A few months ago, I visited my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. While my best friend Bill and I were driving down the highway (on our way to the liquor store), I was shocked to discover that the old Nightingale's building was completely gone. In its place: a bank--weird. Bill and I had both been bartenders at Nightingale's years ago. I started reminiscing about some of the wonderful and terrible memories about working at Nightingale's, including the Twilight Zone pinball machine, which stood beyond the pool tables by the DJ booth.
When I started working at Nightingale's in 1996, it was the only gay bar in Fort Collins, and I had just recently come out of the closet to the wider world (although I had told my family and closest friends years before). Working at Nightingale's was really my first foray into the gay world, and it was quite an adventure.
Nightingale's was a scary bar. It wasn't the people that were scary (although there were a few here and there)--the bar itself was scary, especially when it was empty in the afternoon when I opened it for Happy Hour. It didn't have any windows, and there were lots of creepy back rooms and hallways that always gave me the creeps (not to mention the terrible mice infestation). Over the nine months that I worked there, I saw strange lights and white figures, heard voices, felt people walk up behind me when no one was there, and worst of all--I felt a terrible sense of dread. One day, I felt something watching me from behind a stack of chairs on the far side of the dance floor--that was a long shift. I was never scared when others were around, only when I was alone in late afternoon Happy Hour shift. In the middle of all of this stood the Twilight Zone pinball machine, which always seemed very fitting to me.
If you read the wikipedia page for the game, it sounds like the game is highly regarded among pinball aficionados. I'm no pinball expert, but it was an incredible game to play. It is extremely complex and difficult, and it is layered with references to a wide variety of Twilight Zone episodes, prominently featuring the central and iconic image of Rod Serling himself. Serling's voice (portrayed by an actor) can be heard at times along with variations of the unmistakable theme music.
When I finished my Happy Hour shift around 9:00 or 9:30, I loved to stick around, have a few beers, and use some of my tips to play the pinball machine--I always got lots of quarters in my tip jar.
After playing a game, I could turn around, and if no one was waiting to play the game, I could watch the people on the dance floor.
For me, that Twilight Zone pinball machine really embodied that gay bar and that experience. It had lots of flashing lights just like the dance floor, and it had lots of pitfalls, twists, and turns. More than that, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, venturing into the strange world of a haunted gay bar.