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, my dad was a gambling addict at the time and this was before slot machines printed out little slips, so there were those plastic buckets full of quarters in the house all the time. Come home, do laundry, walk out with $30 in quarters for the Gauntlet Legends machine.

  2. If you’re ever in Denver, you should go to 1-up (but go early or on a weekday, it’s SLAMMED on weekend nights). It’s a barcade with just your rules(except some of the cabinets, i think are from the early 90’s). also giant jenga. and no dancing, apparently, there’s signs everywhere telling you that. you would probably like it.

  3. I feel the same way every laundry day. Adulthood has robbed the common quarter of it’s awesome potential. I really try to imagine the homeless folks I give quarters to are immediately running to a nearby arcade…

  4. Just because I’m a geek:
    Robotron, Space Invaders (duh), Gauntlet and Spy Hunter.
    Good times.
    We used to go with a couple bucks each and play Gauntlet with three of us until we were about ready to drop.
    Great memories!

  5. I would seriously love for you to be able to not only start an 80s arcade, but expand to a lot of cities. There’s not a lot to do here in WV (I’m here for school and I feel like my soul is slipping away.) so having one in Charleston or Huntington would be fantastic. :)

  6. I’ve got about half a dozen of the old beasts in the basement – Centipede, Galaga, Tempest, Gorf, Asteroids Deluxe, Gyruss, and Joust. They’ve all been converted to work on tokens, though, so I don’t have to worry about party guests pocketing quarters (setting them on free play isn’t always an option – some of them will sit on a “Press Player 1 Start” screen or the like permanently, and burn an image into the screen).
    “Wesley’s Holodeck” would be a great name for an arcade….

  7. My dad owned an arcade when he was 16 (so that was, let’s see…1978?), so there’s the guy to ask for some retro arcade pointers.

  8. That isn’t “Fuck You Awesome” money. That is “Awesome Money”.
    “Look at my 1980’s themed private retro arcade. Fuck you!”
    “Look at my 1980’s themed private retro arcade. Awesome!”
    I’ll also accept “Wicked”, “Ex.”, “Tubular” or “Bogus” (Bogus only counts if used incorrectly before learning its true meaning).

  9. As an individual in their mid-twenties, that was lucky enough to frequent stand-alone arcades before they started dying out and being limited to bowling alleys, I would like to say thank you. For keeping the dream alive of opening up new arcades. I’d saddens me that kids today don’t leave their homes to interact with other kids as much these days. When I was young I didn’t always own the games I wanted to play, I had to actually ride my bike to the arcade and interact with other gamers who enjoyed playing games, just like me. If you lost to someone, you actually turned and yelled at them, not just screamed over a microphone. You had to put a quarter on the machine and wait to get next play, not just wait 30 seconds for the game to load. You had to love gaming to wait to play. So thank you Mr. Wheaton for bringing back my own memories of scrounging through the couch cushions for that shiny quarter, which could mean epic fun for a young boy.

  10. Just a few days ago I was hit with a nerd version of “Remembrance of Things Past” where I closed my eyes and heard the cacophony of dozens of video games, smelled the sweaty air, and saw the dazzling lights of the arcade where I spent many hours of our trips to the city. I realized then that was one of the first places where I ever truly felt like I belonged. To this day, if I keep change, it is the quarters I keep.

  11. I’m lucky enough to live within a couple miles of ; it’s a favorite destination for Date Night these days. If you’re in Austin sometime, check it out: 13k sf, 80+ Pinball tables and piles of retro arcade games. I can’t seem to escape without at least one game of Tempest or Wizard of Wor.

  12. My hometown arcade was in an old cigar factory. They had Journey Escape – the game! Pretty awesome. It’s still there, though not open to the public anymore. They just rent out machines to local pizza joints now.

  13. I don’t really play video games now, but when I was younger I was drawn to the arcades like any kid. In college I discovered a cache of retro video games and pin ball machines in the rec building. I had a roll of quarters in my hand with every intention of going back to my dorm and doing my laundry…but it didn’t happen that day. Nostalgia won out. I poured that whole roll of quarters into one machine after another and had an awesome time that afternoon.

  14. Wil, make sure that you put in all MAME machines. That way we don’t have to stand in line to play the game we want, we just get to a machine and then pick the game we want to play. I have a row of quarters to place on the glass that will just about cover up the screen. Heck, I will even go through my quarters and only pick out the ones with 1987 or older! Only quarters that don’t have an eagle would be bi-centennial quarters!
    What would you call it? Uncle Wil’s Fun Time Arcade?

  15. One of the arcade experiences I thoroughly enjoyed was the “Chuck E. Cheese” experience. I think I had my 11th and 12th birthdays there in the mid 80s.
    In those days there were whole floors, or rooms, of arcade games, and I was well, let me put it this way, I wasn’t happy to see anyone, it was a roll of tokens in my pocket.
    And then last year I visited our local Check E. Cheese, and I. well, if I had been aware of the meme back then, I would have walked straight up to the manager and said, “Son, I am disappoint.”
    It’s soooooo sad. There are only a couple true video games left. All the game machines are ticket winning scams. That’s it. Boo – urns!
    I’m buying more of you shit right now so that you can get closer to that “Fuck You Money” total.

  16. Just want to add that since tron legacy came out, disney opened flynn’s arcade in California adventure where every game is still a quarter and nothing but 80’s music plays. I work there and love it. I would drop Disney like a bad habit to work at wil’s arcade.

