First, about the business:
Originally started as Yates Enterprises in 1989
Underlying legal owner, business name and address:
American Pride Amusements
108 SW Park St.
McLean, IL 61754
I just realized this week that when I created this new website for the business, I forgot to transfer over my "About Me" from the old website. That was the page where I rambled on in a quite long and drawn out fashion about my personal life, beliefs, convictions, and mission. Now my old computer with the source code for that site has died and I don't have it readily available. So I will just start from scratch and give you a little flavor of the insanity that is John Yates.
The human creative force behind VintageVideogames.com, Arcadia, American Pride Amusements, Hotel Arcadia, the Game Dungeon, Arcade-bar-in-a-box, Arcadia Auctions, Arcadia Unlimited, etc is John Yates. I say that because I don't want to take ultimate credit / responsibility for any of it, but want to credit the unending blessings of God in bringing all this about. None of this could have been accomplished absent the countless ways God has blessed me since birth. I'm not a huge subscriber to "white privilege," although I definitely acknowledge that in the amusement business I got in more doors being white than I would have if black. But much more than that, I definitely have benefitted from the undeserved privilege of being a child of God. I don't want to get into a hour long theological discussion about the relationship between prosperity and God's blessing. This isn't about prosperity - believe me...I'm not rich. For most of my life I lived as close to the edge of bankruptcy as anyone around here. I'm talking about how God has blessed me with the opportunity to do something so fun and rewarding for a living. And he has blessed it with enough success to at least keep it going and put food on my family's table.
This blessing all started back in ....well I'm old enough that I don't really want to say when it started...but it started with birth into a great, loving family with a wonderful mother and father who have ALWAYS been there for me, through thick and thin. And I have given them lots of thin over the years. My mother stayed home to raise my sister and me, despite being brilliant and capable of doing anything she wanted. My dad worked tirelessly to provide for us, but was always there to take me to church, play with me, take us on family vacations, take me on all kinds of father son trips, dinners, breakfasts, you name it. My parents were impeccable role models. I NEVER saw them fight, even once. I never saw them have a drink of alcohol. My dad did smoke for the beginning of my life, but quit cold-turkey when I was still pretty young. I got plenty of discipline. I think my last spanking was at age 17 or 18. May sound crazy, but believe me, I needed every spanking and probably a few more to be honest.
My parents never walked away from me or gave up on me, even when being visited by the Police, or getting calls from the school about bad behavior. They helped me through all of my teenage struggles - I suppose I won't be so transparent as to list them here. But there were plenty of them.
I was blessed to be born in this great country. There is no other country on Earth where I could have done what I have done. The opportunities in this country are limitless (so far). It is truly a blessing to be born here.
I was further blessed to go to and graduate from the University of Illinois in Electrical and Computer Engineering. The degree didn't really do much for me frankly, but I did meet my wonderful wife of 33 years (as of this writing) at U of I. Much more to follow.....when I have time.....
...ok, let me get this back to my story as it relates to the Arcade business. I grew up, like most boys from my generation, loving arcades and arcade games. Any time my family went anywhere there might be a game or arcade, I was drawn to it. From my earliest memories. I remember playing old EM pinballs when I was really little, and being absolutely mesmerized by them. My church had a member who had a chain of doughnut shops and had a few arcade games in them, so he put a few in the church. Most memorably, an air hockey game and a cocktail Pong (clone). Looking back, it was one of the most boring, ugly, pointless games ever, but I played it like it was the funnest game ever created. Also he had a Batter Up pinball in the pastor's basement.
My parents didn't mind me playing games for free, but were frugal people and thought that 25 cents to play a game was a total waste of money. So they didn't give me money to play games. I was welcome to spend my lawn-mowing money or birthday money or whatever on games, but they otherwise didn't contribute to my addiction. So I mostly just hung out in local arcades with my friends, watching them play and hoping to find free games or quarters once in a while. I really wanted to play, but rarely could. This created in me a longing for games that I didn't realize at the time would affect and shape my future.
My local arcade was owned by Bally, and every once in a while, would put a price on a game that they were ready to part with. This really interested me, and I purchased my first game from them when I was a senior in High School, using money from my job at Red Lobster. It was a Sega Star Trek upright (in the convert-a-cab cabinet) for $99. My parents let me put it in our library on the first floor, and I played the heck out of that game. Knowing what I know now, I can't believe it worked so well for so long. In fact, I think it worked fine until I sold it to a school mate when I went off to college the next year.
