I’m generally a very private individual. There are many things about myself that I don’t share with others, even close friends. There are people I have known for years who don’t know I write this blog. Many people don’t know about my other writings either, or that I write at all. For some reason I tend to keep various parts of my life compartmentalized away from the other parts. I don’t know why, it’s just how I roll.
There is one part of my past that I tend to keep secret from everybody, though. It’s a shameful period best left alone, a period in which I had an addiction, and like many addicts, I turned to crime to help feed my addiction. I’m not proud of it, but it happened, and now I think it’s time to come clean. You know. For the lulz.
My addiction was Sky Shark. A somewhat popular vertical scrolling shooter from the late 80’s, a quarter-sucking arcade cabinet that I couldn’t stop playing. It was located, along with two or three other machines I never gave a second glance, in the main lodge at Wildcat Mountain, the ski area that was literally just down the street from where I grew up. I skied there every weekend during the winter, and so was often exposed to the object of my obsession.
My friends and I played the shit out of that game. Sometimes I think we did more game playing that skiing on a typical Saturday during the winter. We’d go through every quarter we had, then we’d go in search of more. We often found them on the floor, particularly near the coin-op lockers. Eventually one of us figured out that sometimes quarters would get stuck in the mechanism inside these lockers, and so we often went around shaking the door of every locker to see if money would fall out. We could sometimes get a buck or two each day this way. A buck was four games of Sky Shark, so this only served to fuel my obsession.
One fateful day, one of us noticed that all the lockers in a vertical column fed into one coin hopper at the bottom of the stack. And we discovered one hopper in particular had a door that was nearly falling off. I can’t remember how exactly we did it, but we managed to get the door open without much trouble at all. JACKPOT! There had to have been four or five dollars in quarters inside. We quickly scraped them out, divided them up, and spent several hours playing video games.
The next weekend, of course, the door had been repaired, and we were back to scraping together a few quarters at a time from wherever we could find them once the money we brought ran out. But hitting the mother load had changed me. I was no longer satisfied with the few quarters we were able to pick up here and there in our scrounging. I kept thinking of that entire sealed box full of quarters, and becoming more and more convinced of what I had to do.
This was the turning point. What we had been doing before was technically stealing, but we never thought of it that way. We were just “finding” the quarters. Shake a locker door, and a quarter falls out, and it’s yours, right? Well, technically no, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone (except possibly the locker owner) who would think you should be severely punished for something like this. Even getting the first hopper open hadn’t really felt like theft–it was way too easy, it practically fell open on its own.
The next weekend, though, I brought a big flat head screwdriver with me to the mountain. This definitely crossed a line from mischief to flat out vandalism and theft when I used it to pry open another one of the coin boxes on the lockers. I couldn’t get the door off, but I managed to pry open a hole between the door and the side of the locker big enough to stick a ticket wicket in and scrape out the quarters.
In this way we managed to “liberate” a few dollars worth of quarters and spent some time playing Sky Shark. When the money ran out I’d go back to the locker and fish around with the wire wicket until I had another handful of quarters, and then we’d go back to playing. On my last trip, I decided I needed to make the hole bigger because it was getting too hard to fish the remaining quarters out of the lock box. I had just shoved the screwdriver into the hole and was working it back and forth when someone slid into the seat next to me and I felt a hand on my shoulder.
He was a mountain employee, and he called over his walkie-talkie for… something. I don’t think I heard what he said, because I was too busy being frightened off my ass. I could see my friends over by the Sky Shark machine, apparently oblivious to the fact that I’d just got pinched. They had a small mountain of quarters piled up on the face of the machine, and I remember thinking “That’s not too obvious, guys.”
I sat there, about ready to die, wondering what was going to happen. I figured I was going to get kicked off the mountain, for starters. Get my season pass revoked. That would totally suck. In between marathon sessions of Sky Shark, I did actually like to go skiing. Also, for sure my parents were going to get involved, and that scared me more than anything–facing my mom and dad with my new criminal record wasn’t going to be fun at all.
“So, who are you working with?”
Working with? What was this, friggin Ocean’s Eleven? This wasn’t some complicated heist here, I had a screwdriver and I was prying open the fucking coin lockers! I kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t going to stooge on my buddies.
“Ok, was it that kid there?” He pointed to another friend of mine, one who had nothing to do with the quarter stealing at all. “No.” I said. He scanned the room, saw the two kids with the huge pile of quarters playing Sky Shark, and asked “Was it those two kids there?”
I didn’t say a word. He looked at me funny, then got up and went over to collar my two friends and haul them back to the table. To my credit, I did not, in fact, squeal on my friends. However, I will be the first to admit that I sort of fucked up that whole interrogation thing. Hey, come on, it was my first time getting pinched, cut me some slack!
I don’t recall exactly what happened next. I recall a lot of pleading and a lot of justifying and a lot of twisted logic. Come on man, it’s not really stealing! We only used the coins to play Sky Shark, you get the money right back! (You know, never mind the damage I did to this locker…) In the end… somehow we got off. We kept our freedom, our passes, our high scores on Sky Shark, and I even got my screwdriver back. All we lost were the remaining quarters we’d taken from the locker. I’d like to say this was due to my hardcore negotiating skills, or that I Jedi mind tricked the dude, but the truth is, I think he was just baffled by how fucking stupid and blatant our scheme was. I mean, I barely even made any attempt to hide what I was doing as I sat there, in plain view of the entire lodge full of people, prying open a coin-op locker. We made several trips back and forth to get more quarters, getting more brazen about the whole thing every time. It was the worst criminal plan of all time.
I’d like to say that was the end of my criminal career, or at least that I learned an important lesson that day. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t. We pulled the same scam again about a year later. At least that time, I was smart enough to be a lookout (and we were smart enough to actually have lookouts) instead of screwdriver man. And we didn’t get caught.
But the main lesson I learned was this: Crime doesn’t pay, but it sure can get you high score on Sky Shark.