Monday, August 13, 2007

The 94086 Revisited

Umlaut grew up in Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley, California (30 miles south of Alcatraz). Besides Umlaut, the most famous humans from the 94086 are Brian Boitano and Teri Hatcher. Also, Molly Hatchet guitarist Dave Hlubek (who co-wrote 'Flirtin' With Disaster') lived in Sunnyvale when his Navy father was based at nearby Moffett Field; when I was 15 years old I read that in a Guitar Player interview with Hlubek and it tripped me out. A Rock Star once lived in Sunnyvale?? No.. way.

Of course, the thing that fueled the most hometown pride was the fact that Atari was located only minutes from my parents' house.. Fucking ATARI! The first Pong machine made its debut at a bar in Sunnyvale.

I was in awe that ATARI was so close to my house; ATARI!! For me, 1977-78 was all about Star Wars, KISS, and the Atari 2600. My Sunnyvale civic pride spiked in 1983 when War Games came out and Sunnyvale was mentioned in the film's dialogue ("NO WAY... DID MATTHEW BRODERICK JUST SAY "SUNNYVALE"??!!")..

For the newbies: The sad irony of Silicon Valley is that it sits on some of the most fertile farmland in the entire world... but, after 100+ years of producing fruits and vegetables for the rest of America, probably 99% of that valuable land now sits under concrete and asphalt. Growing up in the 94086 was alright I must say.. When I was a kid there were still a few of the old fruit orchards around and there was also a Del Monte canning plant not far from my house; during the warm Summer days the air would actually smell sweet from the peaches the plant was processing. When I visit my hometown now it's all one massive strip mall and the orchards and the Del Monte plant are decades gone. Those long ago Summer days seem magical now.

During junior high and high school, we'd hang out at the Pizza Hut on El Camino Real a block away from the campuses (and only a parking lot away from the Wherehouse Records where I bought KISS Alive II..).. Drinkin' soda, eatin' pizza, and playin' video games.. Pizza Hut had all of the latest games: Tempest, Joust, Defender, Galaga, Space Invaders, Asteroids, etc. etc.. Good times. Defining times.

Fast forward to the 21st Century:

California Extreme: An Arcade Game & Pinball Celebration
August 11, 2007
Parkside Hall, San Jose, CA

I've been wanting to attend California Extreme for the last 2 years, but I always managed to miss it. As the San Jose Jazz Festival went on outside for the normal people, HUNDREDS of vintage 80's video games and vintage pinball machines from all eras created a meltdown inside Parkside Hall for the hundreds of nerds and geeks in attendance.

Dude, I almost got teary-eyed when I saw the sitting versions of Red Baron and Star Wars displayed side by side. Wow... I mean... WOW. I destroyed the Death Star on my first play!

(Pics by Umlaut)

As I sat in Red Baron after finishing my play, a guy stuck his head in to check out the screen and we started chatting. We agreed that it was great game; it was his favorite game as a kid and he actually owns a standing version but it's in need of restoration. The Geeks shall inherit The Earth!

There was one cul de sac of games that practically mirrored my old Pizza Hut circa 1981; I almost hyperventilated from the nostalgia.. Tempest next to Centipede next to Missile Command, etc.. Time Travel Rules!

(Pic by Umlaut)

I was surprised by how many of the games on display were created by Atari; many of them I had forgotten about over the decades (Food Fight?). I tried to take pictures of all the Atari games... I felt like I owed it to my inner 15-year old.

It was pretty much sensory overload: The darkened hall, the lights and sounds of the games... and to add to it they showed 80's music videos on a giant screen t.v. hooked up to a massive vintage multi-disc LaserDisc player and sound system. When was the last time you saw that Dexys Midnight Runners video?? Me neither.

"Come on Eileen!" (Pic by Umlaut)

Like I said: sensory overload... but both Timo and I agreed that Tempest was the game that holds up the best here in the 21st Century. The game play is still engrossing and it's timeless... Also, Timo reminded me that Tempest was the best game to play when you were stoned.

Other highlights: The Muhammad Ali pinball machine, Tron, and Lunar Lander (!), which was another Atari game I'd completely forgotten about. The only bummer was that the Apollo 13 movie pinball machine was out of order. I thought failure wasn't an option?

However, my favorite feature of the show was Lucky Ju Ju's Mobile Pinball Museum parked in the far corner. For the newbies: The Ju Ju Mobile Pinball Museum is a converted 1947 travel trailer that carries 5 vintage (pre-80's) pinball machines to events all over California (it can also be rented). Pinball at Lucky Ju Ju HQ in Alameda is one of Umlaut's sacred things.

Michael of Ju Ju recognized Timo and I and greeted us with a handshake. Inside the trailer it was a mini-version of Ju Ju HQ, with music provided by a small turntable playing a stack of old 45rpm (VINYL!) singles. So.. fucking... cool.

We took a break and headed over to Super Taq (!) for lunch.. As we scarfed down our food, Timo and I agreed that we don't understand how most people "our age" can't enjoy something like California Extreme; they've "grown up"... whatever that means. For better or worse, I live in a retarded state of adulthood. Case in point: Number of Iron Maiden shirts = 1 (mine)... which resulted in a confrontation of Biblical proportions:

Iron Maiden vs. Journey

Hope I die before I get old.

Click HERE to visit Umlaut's Flickr page for more retro Geekdom.