So I went off to U of I as a 17 year old Freshman, still not realizing that my life was going to be completely hijacked by my arcade passion. I moved into the dorms (ISR). One of the first things I did was to buy a old pop machine that was in the basement of a sorority on campus (was there a sorority called Farm house? That's what sticks in my head. I wasn't knowledgeable about the greek system at all). It was so old that it vended bottles. But at this time bottles of pop were still available to purchase in the local grocery store. They were 16oz returnable bottles, not the 10oz that the machine was made to dispense. But I found that with a little effort, I could cram 16 oz bottles into the machine. So I put the machine in my dorm room and sold pop to anyone who would buy it.
I put a sign on our door that said "COME ON IN....PLEASE". My roommate hated it. He wanted to be left alone and either study or just hang out with friends. I wanted everyone who walked by to come in and socialize and buy a pop. To be honest, I also had a couple of rows of beer and wine coolers for sale in it too. Kind of odd, because I have never drank alcohol, not a single beer or drink in my entire life. And I'm really opposed to it too. But I guess this shows that my drive to make a profit is greater than my hatred of alcohol. Or at least it was as a college Freshman. I don't think I'd do it now.
The funny thing is that I had no trouble as a 17 year old buying alcohol for my machine. I would just walk into any of the campus liquor stores and buy 5 or 10 cases of beer or wine coolers, never being asked for an ID or asked my age. The drinking age was 21. Don't you love the way we enforce the rule of law here? I've always believed that we don't need any new laws, if we would just enforce the billion laws already on the books.
Anyway, not sure why I'm digressing, but actually this vending experience does have a big part in the story of my arcade addiction. So anyway, I went through my freshman year having a lot of fun operating this vending machine in my dorm room and making a tidy little profit at the same time. I had other businesses that I ran that fresman year too. I started my own Stereo sales business out of our dorm room. That's another funny story (although it probably has little to do with arcade games).
But I'll tell a little of it, since I'm baring my soul here. I had a good relationship with a retail stereo store in Bloomington - Finnigan's. I had built a great relationship by volunteering to independently inventory their video rental business and keep it up to date. This was in the very early years of computers where very few people had a personal computer. I did, and was proficient in its use. I noticed that this video rental store (by far the busiest in bloomington normal) seemed to just be flying by the seat of its pants and the owner had no clue what movies he owned or how many of each. So I solicited the owner to personally inventory his stock, and then print him several lists in different orders, that would allow him to keep track of what he had. In exchange, he GAVE me my choice of any piece of audio/video equipment I wanted from his store whenever I published an update to the inventory. The update usually took me about 2 to 3 days of tedious work. This was all done on my trusty Apple II plus with 48k and two floppy drives and an orange monochrome monitor, and the inventory was printed on my trusty C.Itoh 8510A dot matrix printer.
So I got pretty close to the owner and his staff during this period. In fact, I even dated one of his daughters, who was extremely beautiful and sweet. But we just didn't have much in common, and she was older than me so it didn't last or work out. But no hard feelings on either side. I won't embarrass her by sharing her name here. She is probably still around the area.
So when I went off to college in Champaign/Urbana, I noticed that the local stereo stores seemed to price their Pioneer stereos and DCM speakers a fair bit higher than Finnigan's in Bloomington. They specialized in Pioneer and DCM. So I talked to them about selling their stuff from my dorm room and undercutting all of the local stereo shops. They agreed and gave me their wholesale catalog. I was thrilled...for one thing, I could now buy my own stereo equipment for wholesale! I was addicted to collecting stereo components too. You should have seen my stereo rack. I had about every Pioneer component you could get, from the multi-sized, double-sided playing laserdisc players to reverb amps, dynamic expanders, equalizers, etc.
Without a doubt, I had the nicest stereo / audio / video system of any freshman on my floor at ISR. I was also quite the salesman. I started soliciting sales of various Pioneer components from all my friends and pop machine customers. At this time, I didn't really care how much I made on a sale, as long as I made SOMETHING. But I definitely tried to make as much as I could. If a customer had very little money, I'd settle for a $5 profit. But if they seemed super rich (or with super rich parents), I'd try to make $50 or more. It was messy to be honest.
And it even caused a rift between me and my roommate. We had become pretty good friends by this time, despite the fact that he apparently didn't like me when he agreed to be my roommate (another long rabbit trail). But he wasn't as shrewd a negotiator as some others I sold to (even some complete strangers). So I ended up selling him a component for more than I sold that same component to a couple of other people. He found out, and was really angry with me, and thought I was just a terrible swindler because I hadn't given him the best deal possible as my roommate. I totally see his point now, but at the time I felt there was a separation between business and friendship and that as long as someone was happy with a negotiated price, there was no harm done.
