the value of a quarter

Last week, I took my car to one of those car washes at the gas station. When I was waiting to pull in, I saw that for the low low price of one dollar more, I could upgrade my wash options from four useless things to seven useless things.

Obviously, I reached into my change box (some of you may know it by its other name: the ashtray) and pulled out four quarters. The instant those quarters hit my hand, nostalgia took over, and those four quarters were much more than a dollar. I held, in my hand, a ticket to the year 2084, a summons to save the galaxy from Space Invaders, a map to an endless dungeon where shots do not hurt other players (yet), and the keys to a car that was one weapons van away from kicking serious ass.

I looked into the change box and counted at least a dozen quarters. There were probably more buried beneath them.

12 year-old me would have wet his pants by now, if he had access to this many quarters at once, I thought. Once again, I resolved to earn The Fuck You Money, so I can one day open my very own classic 80s arcade, where quarters matter and the jukebox doesn't play anything released after 1987.

I couldn't bring myself to drop those four quarters into the car wash. On the way home, I could feel the disdainful looks from other drivers who had put seven usless things into their car wash … but I didn't care. I'm certainly not going to be judged by someone who doesn't know the value of a quarter.

97 thoughts on “the value of a quarter”

  1. Also, this should be like the fundraiser for you for when you pass away 70 plus years from now: the Wil Wheaton Memorial Arcade.
    “Presidents have libraries, but Wil Wheaton has a MOTHERFRENCHING ARCADE, so suck it.”

  2. Well ok. I’ll visit your arcade if you get it running… as long as there is no air hockey game. There are always big kids with feathered hair hanging out around those things… They scare me.

  3. My friend, you read my mind! As I was typing my earlier post, a computer voice kept popping into my head saying “Green Elf Shot the Food…!” with that annoying inflection on the last word that made you feel like a complete idiot. :)
    Of course, getting the CPU to say “I’ve not seen such bravery!” gave you quite the ego boost…until you realized he only said that when you were getting your ass kicked and it always had a mesmerizing effect to get you to pump in more quarters to increase your life bar. The marketers who designed that game were indeed greedy bastards – but genius greedy bastards at that! 😀

  4. When I was a kid those quarters meant candy, then as a teenager those quarter meant arcade time, then in college those quarters were laundry gold, now as a mom that bag of precious quarters in my purse means immediate toddler distraction.

  5. One time I saved a bunch of quarters, and all of his shiny friends (not his coppery friends) in one of those great big coca-cola bottles.
    After three years the bottle was full.
    I spent two days rolling it by hand.
    I cashed it in and went to Germany for two weeks. : )

  6. I hope you open one of those 80’s arcade shops one day…how awesome that would be. While you are at it, open an 80’s new wave record shop like the one they had in the movie, “Pretty In Pink” :)

  7. Zaxxon. Xevious. And there was one whose name I don’t remember where you were flying over a big space station; you had to shoot down ships, but you could also attack the surface and if you cut off power to an entire segment, it’d go dead. And there was a Legend of Kage cabinet where the colors were all messed up — it wasn’t until years later that I realized that the ninja was not supposed to be this neon-green guy climbing bright pink trees.
    If you build it, I will come. And I have professional experience reaching into an apron pocket and giving quarters for sweaty, crumpled dollar bills . . .

  8. I first played the Star Wars game in a sit down cabinet, so it really felt like a cockpit. In later years I played Robocop, Shinobi, Mortal Kombat 1&2, Terminator 2, and Revolution X. I actually used my newfound resource, something called the internet, in 1995-96 to look up strategies for Rev X. My family went to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX a couple weeks ago, and my 4yo daughter wanted to go to the arcade. They didn’t have many games she could play, but she likes to play skeeball. She can’t make it over the hump, but she tries anyway. One day she and I will blast aliens together, but for now I’m happy trying to teach her the basics.
    I really need to get a Pong game for home. Damn you, Hurricane Rita!

  9. Next time you’re in Sin City, some friends hauled me out to the Pinball Hall of Fame – It’s a warehouse full of pinball machines and old arcades games – all playable for a quarter or two (and all quarters go to charity). Best. Vegas. Trip. EVAH.

  10. I remember “Warrior needs food … BADLY” I dropped $20 into Gauntlet one time, one of the best $20 I ever spent. Playing with friend. Wish I could find an old gauntlet arcade box.
    Years later I found “Get Medieval” A revamp of Gauntlet, great game.

