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Road Trip to Arcade Nirvana 2010 – Part 1

Summer is winding down and the new school season is just around the corner, it was time. Time to hit the road and squeeze in one last weekend of arcade fun before fall arrived and I ran out of free time. I would be traveling with my friend Jeff Rothe of rotheblog and this years annual arcade pilgrimage would find us winding our way through Ohio to meet a few noted collectors and scope out their game rooms. I was really looking forward to the trip as it was a chance to wind down and talk shop! A weekend full of arcade nirvana, and who doesn’t love a good road trip?

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While a few arcades still exist in the wild, they are typically filled with redemption machines and kiddie rides. You might get lucky and find a random pinball machine or arcade game, but who knows if it will be working properly. Today’s arcades are nothing like what I remember from back in the day.* These days, the very best classic 80’s arcade collections are in the hands of private enthusiasts. This trip would prove just how true that really was.

First stop was New Albany, Ohio to visit the Freecade! Greg and his lovely wife Christy were gracious enough to let us stay at their home during our trip which was a big help. We arrived late on Friday and socialized a bit in the arcade while finalizing our plans for the weekend. The Freecade is an amazing place. While I had seen the before and after photos of Greg’s basement arcade, the pictures didn’t do the space justice, you really had to see it in person.

Saturday morning we spent some time helping Greg move stuff around. We moved a gutted Omega Race out of the basement and a nice Crystal Castles in. Moved a High Speed pin into his garage and while we were there, decided to organize his projects into a nice row. We managed to get all evidence of arcade related stuff out of the living room and we’re now Christy’s favorite guests. There was a kid party planned for that afternoon and when the guests started showing up, we disappeared into the basement. Jeff and I pulled out the non-working Chicken Shift and Arch Rivals and had them both up and running in about 20 minutes. I had to play Chicken Shift. We would have tackled more but the kids finally discovered the basement and quiet time was over 🙂

Greg’s space is divided into two main sections. At the bottom of the stairs sits the full wrap around wet bar, token machine and pool table area. There was a Wii hooked up to the big flat screen and a Rampage and Gauntlet sat alone near the washroom. This was the perfect hang out space, I got to chill with a cocktail while watching TV and simply enjoying the arcade ambiance. The orange cove lighting surrounding this space gave off a nice soft glow and set a relaxed mood.

To the right of the pool table is the first row of arcade games and to the right of the stairs is an alcove full of more games. Walk through the aisle to the other side and behold two more long rows and a center row of cockpits! I didn’t count all of the games in the space, but I’d guess there were at least 40 to 45. Greg has a great collection of fun games along with a couple odd balls like Flicky and Chicken Shift which I had never played outside of MAME. Jeff and I played games all day and night on Saturday. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a marathon gaming session before and it was fantastic. Unfortunately the Star Trek cockpit and a few other games were down, but there were so many good working ones, it didn’t really matter. The cove lighting in this section was loaded with black lights and they put out a good amount of light as everything was glowing nicely.

We did meet a few of Greg’s non-arcade buddies and fellow collectors Kyle and Trent from the Ohio area. Trent and Kyle were destroying high scores everywhere. I developed a new appreciation for Dragon’s Lair which I have always disliked, Chicken Shift which was just too fun, Omega Race and Spy Hunter. Played the crap out of those games. It was after 1am by the time I gave in to exhaustion. We had a full day ahead of us, it was time to get some sleep. I had a great visit at the Freecade and hope to make it back again soon.

*Of course there are exceptions ~ the Galloping Ghost arcade in Brookfield, IL and John Yates Arcade Museum in McLean, IL are full of vintage arcade games and NO redemption. If you have a chance to visit either of these fun filled locations, you should! Worth the effort.

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