by Beth Ann Fell (co-owner Hi*Score Arcade)
(originally published in Skill Shot 26, October 2012)
When we wanted to open an arcade with pinball & old school video games, I called some game operators I found in the yellow pages. Not interested. I think the guy from MusicVend may have laughed at me. Dominique & Jacob from Silver Age Silver Ball suggested I contact Marcus O’Farrell. They gave me his business card, and I had a good feeling right away. The card was shiny and black with metallic silver ink and a spot-on digital font. Not only did he call me back, he was enthusiastic. He liked the Capitol Hill location, wasn’t crazy about the lack of square footage, and really hated that we weren’t selling beer. But he was still encouraging over the phone.
We set up a time for him to swing by and look at the space, which at the time was a vintage clothing store. He walked in, nodded and said, “Yeah. Yeah I think we can work with this. Are you sure you don’t want to sell beer?” We talked about games we loved, and I heard the first of many stories about the old days of the arcade business. Maybe it was because he was the first operator to take us seriously, or maybe it was that impish look he wore, but we immediately considered Marc an ally.
We opened in February 1998 with about 20 games and no idea if we were going to make any money. Every Friday morning I would arrive at Hi*Score to the sound of quarters whirling around the coin counter. Darrell would count & roll coins while Marc would flit around from game to game, fixing machines and entertaining us with stories and historical facts. I knew his phone number by heart and probably called him at least 2-3 times every day to let him know that a ball was stuck in Medieval Madness or Robotron was eating quarters again or Tempest’s screen had gone blank while someone was playing it again, or that we were still waiting for that Twilight Zone he’d promised. If he couldn’t be there he sent Larry or Ed or one of his other experts. Marc always took care of us.
Hi*Score closed in 2001 but Marc and I kept in touch, talking on the phone every couple of months or so. Occasionally one of us would try to talk the other into opening another arcade, this time with beer. We were never serious about it, but it was our common ground. Once in a while I would call to harangue him after playing a shitty Space Age table in a bar or somewhere else around town. The last time I spoke to him was a week or so before my wedding. He was going to bring in a Twilight Zone for my guests to play at the reception. It turned out that we didn’t have enough room for it. He was probably relieved, but he would never say so.
I will probably never walk by an arcade game without thinking about Marcus O’Farrell. He was a big part of my life for a relatively short period of time. I wish I had a chance to tell him how much I appreciated his friendship and how grateful I am to him for helping us open Hi*Score Arcade. Instead, like the rest of us, I will have to be content with my memories.
Random things I will always remember about Marc: His blue sweatshirt, faded jeans & Adidas . The sound of jangling keys . A little pick-up truck carrying a big pinball machine, driving down Pine Street towards the arcade. He loved his Geo Metro . The way he could change the subject with finesse when I was complaining too much . The way he talked about his daughter. His laugh.