  17. I was born in 1987, so I never got to experience that era properly. When I saw Tron Legacy, the moment the arcade lit up and the music started, I thought of you, Wil. I wish I could know what it felt like to have been there at the time – but because of the way you write about it, I kind of do…

  18. Wil, you take me back to that time when arcades were those darkened store fronts in the mall where I could spend hours playing pinball and then later on Pacman, Space Invaders and Galaga. In fact, when we were meeting friends to see the Thor movie at the theater, I found a video game there with the “classics” and spent a few quarters playing Galaga in it. But what you also reminded me of was that fateful day in January of 1985 when I watched my future husband put two quarters into the broken Star Wars machine (the one with the bright vector line drawings and you piloted Luke’s X-Wing to blow up the Death Star). I was just too late in telling him that it was broken so he played it anyway, and not too bad and we talked a little after that and talked some more and the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks for that memory!

  19. Wil, I’ve been reading your blog for several months now and this is the first time I’ve been moved to comment. I grew up with the first-gen arcade games and there’s definitely a certain magic to the stack of quarters. Near me I am blessed with a quasi-arcade of the old machines in various stages of working (plenty of pinball machines too). (Crabtowne USA: I can also recommend the arcade at Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney…not cheap but a lot of fun.

  20. Wil, if you ever earn said money and open said arcade, I will patronize it endlessly, but ONLY if you carry the original Pac Man machine, the tabletop variety where two players can sit opposite one another. I’m older now, and will likely need the rest as I exert my dominance over the gaming world.

  21. A quarter, to me, means defending… something… I don’t really recall the back story at all, but Defender cost me several hundred dollars over the course of my early teens. But thank you for bringing back fond memories yet again.

  22. When I was a kid in the late 80s, my mom brought me and my sister to Hong Kong while she visited a friend. We weren’t rich, but my dad worked for an airline, so hey, cheap tickets. Anyway, the exchange rate at that time was 8:1 Hong Kong dollars to US dollars. Arcade video games over there were one Hong Kong dollar. Young me did the math. HALF PRICE VIDEO GAMES!!! I went kind of crazy.

  23. In a small town not far from Bloomington, IL is a classic arcade with all my old favorites. We just recently found this little time capsule and can’t wait to sink in more quarters! My very first date as an almost 16 yr old in 1985 was at an arcade (happy sigh).
    Also, next time you’re in Vegas, you must go to the Pinball Hall of Fame. I think hubby and I spent more time there than we did in the casino. πŸ˜‰

  24. My quarters live in my car in a tin that once held Ben&Jerry’s mints and I tear up when I must put one into a parking meter. When you open that arcade, I will be there EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Provided, of course, that you have Ms.PacMan, Millipede, Galaga, Tempest, and Tron.

  25. Some years ago I was chatting with some younger guys at work and I began to tell them my memories of the Pac-Man craze in the early 80s. Suddenly I had a small but eager audience, and it really hit me then just how much difference 8-10 years of living can make. Most (if not all) of the them had never played a Pac-Man machine…but my stories of people sitting down at the two player machine with beers and rolls upon rolls of quarters stacked…of hearing about my best friend’s parents fight over spending their rent money on a little yellow guy that ate dots…I may have been very young but I remember it so vividly…
    Although today I’m a quiet hermit who spends most of my days alone – doing Tai Chi or listening to peaceful music – put me in a big, noisy arcade with all of the sights and sounds of my childhood and I’m completely at peace. The screens, the jumbled mix of so many sounds – the energy of the people and yes the clinking of many quarters…pure bliss I say. Pure fucking bliss. :)

  26. i was never all that much into video games. but the bus station (long since torn down) had a pinball game that my little brother (we were about 7 & 4) would each use a paddle button and rack-up the points while waiting for the bus with our mom. a few times we drew a small crowd because no one could believe two little kids were doing such a thing. true story.

  27. BTW have you ever seen the king of kong: a fistful of quarters? it’s a documentary mostly about the highest scoring donkey kong game but includes a part about a arcade video game high score competition.

  28. I was just there a couple months ago.
    It was glorious.
    My wife gave me that amused look that only a wife can give when I was geeking out over playing old-school games.

  29. I agree with everyone else, more specifically whatupdog, about mid-80s music. I listened to — and wrote down — Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 from the summer of 1978 until October 1986. I gave up, finally, not because I got a life (that was still years away), but because I liked the music so little, I just didn’t care anymore whether it went up or down the music charts.
    I miss “Starship 1″, the “Black Knight” and “Comet” pinball games — and a “Star Wars” game (the one with the vector graphics that actually gives you bonuses for NOT shooting at targets) with a controller that feels like it hasn’t been held 100,000 times.

  30. Can I play?
    The twinned sticks of a glowing, green wireframe tank.
    The four-triggered yoke of an X-Wing.
    Generally too many buttons to accurately play Stargate,
    The one you hand to your mate to say “sorry I shot the food – please stay in the game with me!”
    Good times then, good memories forever.

  31. It’s a shame that the arcade industry is so seemingly non-existant. I’d love to be able to go to a local super-arcade, play a couple rounds of pinball, maybe some old-school whac-a-mole and skeeball, then go over to the shuffle bowling and air hockey.
    Sadly the only way I can really do that is to go to the boardwalk ‘down the shore’ (aka at the Jersey shore [aka not Guidoville]).

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