North Wildwood, New Jersey – Late 1970s
One of our favorite hangouts growing up at the shore was the beloved Botto’s Arcade at 10th and Surf Avenue. It was 2 blocks from our house and was a meeting place for the local kids.
In the first half of the decade, it was a small market full of food staples, sundries, and beach stuff. It’s where we used to go to buy our kites and string. But because Russo’s Market at 9th and Ocean was such a juggernaut and go-to spot they sort of ran Joe Botto out of business. Just geographic competition. Botto, a retired Philly cop, was never happy about that, but shifted gears and turned it into an arcade much to the joy of the neighborhood youth.
Botto’s had everything we needed for an enjoyable afternoon or evening as an alternative to the beach and boardwalk. A phonebooth outside in case you had to drop a dime and make a call, and a soda machine full of ice-cold beverages stood out front. Joe’s wife normally worked during the day, giving out change for the machines inside and operating the bike rental part of the business.
The place was small, but just the right size for us kids. A regulation-sized, slate pool table in the center of the room, and a thunderous jukebox packed with 45’s of all the hits of the day parked against the front wall near the entrance. (It played A and B sides! This way, I could listen to Walk this Way and Uncle Salty!)
All around the perimeter of the room were pinball machines and video games. My favorite pinball machine, Flash was where I spent most of my time and quarters. They had some of the greats… Eight Ball Deluxe, Gorgar, Wizard, Playboy, El Dorado, and Joker Poker, to name a few.
But, they had all the classic video games of the day in there too. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Breakout, and Asteroids.
Botto’s was a place where teenagers could hang out, play games, chat, flirt, shoot pool, drink soda and smoke cigarettes. The owners were cool, and there was never any trouble there. I’ve spent many a rainy day or health night in that arcade. The phrase “health night” came from my mother. She used to say to me, “You’re out every night! Take a health night!”
You never knew who you might run into while you were there, but it was always a solid meeting spot to hang and make plans for where you may be heading afterward. It was surrounded by motels so even though its core audience was kids from the neighborhood, they always got a few tourists in there as well.
Across the street was a place called Golf City. It was pretty much a waste of valuable real estate that was home to a miniature gold course. Fun for the little kids and they had a small arcade as well, but overall it was lame.
Botto’s was the cool kid’s place. I spent many wonderful times in Botto’s in my youth, but sadly it’s now long gone. What stands in its place now is an ice cream stand.
All that’s left to remind me of the original Botto’s in the brick face and the door and windows. So picture this place without the A-roof, the awning, the sign, the benches, the lights, and the rest of anything pink.
What’s left would be a pretty boring-looking spot. But, none of that was important. Botto’s was about what was inside. The people, the music, the games, and the laughter.
That’s not what it was called. It was a little game room on the third floor of The Flying Dutchman Motel.
Right there on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor!
The photo I used at the beginning of this post is the motel before they added the 3rd floor. But that’s what The Flying Dutchman looked like in the 70s.
We knew the owners and they were cool with us going up there to smoke cigarettes and spend our quarters on their vending machines in their game room.
The reason we called this little spot The Office, is because we used it not only as a place to hang out and play but to have meetings. If there was some local drama going down or some stories to be told, this was the place it all took place.
I remember trying to tell my older sister some convoluted story about some things that had gone down on Morey’s Pier or some other crazy news from the neighborhood one day. She was trying to understand what we planned to do about this matter and I simply said: “Office…now.”
We liked it because it was high up off the street. We had a view and also liked the games they had in there. Just two pinball machines and an old 1972 Pong machine. There’s a link I provided, but it was so basic it may have been the first video game ever invented. But a fun game! Pinball was still king, but video games were getting better with every coming season.
The biggest difference between this place and Botto’s was, this spot was quieter and more private. You could hang up there, sit at the card table they had set up in there, and just chat. It didn’t have the number of games and music that Botto’s had, but this was our spot. Most of all, it was unsupervised.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of this little game room.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Pinball machines are designed so that you can’t rock them around too much or they’ll “Tilt.” What that means is, if you shake the machine too much or lift it up to slow the ball down or anything else to upset the machine while the ball is in play, it’ll light up, TILT, and the unit goes off and your ball drains down the hole. You’re done for being too rough with the unit and most of all trying to cheat.
But kids are creative, cunning, learning machines. You know that if the adults come up with some solution to thwart our fun or sustained play, we’ll probably work to come up with a solution to beat it.
So while the machine was on, we’d have one kid gently lift the lower front up off its legs and stack quarters under the legs, one or two at a time. This would flatten the play area on the board but not enough to TILT the machine. We’d get that baby up as high as possible. This would slow down the gameplay and go virtually unnoticed if someone walked in.
By applying this simple remedy, the game would be easier, you’d get a higher score and rack up more free games. That was the main goal. Free games!
This also assisted with the legendary, “Back from the Dead.” What this meant was if you were in the middle of a game and the ball somehow got past your flippers, and towards the hole… if it was moving fast enough to bounce back out of the hole and back into play, it was always deemed a miracle, which was met with cheers from any onlookers. The ball literally came back from th dead!
So, we did that all the time up there.
Sometimes I would just go up there on my own and play pinball. I just wanted a little time alone to think and reflect on my life living at the seashore all summer. It was a brilliant and unforgettable few chapters from my young life.
Braces off, skin clear, and finally emerging from puberty!
Here’s a pic of me in 1978 on the 3rd-floor sun deck of The Flying Dutchman. The Office wasn’t just for pinball. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet the vacationing talent.
Pictured: Me with Ann and Gina Dougherty on the roof deck of the Flying Dutchman Motel -1978
Yea… tough times for Chaz in Wildwood!
If you liked this story, you’ll love my next book, Down The Shore, coming to a bookstore near you Memorial Day, 2023!
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