Not too long ago, my wife and I drove to Manitou Springs, a small town that abuts Colorado Springs at the foothills of the Rockies. This urban hamlet has two legacies; first it began as a resort town, complete with mineral springs. Second, the unassuming tourist town is a haven to the hippie generation, even some four decades later!
We spent a delightful afternoon wandering through the busy streets and navigating the narrow side alleys, each lined with quaint folk art shops. It was a bit of a challenge to keep our hound dog from entering each and every establishment; but every now and then we would find one that was dog-friendly. The usual giveaway was a bowl at the doorstep, filled with fresh water.
Having spent my teenage years in the Colorado Springs area; I am very familiar with Manitou Springs. I did not miss the hippie age by very many years, so of course I can relate to the laid-back, tie-dyed ambiance that permeates the town. The gift shops have always been fun to explore, but I have historically viewed them as tourist traps. In fact, some of my finest “buys” have been in those same gift shops right after Labor Day!
I guess that some of us will never outgrow our childhoods. In fact, my wife is pretty much convinced that I am the world’s oldest teenager! This thought holds true for my attraction to Manitou Springs. In the midst of the quaint pubs, curio shops, and art galleries; there is a wonderful amusement arcade. Care to guess where the biggest lure is for me?
This modern-day agora of coin-fed delights is equally distributed amongst small buildings and covered open-air patios. One can find the latest advancements in computer chip technology amongst the games. Want to annihilate aliens with a laser cannon? Got you covered! Looking to fight off an invasion from a rogue terrorist element? Not a problem! Want to track down that eight-point elk while sipping on a Slurpee? Check!
Although I am the consummate technology junkie, I am drawn by the more classic arcade games. There is something to be said for unrelenting physical effort, iron-clad strategy, and laser-sharp mental concentration. Of course, I speak of that timeless game, Skeeball! Since its commercial introduction in 1914, this recreational activity has brought countless families together and has transcended generations. So popular and endearing was this game that the Wurlitzer Corporation owned the company, followed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company!
The original game featured a lane that was 36-feet long. Unless you were one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ancestors; odds were that you were not going to notch up a top store. Mercifully, the lane was eventually shortened to its current 10 to 13-feet. There are several permutations to the game; but any purist will tell you that you are facing five numbered rings, worth 10 to 50 points per ball, and a horizontal “gutter” which yields no points.
Beyond bragging rights for having a top store; Skeeball comes with a hidden benefit. The higher your score in any given round, the more tickets that are spewed out by the machine. Once you run out of quarters, or your parents run out of patience; you take your wad of tickets to the redemption counter. Assuming you had the right skills, as well as a more than just a little bit of luck; you would have enough tickets to walk away with one of the top shelf prizes
Styles and strategy people use vary greatly. Some folks use a very deliberate delivery style, rising high on their toes and gracefully arching the wooden ball down onto the lane. Much like a bowler, I have witnessed a select few who could even put spin on the small handheld orb. Others elect to bounce the ball off the side of the alley wall, just before it meets the target area. Some throw slowly while others throttle the ball down the path!
When it comes to accumulating points, there are several strategies to be followed as well. There is the would-be professional who always aims for the 50 hole, but oftentimes ends up with a goose egg as the ball falls into the gutter. Then there are those who will consistently hit the 20 hole and walk away with an average score. So it comes down to “hero or zero” versus “slow and steady does it.”
Life can often feel like an arcade, filled with flashing lights and opportunities for pleasant diversion. We are all armed with a roll of quarters tucked away in our front pocket. Some of us simply elect to hoard those quarters; taking comfort in a sure thing rather than take a chance on the unknown. Others walk over to the machine with the highest payout of tickets, and quickly squander away our coins. Usually there is not a parent around to replenish our war chest.
Then there are those of us who walk over to life’s Skeeball room. We know that we are not going to leave with great riches, but we will also not walk away empty-handed. The question becomes, are you a go for it all type or more of the slow and steady mentality? It all becomes a question of how badly you want a prize from that coveted top shelf.
Will you roll the ball slowly down the middle of the lane or will you try a fancy angle shot? Are you shooting for the 20 hole or the 50 hole? Hey, are you one of those who makes sure nobody is looking and then walks up to the end of the lane; dropping a handful of balls into the 50 hole? And when it is all said done, as you drop that last quarter into the slot; are you remorseful that you took so many chances or pleased that you have a long coil of brightly colored paper tickets?
Are the secrets of the universe stashed away inside a Skeeball game? Of course not! Yet it is the way that we behave when we are having fun that tells us the most about ourselves. At our most relaxed and least distracted, we learn what it is that drives us. As for me, I am the slow and steady type, satisfied to walk away with an average number of tickets.
Curious thing though, the prize that I can get at the redemption counter just does not seem to matter to me anymore. Invariably I always give my tickets away to somebody else. I guess the thrill of the game is more important than the rewards for playing!