Well, back to the stereo business. Another notable tactic I tried using was to make copies of 5 dollar bills and put my stereo business information on the back side, with the front being the front of a 5 dollar bill. Then I scattered them all over the quad, thinking people would pick them up because they looked like money, then call me and buy stereo equipment. Of course I quickly found out that it is illegal to do this.
I can't remember exactly how this all ended, but my recollection is that one of the stereo stores that I was undercutting told DCM (the speaker company) that their distribution agreement was being violated by Finnegan's by allowing me to sell products outside of their agreed territory. Which was true. So DCM told Finnigan's they would lose their right to sell the products unless I was stopped. That was the end of that arrangement. I think it was also pretty much the end of my relationship with Finnigan's entirely.
Ok, back to the game business......I guess as I think about it, there was about a 2 year period where I really had almost no connection with arcade games. I was more interested in chasing women at this stage of my life I think. I wish I had been more interested in what I was supposed to be studying, but I had no interest in that frankly. Girls were FAR more interesting.
So at this point my primary business was the vending business. I started looking for more pop machines and friends to let me put them in their dorm rooms as well. I had one friend willing to do it, but I don't recall what happened there. Oh yeah, I remember what happened. I got kicked out of the dorms towards the end of second semester of Freshman year because I had too many explosions / fires / etc in my room. That kind of put a pause on my vending business as it was only in the dorms at that point.
The explosions / fires are kind of an interesting story as well. I was a pretty serious pyromaniac from the time I was old enough to strike a match. I loved starting fires, and playing with fireworks even more. I had an uncle (the one I was named after) who was the coolest guy ever. He was a farmer in Iowa, and let me drive motorcycles, shoot big guns, blow up things with fireworks, and all that kind of amazing stuff from the time I was a little kid. I was always getting in trouble back home in IL starting fires everywhere, at home, church, my grandparents' houses, etc. I didn't see what the big deal was. I knew what I was doing and never really caused any major damage. I was always able to put the fire out before it got out of hand. But you know how "grown-ups" are. They think a kid starting fires is bad and should be stopped.
Well, when I got to college, there were no "grown-ups" to tell me to stop, or at least not in my dorm room. I made a lot of friends because I had a pop / beer machine in my dorm room. One of my friends was a sophomore Chemistry major, but for some odd reason he looked like he was about 45 years old. He told me that because he looked so old, he could go into the U of I supply rooms and just "check out" or "take" any chemicals he wanted. He just told them he was a professor or T.A.
So I thought, hmmm....that's really cool! I went to the library and checked out a book on WWII explosives. I had a small collection of Tonka trucks I had brought to decorate my dorm room for some reason, and I thought, "wouldn't it be cool to make WWII explosives and blow up these Tonka trucks in the dorm parking lot?" Makes sense, right? I mean I have access to any chemical known to man for free, can't let that opportunity go to waste. We're always told to take advantage of opportunities. Jordan Peterson is big on that.
So we started making a list of explosives and their chemical formulas. I had my old-looking pop customer go to those supply rooms and get the chemicals. We started off with some really basic fun stuff like putting calcium carbonate in water in a 2 liter bottle and blowing that up (because it makes a ton of hydrogen gas). That one wasn't from the book; I remembered it from high school chemistry class. Then we just started at the beginning of the book. We would mix one up, wrap it up in paper towels with a fuse, and then light it in the parking lot.
We didn't get very far. I think the second one we tried to make was something I believe the Germans used that was a mixture of Antimony Sulfide (Sb2S3) and Potassium Chlorate (KClO3). If I remember correctly, we couldn't really get it to react or explode with that formula. I remember the book said that if you used Potassium Perchlorate instead (KClO4), it was much more volatile because of the extra Oxygen atom. But I think the book said it was more dangerous and less stable. As an 18 year old boy, that didn't concern me in the slightest. We gathered the chemicals and I began mixing them up on my desk using a mortar and pestle. It wasn't more than about 30 seconds before the whole thing exploded in my face, burning most of the skin off my left hand, burning my eyebrows and hair, burning a hole in my desk, and starting the room on fire.
