Come on, kids, that's it, gather 'round while I tell you all about the good old days. What's that? You want to hear about what peep shows were like way back when? Well, when I was a younger man, after a rough day on the loading dock, I'd go downtown and stop in at the ol' porn shoppe. Give a cheery nod to the toothless coot behind the counter, pass by the racks of dildos and butt plugs and other marital aids, and head clear to the back of the place.
That was where the movie booths were. That's right, I said movies. Loops, eight-millimeter quickies is what they showed, films of folks like Vanessa Del Rio and good ol' Johnny Wadd--remember him, do you? Ah, God rest his soul. We didn't have none of that fancy video stuff you've got these days. Why, all a fella needed was 25 cents, and he could hunker down in his own private booth and watch a little porn.
But those booths were no piece of cake, believe you me. They stank of cut-rate disinfectant, and that was if you got a clean one! The wood was rotting away in most of 'em, and you can bet yer Florsheims would stick to the floor like nobody's business.
Yeah, you kids nowadays have it easy, and I'm not too proud to say I'm envious. Fancy, high-tech TV screens with topnotch resolution, stereo sound, multiple preview imaging and I don't know what-all. I'll tell you one thing, lots of folks may say everything was better in the old days, and maybe lots of things were. But not them porn booths, no siree . . .
That's right, friends, the old-timer speaks the truth.
And, wouldn't you know it, but the second largest manufacturer in the country--and one of the leading innovators-- of "video arcades" is Phase III Video Systems, located right here in Tempe.
Phase III has been around since 1983, and has grown to design, construct, install and service arcades all over the world. As we speak, there are men and women (but mostly men) enjoying the state-of-the-art video quality and superb craftsmanship of Phase III products in Canada, Germany and, of course, all over the porn-lovin' U.S. of A.
I was unaware of this myself until a friend happened to mention that he'd recently "met a guy who made jack-off booths." My interest was instantly piqued, and I decided on the spot that I, too, must meet this man.
I did, and his name is Jim Macry.
Prior to joining the Phase III team, Jim had a unique array of employment experiences. He has worked with electronics for 20 years, and spent 13 of those years in the Navy as an Electronics Technician First Class. His duties took him around the globe (including two trips to Antarctica) working on weather-detection equipment, air-surveillance radar and air-quality equipment. Macry also did radar testing for MIT at the White Sands Missile Range.
Obviously, this past training has made him uniquely qualified to create these popular pleasure centers, be they video arcades or jack-off booths. Or, as Macry himself says, "I've never been incredibly picky about the kind of jobs I've had, as long as they're interesting, as long as there's something to it."
The Phase III facility is not particularly large, but, on the day I visited, at least, the working atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. There's got to be a certain level of pride involved in making a product that will bring so much happiness to so many.
"It's almost like doing a public service," says a humble Macry. "People may not like it, but [porn arcades] are there. And they're busy. You almost want to say it's sick, but I try not to judge people and what they do."
It's clear that Macry enjoys his work and is not ashamed to admit it.
"It's clean money, it's good, honest money," he clarifies. "If people ask me if I'm embarrassed about what I do, I say, 'Well, I could be Fife Symington or Joe Arpaio, or I could be a personal-injury lawyer or a televangelist. I'm not really embarrassed about this at all.'"
Phase III has introduced four generations of adult video viewing booths; the 3000, the 6000, the popular Le Arcade and, the queen of the stable, the VMAXX.
These different models represent "levels in quality, how many channels there are, how easy they are to maintain, and the amount of computer control you have over it," Macry explains.
In the dark ages before the computer revolution, your average arcade consisted of a simple VCR system.
"We got called in to do an update on a system in Maine where it was actually two VCRs in every booth and you chose between the A movie or the B movie," he says. "Here, you can go in and choose from 30 channels, 60 channels, 90 channels; we can set it up for however many you want. We put out a state-of-the-art system."
Many buyers of Phase III arcades demand customizing to some degree, Macry offers.
"How the booths can be set up is usually determined by what the local ordinances are. In Phoenix, you can't have doors on them, you have to have a mirror. In Tucson, we had to put in half doors that went from the ceiling to 36 inches off the floor. Some have full closing doors with locks on them. Some of them have what they call glory holes, holes that go from one booth to another. . . . We bend over backwards for the customer, whichever way they want to do it."
Macry proudly shows off a newly completed VMAXX. The booth is battleship gray with a user-friendly control panel and generous monitor screen. There is a comfortable, form-fitting chair made of plastic and colored to match the subtle, no-nonsense decor of the VMAXX walls. The chair is close enough to the panel to allow easy access, yet far enough from the screen to eliminate any potential retina damage during prolonged viewing. For a fully installed, 12-booth bank of VMAXXs--that includes monitors, players, housings and 60 channels--you're looking at a price tag of $55,000.
According to Macry, that investment will pay itself back in no time.
"The adult video and novelty business is the fastest-growing business in the United States. Something like 90 percent of the stores report a profit in their first year." And most arcades are still a solid bargain at 25 cents per minute, a fact that is not unappreciated by certain viewers.
"We got a call today from Tucson that someone was having trouble because they couldn't program more than 256 minutes," says Macry, shaking his head. "There was a guy in San Francisco who'd go in a booth for 13 hours, from the time the place opened to the time it closed. He'd hawk his personal possessions to afford it."
For those unfamiliar with the arcade world, Macry takes us through the process:
"You go in the little booth, you slide your dollar in, then you channel up or channel down until you find something you want to watch. If you're not sure what you want to watch, you hit the 'quad' button, which takes the volume out but shows you four different previews and switches through however many channels they have, in blocks of four at a time. It switches about every 15 seconds."
If you're saying to yourself, "Hey, when I want to enjoy a porno, I just go down to the video store and rent one, then return to my home, whip up some fondue, break out the stoned wheat thins and watch the tape in privacy. Why would anyone want to do this in public?" here is one explanation.
"Some people are arcade buffs," Macry states. "They like to go in and flip through all the movies, then rent the one they thought was cool."
Macry reveals that he actually entered an arcade or two before he got in the business.
"Oh, yeah. I was in the Navy 13 years." I ask him how the booths he saw stacked up against the VMAXX.
"No comparison. But that was mostly 10 years ago," he says. "They were old movies, bad audio. Here, as good as what comes out of the video is what we get. The owners pretty much use the best videos, and with the computers, they can keep an eye on the statistics, what movies are being watched the most, and keep those in and switch out others."
In terms of upkeep, the Phase III machines "don't need much," Macry explains. "Once these things get up and running, they run really well." Still, the job has taken him far and wide.
"Oh, yeah, we went to Waterville and Portland, Maine, just did San Diego, we're prepping for Hawaii, and we've got Canada coming up. We just put in 15 booths in Tucson in three days."
Gee, work on sex arcades and see the world.
"It's almost like the Navy," agrees Macry, "except I don't have to salute."
In keeping with its cutting-edge reputation, Phase III is always on the lookout for new advances in wares hard and soft. Here, Macry speaks openly about what the future may hold for personal booth viewing of dirty movies.
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"We're going more into previews and being able to fast forward through videos, and more channels," he says. "But you get to the point where it's overkill. And a dollar does not get you through 96 channels."
It's safe to say that the segment of the world population that likes its porn-by-the-quarter is unaware of the steadfast work produced by Phase III; Macry and his colleagues receive little stroking. Yet he knows this is all down to the nature of the job. And that's okay.
"It's amazing," says Macry with a patient smile. "It's one of those things that you see everywhere, but you never think that somebody's got to make 'em, or that there's any thought that goes into them."
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