  11. Years ago I went with a friend to a large casino on the East coast. We wandered around the casino floor watching people gambling and I had a few quarters in my pocket but I couldn’t make myself play the slots because I figured that if I gave any machine my quarters, I should at least get a damn candy bar out of it.
    Another quarters thing: my apartment got burglarized last night and the only thing stolen was four quarter rolls: our laundry money.

  12. I consider myself fortunate to live within driving distance of Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, home to the American Classic Arcade Museum- a playable collection of some 300+ arcade games and pinball machines from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. If you’ve been to the Retro Gaming Lounge at PAX East, you’ve seen some of their games!

  13. Certainly a retail joint simply titled, say, “*RETRO*” should be in order to encapsulate the above great ideas. ( I’m in for at least 10 grand so long as StarWars and Omega Race sitdown versions & foosball are available. Methinks Gabe & Tycho should be approached.)
    One part Flynn’s arcade (everything from The Who’s Tommy pinball* to Dragon’s Lair),
    One part seaside town boardwalk style arcade (give it up for SKEEball, indoor bumper cars, and The Clawww),
    One part the-history-of-gaming-arcade (allowing you to play/experience everything from MAZE WAR to DOOM to ColecoVision to the original NES in their original glory),
    One part sweet oldschool record store,
    One part drugstore with poprocks and candybars (also 25 cents, dammit), cheap novelty toys, kenner Star Wars action figures, and rotating wireracks of comic books (don’t forget MAD and Cracked, please),
    One part retail clothier and hair salon so you can really get your 80’s on (aquanet, muscle shirts, vans, swatch, and studded leather fingerless gloves…),
    One part slot car racetrack (look it up, kids),
    One part gumball/toy machine forest including those shriner 1-cent chiclets,
    One part bowling alley / drive in movie theatre / billiard lounge / pizza parlour,
    One part John Hughes film – [insert favorite memory here] (and a little Cameron Crowe too: the sandwich board outside on the sidewalk can be in the shape of Lloyd Dobler holding up the boombox…)
    …there’ll also be a schwinn scrambler with a banana seat and rad 5spoke mags, permanently locked to the bike rack out front =)
    What? Can’t I dream? People will come.
    * we’ll have to have this updated with Wil’s voice added too;
    p.s. I’d also like there to be a liveaction donkey kong game/experience where you run up ramps and dodge barrels with hilarious falls/crashes ala tv’s Wipeout.

  14. There was a change in games around mid-late 80s where they allowed the ‘insert quarter to continue.’ Before that time you could put your quarter on the glass to signal you had ‘next game.’ Once ‘insert coin to continue’ happened, people would hog a game until they ran out of change. Or send their friends to get more change. Either way, totally cheesy!
    The last time I put a quarter on the glass of an arcade game (Galaga) the kid playing used it, I think he thought I was giving him a present.

  15. I’d like to officially put my resume in for a few shifts a week at the Chicago branch of Wil’s Fuck You Arcade.
    As long as I can get one of those pouches to carry tokens around to change people’s dollars when the token machine isn’t working.
    As great as PC and console games have gotten, I still really miss the tactile nature of standing in front of a machine with the joysticks and buttons. No matter what happens with controller technology, or how in depth games get that require keyboards with numerous hotkeys and macros, not to mention multi-button programmable mice…that old gaming feel is something I miss.

  16. Save the last family with Robotron….great game, first one I remember where you moved with one joystick but shot with a second one, not a button.
    I still am in favor of somehow having a WWDN weekend at the Fun Spot in Laconia, NH. If you aren’t familiar with the place, you should be. I’m hoping for a Discs of Tron tourney myself.

  17. Extend your music cutoff to June 1988 so you can include Information Society’s STTOS-sample laden debut and I’m there.
    As a side point, all of the grocery stores that we shop at play 80’s music. I just find that so friggin’ cool.

  18. I was just talking to my wife about how I would walk down to local arcade here, called Starbase, on the weekends, and every day we did not have school. My friend actually bought the Tempest game we spent hundreds of dollars playing, when they shut down. I want a place like that back, and I would travel to yours, like a trip to Disneyland.