That began a pretty painful chapter in my college life. I lost use of my left hand (I am left handed) and had to spend about an hour every night for weeks and weeks at McKinley Hospital (the campus hospital) having them unwrap my hand, scrub it with all kinds of chemicals, then put all kinds of medicines on it and bandage it up one finger at a time and then the whole hand. My left hand was a big white ball for a long time. Those sessions were among the most painful moments I've experienced, and I do not recommend this to anyone. Somehow, by God's grace and miraculous healing, Skin grew back (mostly scar tissue) and my hand eventually healed 100%. The scars looked pretty bad, especially on my thumb and last two fingers, for many years. But over time it has gotten to where I can hardly tell where the scars were! My feeling is not good in those areas, though.
This obviously also affected my school, as I could no longer take notes in classes or take tests or do much of anything. So it just gave me an excuse to blow off more classes and fall more behind in Engineering school. And once you fall behind, at least in my case, you can never really catch up. I never did. But that's not important....back to the story....
So that explosion was my first warning in the dorms. The second warning came a couple of months later, when my roommate and I decided we wanted to have a cookout because we were being blessed with an unusually nice day. The dorm didn't have any grills for students to use, nor did it really have a nice picnic area. It was very dull outside around it - just concrete parking lots and sidewalks and the like. However, there was a beautiful building across the street - Krannert Center for the Performing Arts - that had an actual beautiful park with trees and everything, on the ROOF of it! It was like a partially underground building. Weird, but kind of a modern super expensive building like most performing arts centers. Well that roof looked like the perfect place for a cookout to me.
We bought one of those disposable grill setups, which was basically a big foil tub with very thick aluminum or tin, filled with charcoal and a grill on top. Made for just this kind of occasion. We picked up some hamburger, lighter fluid, and utensils we thought we'd need and headed over to Krannert. There was a lovely spot underneath two huge 30 foot evergreen trees, and we had found our picnic area. We set up the portable grill, but figured maybe it would be best to just start a little campfire to get it going. So we built a little campfire with whatever dry wood / sticks we could find around and lit it with the portable grill on top.
It was a beautiful day, and this was going to be a wonderful, relaxing picnic with delicious fresh grilled hamburgers. I couldn't wait. But unfortunately, we both realized at this point that we had forgotten to purchase BUNS for the hamburgers! You can't have hamburgers without buns. Luckily for us, there was a small grocery / convenience store in the little mini-mall / shopping center about a block or two away. I think it was called the Thunderbird plaza or something like that. I hardly ever went there so I'm not sure.
John (my roommate) and I left the fire and walked to the convenience store. We found some delicious looking hamburger buns, and got in line to buy them. While we were in line, all hell appeared to be breaking loose outside. Sirens started going off everywhere outside and we heard firetruck after firetruck go speeding by outside the store. I lost count of how many went by, sirens blazing. At this point, you would think that an intelligent person would start to think about the fire they had left under those two evergreen trees, but no - my thoughts were - "Oh Cool!!! There's a fire somewhere! We need to get out of here and see if it's close enough that we can watch it!!!"
We got to the front of the line, purchased the buns, and quickly left the store, trying to see which direction the fire trucks had gone. I was shocked to see that they had all parked pretty close by - about a block or two north of us. That was great - the same direction we were heading! So we actually started running to see what all the commotion was. As we rounded the corner and came into full sight of the scene - it was at this moment that my heart sank. Watching about 10 or 15 firemen in full suits with axes, hoses, masks, you know how they look when they're all suited up - all walking around the area where our cookout was supposed to happen.
This was one of those moments I look back on and am pretty proud of myself. I think my normal instinct would have been to run the other direction and pretend I knew nothing about what was happening. But something - probably the Holy Spirit - told me, "John, you need to go own up to this NOW." And I actually listened to that voice. I actually walked up the hill to the roof and told them, "I'm sorry - I'm afraid I'm responsible for this." Boy were they pissed at me. I got lectured like a 2 year old for about 90 minutes. And upon reflection, I get it. I mean, I really don't think I was going to burn down Krannert. I'm really not that stupid. Yes, I did build a fire underneath two 30 foot evergreen trees, but the fire was far enough away from them that I really don't think it could have caught the trees on fire. At least probably not. And it was a small fire....not like a had a huge 6 foot bonfire. But I do see their point and agree that what I did was stupid and wrong. They were convinced that I had threatened the lives of a thousand people (apparently there was a big concert or event going on inside while I was doing this). I'm lucky they didn't arrest me. They certainly talked about it and told me that what I had done was severely criminal and I could easily have charges filed against me. But God saved me from any serious consequences from this one.
However, this became the second strike against me living in the dorms across the street - apparently the dorm people found out about my little fire on the roof......
.....to be continued.....
re to follow....