The Space Ace Saga: Part I, “No-One Can Survive the Masher”

The Space Ace Saga: Part I, “No-One Can Survive the Masher”
Friday, 11 February 2005 20:00

November, 2004… eBay should be switched off. Well that’s my opinion anyway because it’s solely responsible for a new disease sweeping the world; the “press the button, go on, BIN it, you know you want it, it’s there, just press the button” disease. It’s the ultimate car boot sale. There I was one day, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the urge hit me, but eBay, for once, couldn’t help me. So off to the rest of the interweb I went and posted a couple of messages on a couple of discussion boards thus, “Space Ace wanted”.

I should advise you at this point to go and get yourself a cup of tea or something, and make sure you are sat comfortably, this might take a while to read…
A very helpful chap from the Dragon’s Lair Project discussion board got in touch with me and after a brief exchange of emails said he would keep an eye out for one for me. Two days later an email appeared in my inbox telling me about a Space Ace (SA) that just became available. I went and had a look at the link and noticed it was in the USA.

Now I know about importing games but this was a whole different proposition, importing a whole arcade machine over. The simple fact is though that it costs about £2000 to buy a SA in the UK and this was going for a whole lot less than that. So after viewing a few pictures I made my mind up and bought the game. I agreed to buy the game providing that the seller could keep hold of it for me until I arranged carriage, I would pay straight away though. He agreed and to pay I used Western Union money transfer, that was the last thing that went smoothly…

Maybe it was naive but I expected that door-to-door international freight carriers would know how to ship things, internationally, from one door to another. I had a list of requirements that must be adhered to, the main points being that the machine had to be packed for international travel, that it is delivered to my door from the door in the USA and that once picked up it travels to the U.K., i.e. it must not be stored in a warehouse and finally that it must not, under any circumstances be laid down.

The reasons for my list are simple. Packing it properly will prevent it falling over and getting damaged, I want one company to arrange everything for me as they should know what they are doing better than I, storing it in a warehouse will expose it to cold and damp and if you lie it down the laserdisc player falls out of position and gets damaged.
A week and 6 shipping companies later I still hadn’t managed to find one that could actually ship the machine. None of the door-to-door international freight carriers I approached could ship it! Well, I tell a lie, there was one but I thought it was too expensive and it was going to take over a month to ship. Note that I was arranging this in November 2004.

I had, in my initial batch of enquiries, approached DHL and despite being told I would get a quote and after chasing it loads of times nothing was forthcoming from them. I was pulling my hair out, failing to understand why it was so damned difficult to get any responses from all the companies I approached, this was their business! Weeks later though DHL suddenly responded with a reasonable quote for door-to-door shipping using sea freight with a 9 day turn around. I was a bit worried about my lovely Space Ace spending 9 days at sea, but after a bit of deliberation I started to write an email to DHL accepting the quote.

Uncannily, at that exact same time, an email quote appeared from another shipping company for about the same price but using 3 day Air Freight. This seemed far better to me because the machine would spend less time traveling even though the machine would get cold in the hold. The problem was though that the company were waiting for a final packing quote from America which they should be able to get me in a few hours. So I accepted this quote, as long as the packing quote wasn’t out of whack.
Perhaps I should explain at this point that by now I had learned so much about shipping because of the billion conversations I had had about it with freight companies that I needn’t have bothered getting a door to door service. The freight companies just couldn’t understand that I had a arcade machine and needed it shipping, they wanted me to know the in’s and out’s of everything to do with shipping it. I don’t know, just ship my machine please!!

Anyway, it turns out that there is full container, partial container, air freight, sea freight, non international packing and international packing. On top of that you have to know the meters cubed measurement and the weight of the machine (how the hell am I supposed to weigh an arcade machine!). International packing is very important because it means that the packing company put the machine on a pallet, strap the two together so the machine becomes a part of the pallet, then a box is built around the whole thing by tradesmen so that it can’t be damaged. This method of packing is very expensive but very necessary. This was the type of packing I was waiting for the quote for.

The few hours turned into over a week (by which time, DHL could have almost got the machine to me!). And eventually the packing quote came through. All of this had taken so long that it was getting near to Christmas. The week before Christmas to be exact. The trouble is that as soon as Christmas kicks in it’s difficult to arrange shipping because of holidays etc. I agreed with the company that the machine should be shipped and was assured it would be with me on Christmas Eve. Wahoo, progress at last after 6 weeks of pure hassle.

