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, 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. I live 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 29 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. 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.
My battery is almost dead....I will have to continue my life story at a future date....
re to follow....