Herb and Slim

I spent time some time frequenting two arcades right next to a large university down there in Texas. It was the middle of the 80's and the arcades catered to the college-age crowd which meant they let you game with a Coke and a bag of Cheetos if that was your thing. My thing was Diet Coke + 5% Dr. Pepper, no cheetos and no smoking. Smoking wasn't my thing.

For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the arcade that sat next to a great burger joint in a strip of college bookstores, cafes and other establishments meant to sate the never-ending needs of college kids. My memory plays tricks on me, telling me it was called "Two Bits", but I know that is wrong. There is a "Two Bit Score" up the road in Austin that does pin cpu board repairs, a joint I visited in the early 90's with a broken Mati Hari logic board. Maybe that visit is throwing me off. I know the arcade wasn't called "Two Bits". In the interest of naming the place, how about "Slims"? It fits since the place was a long, narrow space with just enough room to walk down the line of machines with a coke and a burger. They even had a shelf along the back wall for your eats and drinks. 

For me, Slims was about the pristine Gyruss and Star Wars machines. They were beautiful machines, in perfect working order, smooth (smoove?) cabinets, bright marquees, and rich sound. And the control yoke on the Star Wars machine...do I need to preach to the choir here? The Star Wars arcade experience is largely defined by the quality of the yoke -- if it grinds like a veteran line-backer's shoulders, the game experience will suffer. Maybe "reek" is a better word. But if it is smooth and silky with just enough resistance you will walk away feeling pretty good about it. $0.25 well spent, even if you left the Force at home under your bed.

Slims had an equally pristine Gyruss machine. The stick was showroom fresh and the sound was perfect. Front-row at a Fishbone concert perfect. With Gyruss, it's all about the bass and the machine at Slims had it dialed up to 11. To get the best gaming experience, it was best to show up before noon on Sunday; the place would be empty so the entire store could be your private echo box. If the Gyruss gods were smiling, I could last 20 minutes on a quarter...so my 2-3 bucks would last a while.

I stunk at Star Wars, especially compared to some of the college kids that would roll in and eat 45 minutes on a single quarter. At least it seemed like 45 minutes. They'd use the Force, drop Tie fighters, and shoot laser towers with one hand on a Big Gulp. Some of the guys could drink a Super Big Gulp and last 45 minutes without hitting the bathroom. Bladder pressure = more focused gaming? Maybe. Didn't work for me though.

Herbs was another experience. It was tucked in what seemed like an old warehouse in among the less expensive campus rentals a few blocks off of main street next to the university. It did not stay in business much more than a year, but while it was open it occupied a big part of my gaming life. They sold canned drinks on the premises and let folks smoke but the ceilings were pretty high and the place was ventilated well enough that when someone did light up, it wasn't the end of the world. The machines reflected the smoking -- most had burn marks, a few had soda stains. But they had Major Havoc, Gauntlet, Two Tigers and a great bootleg version of Pac Man that were worth the effort.

The other thing Herb's had was a phenomenal $20 token deal. Most joints with token machines did an even trade, 4 tokens for a buck. Herbs was the same unless you unrolled a $20; for $20 they gave something like 150 tokens. In a loot bag. Sweet. Grab a few of your gamer buddies, hit the 7-11 for a round of Big Gulps or Slurpees (if that is your thing), then pile around the Gauntlet machine for a marathon session. "Warrior has been eating all the food" -- hell yeah, because Warrior has been doing all the work!

When I would game solo, I would always be drawn to the Major Havoc machine. Having been cursed by the Vector gods at birth, I naturally stunk at the game but spent more than a few bucks on it over multiple binges. The combination of jumping and moving the Major with a Tempest-like spinner knob attracted me even when I panicked and could not escape the building before it exploded. Other more able gamers had come before me and done well, I saw the territorial marks of "BOB" and "ETV" next to what for me were astronomical scores, in the hundreds of thousands. ETV also knew how to kick Tempest from here to Sunday; he left his calling card on a few of the local machines including the one inside the U-Tote-M.

Herb's also had an I-Robot machine. It was vector and yes I stunk at it. But it was great fun to experience...not sure about the gameplay, but the experience was fun. You had to use a robot to paint 3-D surfaces while an eye-in-the-sky watched. I think there were flying 3-d birds as well. It could be hypnotic with the right tunes playing in the juke box.

Only suckers wasted quarters on the juke box.

Both arcades died out, just like the local drive-ins. When Slims and Herbs died, the town was left with only a few: a clean joint named "Games Galore", the arcade in the new mall, and a nice spread in the student union at the university. I visited them all.