Non-adventures in dog-sitting, part 2

June 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 29, 2017

Late Tuesday afternoon, I showered, took the dog outside and set out for Sterling, Va., which is a 20 or 25-minute drive from where I’m staying. I was going to — well, let’s call it Massive Marvin’s, a dining establishment that a pair of Internet websites assured me had six pinball machines.

I haven’t yet blogged about pinball, but in brief: I started playing casually sometime last year at the instigation of my friend D—, who’d picked up a pinball jones in 2015 or so; I began developing a true pinball obsession myself about two months ago, which has evolved to the point that I played pinball at five different Triangle venues in the four days leading up to my departure for Virginia.

My phone’s navigation program led me to a nondescript shopping center in a part of Northern Virginia that looked remarkably like every other shopping center that was developed in Northern Virginia in the 1990s. It contained a supermarket, a tool store, a library, an automotive parts store, a few restaurants… The place I was looking for was right by the entrance I’d used, so I found it without too much effort.

I parked in the middle of a broad row of parking spaces in the wide lot that separated two of the buildings in the shopping center and walked toward the establishment. Peering through a tinted glass door, I saw an empty room with four or five pinball machines, all of them dormant.

I walked in and was hit by an odor that I rarely encounter nowadays: Stagnant cigarette smoke. New York City instituted a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003, and North Carolina instituted a statewide ban on smoking in such places in 2010. In other words, it’s been a while since I’ve walked into an establishment and found that kind of stale aroma.

The place obviously catered to people who liked games, or at least certain games: There were a bunch of dartboards and pool tables. Several of the former were in use. The interior decor was pretty shabby, and the clientele seemed to be very blasé; it was immediately obvious that this was a dive bar, and my hopes for the quality of food produced by the kitchen immediately plummeted.

An even bigger issue was that only one pinball machine that was plugged in and powered on. This was a battered 1976 Gottlieb machine in the main room. The game, which has a poker theme, was called Royal Flush. I approached it, as skeptical of the machine as everything else in the joint.

Either I had to play this machine or leave and go somewhere else. Since there was nowhere else in particular I had to go, I put down my backpack and sweater, pulled out a quarter, and inserted it.

The game was… OK. (I’m not particularly fond of most of the 1970s pinball machines that I’ve played.) I ended up putting all the quarters I had at hand — about $2.50 — into the machine and achieved a personal high score of about 63,880. It offered a free game for scoring 75,000 and 89,000, so obviously I fell way short.

That consumed about 15 or 20 minutes. Afterward, I looked around, picked up my belongings and walked outside.

I wandered to the other side of the parking lot. I’d planned on spending a few hours at this establishment, but now I was more interested in going back to my base and watching more episodes of Star Trek. There was an Italian restaurant in the shopping center, but it didn’t seem like the kind of spot that sold pizza by the slice, so I kept on meandering. Eventually, my eyes alighted upon a Thai restaurant. I went in, had some very tasty green curry with shrimp, and read a bit of the book I’d brought.

By the time I finished my meal, it was around 8:40 p.m. I wanted to buy gas — I was near Dulles International Airport, and my smartphone told me that some of the lowest gas prices in the region were to be had near here — and it would take me a little more than 20 minutes to drive back to the place where I was staying.

I found a convenient gas station, filled my tank, and then started returning to my friends’ home. Despite a little bit of traffic, and a touch of confusion on my part about how some of the interchanges worked, I managed to get back to the house a few minutes after 9 p.m.

I let the dog out of her crate and turned on the television. The Next Generation episode that had just started airing was called “The Masterpiece Society.” I’d missed the very beginning, but rather serendipitously, I’d happened to view the parts that I’d missed on a Youtube clip that I’d randomly watched about two weeks ago. In other words, quite by coincidence, the timing had worked out about as well as it could have.

To be continued

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