcade run by a friend, mastering the nuances of Twilight Zone.

In the late '90s, Williams' pinball geniuses unveiled a new form of pinball they short-sightedly called "Pinball 2000." This combined a faux-holographic screen with a smaller version of the traditional pinball cabinet. It was a clever idea, but the games were not as much fun as Williams' traditional games from its heyday. In graduate school, I would still spend a lot of time in the student center after class, burning off stress by winning free games and putting up high scores on the games there. But I knew that pinball's popularity had dropped significantly since 1990, as fewer people were playing and fewer games were being manufactured.

I still wasn't prepared for a magazine article I happened upon in late 1999 that announced the death of Williams' pinball divison. The shuttering of Williams basically signaled the end of pinball; although one manufacturer still exists (Stern), its games are generally substandard in quality and playability. Eventually, the great old Williams games will fall apart or find their way into private collections, never to be played by me again. Already it's nearly impossible to find games in arcades.

Which! Is proof I'm a gigantic geek. But it's also why I was so happy to discover the existence of a pinball league in Washington. Groups of people gather in the two or three arcades that still have multiple machines, and match themselves against each other according to a specific and detailed set of rules. Overall, it's been a good thing; the people are genuinely interested in keeping pinball alive, and many have private pinball collections. I've actually made a couple of friends (finally) at league, and in the past I've looked forward to league nights. It's the one thing I can do here that I enjoy and can't do anywhere else.

So naturally, it all came crashing to a halt tonight. I can't go to the league at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, anymore, ostensibly because I got yet another parking ticket from the NVCC parking enforcement gestapo. I now owe the college $105 (although that's under appeal, and I'm fucking suing those assholes anyway if they turn down the appeal).

But I was angry even before that happened at the insipid shell of a man who runs the league. As you might expect, these pinball leagues attract a more nerdy element, and this greasy fat-ass is no exception. He's the type that takes pride in enforcing every single rule of our pinball league to the fucking letter, as if he were the referee in the fucking Super Bowl.

Last night, before the start of actual league play, I was "pre-playing" games for a future league night when I would not be able to attend. I started my last game at 7:15, and it was going particularly well (which means the game runs longer). I was on my last ball at 7:30 when the aforementioned greasy nerd started complaining that it was time to start the league. He came over and started talking in my ear about how it was time to stop, which is distracting. I asked for some extra time since this was a pre-play that would go down in the books in a couple weeks, but he would hear none of my protests. League must start precisely at 7:30.

Dude. It's a fucking pinball league. The world will continue to spin if we happen to start at 7:33. I don't think the other members are going to be terribly inconvenienced if I finish my really good game. Nobody is being disadvantaged, and I'm not cheating; bitching at me to stop playing just because a qualifying game is running a little long is being over-officious. I said as much, and he did let me finish, but honestly, I've had enough of this type of bullshit pinball rulemongering from him and other people over the past year to last me a lifetime. The people who enforce these rules do it for the self-pleasure of being the enforcer; common sense never enters into their judgment, and it makes life miserable for the rest of us.

For me, over-officiousness ruined pinball league for me tonight, and it also cost me yet another $35 in unnecessary parking fines (no visitor spaces available, and I parked in the middle of at least 300 empty spaces; another example of over-officiousness). I can't go to pinball league anymore because of the threat further parking tickets; the sad part is, I don't mind so much anyway, because the fun of playing pinball and competing against other players has been sucked dry by the league rules gestapo. And I watch and lament as yet another thing I enjoy withers and falls to the ground.

Now the only thing I have to look forward to is football season. Oh, and the opening of a new Chipotle restaurant in Tysons Corner.

Yeah. My future in Washington looks bleak and boring, and I don't know how to change that.