Except that because of the time delay between the USA and the U.K. the courier couldn’t get the message to the USA end of the arrangement. I tried to intervene but what happened stunned me, the USA packing company said the quote was too dear and were trying to ge a new quote for the packing!! Aggghhhhh!! they came back with a new quote which was actually dearer!!! Time was rolling on and I asked them to just sort it out. The people at the U.K. company were on holiday and things were just getting stupid. The upshot was that it couldn’t be picked up before Christmas after all. I was assured though that it would be picked up on the Monday after Christmas and shipped to the UK before the end of that week! OK, great, at last it’s all sorted!

Christmas came and went and on Monday I got an email from the seller telling me that the machine had been picked up. Remember that the packing quote had been increased? It had been increased because it included the pick up from the customer and for that they would need a tail lift van and a couple of people. Do you think they showed up with a tail-lift van and a couple of drivers? of course they didn’t. Did they take any precautions to prevent it getting damaged when it was in the van? Of course not, they didn’t even bother to strap it in!!

There was nothing I could do though except cross my fingers. I called the USA company to find out which flight the cabinet would be on so I could make sure that someone was in my house to pick it up. This is an important point. The thing is very heavy and there’s no way I could carry it myself. So for all Christmas week I was at home as were my friends and family, any later than that and we were all back at work. In fact I knew that I was away for a full week… The lady in the USA didn’t know which flight it would be on… Excweeze me? You don’t know which flight it’s on? So why have you picked it up from the seller then? Surely you have a flight arranged and you are picking up the machine just in time to take it to the airoplane? Errrr…. no.

The lady told me she’d get back to me with a flight time. Imagine my surprise when the director of the English side of the company called me a short while later. He explained that there weren’t any flights between Christmas and New Year… none… unless I wanted to pay three times the cost! My blood boiled, it turned out that the machine was going to have to spend all of Christmas week in a warehouse, the exact thing I didn’t want to happen. Reluctantly I agreed as long as the machine was packed immediately before it was stored in the warehouse. I now expect my machine to arrive a full week later, AFTER I get back from my week away for work.
Are you still reading this? Have you finished the cup of tea yet? If you have, go and make another one because we are only half way there!

It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and I should have been playing Space Ace, I decided that sulking was the best answer and started to sulk straight away because I wasn’t going to get the machine for at least another week. But on Thursday that week I received a surprise email from the courier explaining that the machine was in the U.K. and was on a wagon from London to Manchester. I would have the machine by Friday. Wahoo! result. I called on Thursday to check what time it would arrive on Friday…

The customs computer had crashed at the courier, so they couldn’t put it through customs. Which meant that I couldn’t have it delivered until the following week (when I wouldn’t be at home!). So I had a choice. I could either have the machine taken out of the “airport warehouse” and placed in the “courier warehouse” for a week (lord knows the difference) or I could go and get it myself. If I put it in the courier’s warehouse then I definitely wouldn’t get the machine for another week. If I want to get it myself I HAVE to leave it in warehouse storage, and I have 2 days to get it before daily storage charges kick in. So I made the decision to go and pick it up. I agreed with the courier that I would pick it up sometime over the weekend, probably on Saturday (bear in mind it was now 3.00pm on Friday) after hiring a van on Saturday. Ok, everything’s sorted, van booked for Saturday, pick up Saturday morning.

An hour later I got a call off the courier telling me that, actually, the warehouse is only open on Friday night and shuts at 2.00am!! It’s now too late to pull it out of “Airport Warehouse” so unless I can hire a van right away and drive down that evening I would be charged extra storage. So panicking I called just about every van hire company in the area and found only one van. I confirmed specifically that it was 6 foot tall and would hold an arcade machine 6 foot high that can’t be laid down. I finished work and dashed to the van company. I got there just in time, and before I took the van I thought I’d hire a sack barrow to help with moving the cabinet around.
I drove home in the van, waited until the kids went to bed and started, at 7.00pm, my drive to Manchester airport, which in a car doing 70mph non stop takes 2 hours. It was a bit windy as I started off but ended up unbelievable. The van was nearly on two wheels because of the force of the wind on the M62 and the rain made visibility nonexistent. At some points I was doing 20mph on the motorway literally fighting the van to keep it under control. Nothing was getting in the way of my Space Ace though, not now after all this hassle.

I got to the Warehouse at about 10.30pm. The lights were out… oh god no I thought… After banging on the door a chap answered and explained that he had been waiting for me but assumed I wouldn’t make it because of the weather, he was locking up! They didn’t shut at 2.00am they shut at 10.30pm! Anyway he took me through to the warehouse, and there I saw my Space Ace in the corner of the room. I mean I could actually see the Space Ace… ringing any bells yet? There should be a crate around it shouldn’t there? I should only be able to see wood….

