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Bowden, a self-described “analog person,” agrees. “Yeah, you’re pretty much just hitting two buttons to make the flippers pop up and down,” he says. “But there’s really so much stuff going on, and you’re making it happen.” 

Portland residents pride themselves on this kind of vintage experience, explains Herb “Orbit” Belrose, the 31-year-old “media liaison” for Portland’s (and, according to Belrose, the world’s), most prominent pinball gang, the Crazy Flipper Fingers, whose list of requirements includes that members be willing to substitute CFF for their own initials when they earn a top score.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia around here,” Belrose says. “My neighbors collect Fiats. There are lots of photographers around here who use old cameras. It’s kind of a retrospective [thing], along with a big push for elongation of childhood here.” 

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Belrose is referring in part to the large Portland demographic of underemployed but creative hipsters who rely on games like pinball and sports like kickball to set themselves apart from the mainstream. Pinballers are loathe to admit it, but there’s definitely a geek chic to the hobby — a lure that seems as much about being different as it is about a genuine love of the game. And while the sport is certainly male dominated, it does have unisex appeal, according to Brinda Coleman, who, thanks largely to her father’s fascination with the machines, has played pinball since she was a child. For 11 years, she and her partner, Sam Soule, even published a pinball magazine called Multiball. “I have a lot of history with pinball,” she says.

Passion for the game in this area undoubtedly runs deep. Among his “immaculate pinsessions” listed on his CFF online profile, Belrose describes a night playing Twilight Zone at a Los Angeles bar in 2001, wherein right after completing all of the game’s other modes and achieving the coveted Zone, he mistook the machine’s lights going dark for a power outage. 


“There’s a lot of nostalgia around here. It’s kind of a retrospective [thing].”
“[I] slam-tilted [the pinball machine] through the drywall” in frustration, he writes. “Got a free escort to the curb.”

But Belrose, a photographer and a designer who is working on a master’s degree in communications, is the first to admit that his pinball-playing friends aren’t exactly the 9-to-5 type. “The group is definitely made up of people more on the creative side, doing unique things with their lives,” he says.

That makes Stender, the air-traffic controller, the exception — which is why he has to fit pinball games into vacations.