  19. Wow! I was 18 in 1978 – I would have died to ‘own’ an arcade then. The dreams of a generation. What’s your take on that era of 8-bit goodness ?
    Kindest Regards,

  20. Such a great post which made me cast my mind back to playing Donkey Kong, Galaxian, Defender, Asteroids, 1942, Paperboy, and much much more.
    And in a mere matter of months I will be doing that all again thanks to a thriving retro gaming community in the UK, and regular conventions.
    It kind of gets me sneering at modern arcade cabinets, with their sculpted guns and flashy graphics, which ask for around 20 times the price as I used to throw into a machine for a credit. Also with their crazy difficulty levels your coins only garner a couple of minutes play. Nothin, to me, will ever match up to slamming one 10p coin into Wonderboy In Monsterland and spending an hour and a half carefully navigating the quests to the final boss, or a few coins into Bubble Bobble so that me and a good pal can spit bubbles and make sweets.

  21. Ah, many an hour wasted on Gauntlet. I always played as a Valkyrie (even now on MMOs most of my mains are females – my arguement being if I am going to stare at something for a few hours, I’d rather it have a nice ass and boobs).
    Anyway, revisited the joy of the game on a 4-player cab last year at a gaming convention, and I am pleased to report it still stands up today. Fantastic!

  22. I’d like to make a small suggestion… Dress code!!!! :) Fat shoelaces, polo shirts with the collars up, parachute pants, 100 bracelets per arm, etc. I mean, why not go all the way? And no game of Donkey Kong is as exciting without trying to suck on your candy ring in-between barrel dodging. :) Ahhh the good ole days.

  23. Totally. It would be one of those places where, maybe on Friday or Saturday nights, if you came dressed in appropriate 80s attire, you'd get free games, or a free drink, or something like that.

  24. Wait, why is the word ‘own’ in little semi-quote marks? Do you doubt me??
    Anyway, while I am somewhat glad to live in an era full of advanced technology that only continues to grow, I do feel a bit of nostalgia for what seems to be something of a Golden Age I will never experience.
    Well, in tube socks, anyway. I can totally just go play those games online.

  25. e said…
    I hope you open one of those 80’s arcade shops one day…how awesome that would be. While you are at it, open an 80’s new wave record shop like the one they had in the movie, “Pretty In Pink” :) and rev smith said (stuff)
    I think that this could happen. Have your online minions build a virtual version first. Using paypal or amazon or whatever to buy tokens. Some % of proceeds going to child’s play. Then, use money from the online game to build a real one. The real one, in turn, could be a model for a franchise.

  26. And MJ’s Bad wasn’t too terrible a CD even though it wasn’t as good as thriller. The grocery store is the only place in my little Northern Michigan town that plays 80s music. for some reason the Classic station and the best ofs seemed to have gotten stuck on everything prior to 1079. You have to beg them to play something 80s hip.

  27. The value of a quarter indeed. I don’t know who stuck them in grown up bodies and sucked out their souls, but I feel bad for them. Use the crappy torn dollars in vending machines. Quarters are silver tickets to Otherplace and Elsewhere.

  28. Being somewhat older than you, I remember growing up and looking forward to Sundays, when the family always went to Bradenton Beach. Yes, I liked body surfing, but my favorite part of the day was when I was given 4 quarters to go play pinball. I remember standing on the sandy concrete floor of the snack bar while playing one of the two pinball machines they had. This was back in the old days when you got 5 balls for a quarter. I was pretty good, so with extra balls and skill, I was usually there for an hour or more for that dollar.
    So WHEN you open your arcade, please make sure you have a pinball section for us old types! Thanks!!!

  29. Next time you are in Portland, hit Ground Kontrol. By the time you are done the only way the 12 year old you could top the experience would be to go home and build a fort out of couch cushions, a couple of chairs and bed sheets.

  30. Regarding the ‘Fuck You’ Money, I’m sure that John Rogers could set you up with the blueprints for a caper, rejected from Leverage for being too easy and foolproof, which will see you swimming in quarters like Scrooge McDuck in no time.

  31. Ahh the memories… but by cutting it off at 1987, you are gonna exclude Disintegration, Violator, and Technique, not to mention the entirety of shoegazer goodness! How amazing would it be to play some nice old video games while cranking Loveless, or Gala! :)
    This is one of the reasons I wish I lived in Portland, with that excellent arcade, Ground Kontrol, there… and VOODOO! 😉

  32. Agreed, should have read all of the comments before making my own… my vaca to Portland in 2007 sealed the deal I think, I would love to live in that fair city… fond memories of Ground Kontrol, Powell’s, record shopping, and good eats!

  33. I don’t doubt you Asiavou. The quote marks were just for emphasis, because the concept of owning a penny arcade in 1978 is just too much for mere mortals such as I to dare dream about using in just normal language. I’d love to have a space invaders coffee-table style machine in my lounge room. One of these days…

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