I got close to the machine. Where are the straps I asked? There are none said the bloke. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I paid £400 for packing and the machine had been wrapped in one layer of cellophane and rested, unfastened, on an “egg box” type pallet, so it rocked slightly from left to right. Now I don’t know much about airoplanes but I do know they tilt backwards to take off.

I looked at the cellophane and there were puncture marks in it, and they went straight into the wood! The plexi-glass had fell off somehow and the receipt that had been taped to the outside of it was now on the inside! that means the plexi had been removed and put back the wrong way around.. I was fuming, the unit had been damaged considerably.

I was tired though and just wanted to get home. The chap fork lifted the cabinet to the van. It was at that point that we realised that the inside of the van was over 6ft high, but the door was a pull down type that rolled up, and so the hole to get into the van was about 5 feet high. It meant I couldn’t fit the machine in… ARGGHHHHHGGRGRHRHRGRGRHRHRGHGRRRAAAAA. After some hair raising “it’s ok mate just tilt your very heavy, super sensitive, arcade machine backwards and I’ll lift the forklift as you do it” moments the machine was in the van, mine at last.

The chap said he might be able to make the pub if he could go straight away so he asked me to finish tying up the machine outside. So I carefully drove out of the warehouse. Stopped just outside and proceeded to tie up the machine inside the van. Outside the weather was horrendous. I went back to the warehouse to try to get in to retrieve the sack barrow that I had left in there after mifligating the machine, but it was locked up and the chap had gone. The sack barrow that I hired for two pounds per day was comfy and snug inside the warehouse that was shut for two days and was 2 hours from home.

Anyway I called a mate of mine who had offered to help if I needed it to let him know I was sorted and didn’t need him. As I did so the wind blew a container off a rack that was next to the van. It hit the floor and smashed to bits. Time to leave I thought! I called my wife to let her know that I was on my way home. No she said, you can’t, it’s a hurricane. There are 100mph winds back at home and loads of trucks had overturned. She forced me to promise that I would stay with family in Manchester and come home the next day.

The next day I got up and checked the weather, still 70mph winds. That meant I couldn’t yet travel and would have to wait until the afternoon at the earliest. Which meant I couldn’t get the van back by 12 on Saturday. Which meant I had to pay for a whole day’s extra hire.
Never mind, Friday night turned into Saturday and at least I could go and look at my Space Ace. I opened the van and looked at the machine in the cold light of day. It was horrible. The sides of the machine were pulled away from the marquee and monitor area so you could see straight through machine, through the nails that were just managing to hold the thing together.

Dismayed I re-tied up the machine, waited till the wind died down and set off home. I got home ok, summoned some family to help, and got the machine into my house fairly easily. Family disappeared and I called a mate who was gagging to see the machine. He came over to mine straight away and I waited for him before opening it. When he arrived I unwrapped the “packaging” and tried to find the key to open the back door. I had agreed with the seller that the key would be on the inside right of the machine, on a hook (nearly circular hook, very important) which could be accessed through the coin door which wasn’t locked. I found the hook but not the key. I noticed the insides.

The laserdisc payer was on its end banged up against the back door, resting against the laserdisc that had been taken out of the laserdisc player for safety.
I lost my temper and forced the lock to the back door and took it off. Me and my mate nearly cried. Everything was everywhere, nothing seemed in its proper place. We very carefully started to slot things back where we thought they went, I removed the laserdisc player and laserdisc and noticed one component hanging down. We couldn’t for the life of us work out where it went. We examined the bit closer and noticed some broken glass on it, then we noticed the broken glass on the back of the monitor. Then I realised the monitor tube had smashed. the monitor was dead, gone, it was an ex monitor…

So basically the outside was smashed up and everything inside had been smashed up. I could not fire up the machine because I had to convert it to take a U.K. power supply. I was really pissed off at this point, I had spent a small fortune on a smashed up piece of wood.

I decided that the only other thing that could go wrong was for the laserdisc and player to be broken, that would really polish it off. So I put the LD into another laserdisc player I have, hooked it up to my normal television, and the Space Ace logo blazed away. Me and my mate sat silently watching the video all the way through, drinking John Smith’s in total awe at seeing it all again for the frst time in 20 years. At least the Laserdisc worked..

So that was that, was that, 1 month and a hurricane after I first got the urge, my smashed up piece of would stood proudly in the middle of my room…
That’s the end of this particular chapter, but it’s not the end of the story. We are only half way through the whole saga!! I had to fix the thing and that’s where the fun really started. Grab another cup of tea and have a read of the second part of this article, “The Space Ace Saga Part 2: Can We Keep Him?”. It’s really good, it has fireworks in it!