MARTINEZ -- Nearly every day, Bryan Mao plunges his hands into the nostalgic circuitry of Americana and makes the past flicker back to life.
Mao, 56, is a fix-it man. And from his 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Martinez, he collects and repairs vintage video arcade games, which thrived during the 1970s and '80s.
These curious relics -- with names like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Defender -- now retain a sense of vintage cool, not unlike typewriters and skinny ties.
They also bring back memories for many people who grew up playing the games and now have acquired the disposable income to buy them outright. Most of his customers are scattered across Contra Costa County, from Danville to Brentwood.
He takes service calls, stopping by movie theaters, bowling alleys or houses to maintain Pac Man's methodical munching or to make sure a pinball flipper still flips.
Mao owns his own business, BMAO Amusement. He carves out a peculiar craft in a world wired to the Web, with free cellphone apps and hand-held devices the choice for most gamers.
The old arcade games are so dated now that a 2012 movie, "Wreck It Ralph," waxed a nostalgic narrative about them.
Mao, a kind man with an easy smile, appreciates the kaleidoscopic wonder of these machines -- their lovely designs and mechanical brilliance.
"For me, work feels like a hobby that I enjoy," said Mao, who also takes house calls to repair pinball machines and old jukeboxes. "I like to save these old machines; it feels good."
The notion of "arcade games" traces back to the midways of the 1920s. But Taiko's Space Invaders, in 1978, became the first blockbuster video arcade game, igniting a golden age as people clustered in bowling alleys or shopping centers, fumbling for quarters.
Soon, though, increasingly sophisticated home-entertainment consoles, like Nintendo, pushed the old arcades aside, just as supermarkets sucker-punched the milk man.
"The market has changed; there are fewer operators and fewer people who know how to repair the machines," Mao said.
Mao was born in Taiwan. He moved, with his family, to the United States in 1978, and studied to become an electronics engineer. It was luck, or chance, that drew him toward the furniture-like games of American pop culture.
"If you really look at something like a jukebox, with its unique design and all the gear, it's beautiful, just like pinball machines are," he said. "You don't just play these things; they're like pieces of art. You can press one button to watch how a jukebox works, gently picking up a record and placing it where it belongs."
In the late 1980s, Mao bought his own piece of art, a pinball machine called Bow and Arrow. Eventually, like any unit that requires thousands of parts to work, it broke down. So Mao called around. Could anyone fix it?
He discovered that someone could: the late Stan Van, a game operator out of Concord. But by the time Van came over with his tools, Mao had managed to repair the machine himself. A friendship was born; Stan encouraged Mao to start his own business. So he did.
And he's been busy ever since, solving the problems of timeworn, 300-pound clients, using screws, washers, changers, coils, darts, bumper caps and moxie to get the job done.
"He does fantastic work," said a customer, Doug Smith. "I had a slot machine called Jumbo Parade, from 1940. Bryan walked in, rubbed his head, and said 'I can't fix something that old.' But he was joking. He had it running in one day."
Another customer, Tom Gregory, is a former video game operator who now helps run the Brentwood Pumpkin Festival. He called Mao the "secret" behind the region's ability to keep these old arcades going for extended play.
"Other people say they can repair your equipment and they bring it right to Bryan," said Gregory. "He fixes things that other people can't."
Mao is philosophical when discussing life's twists. It would have been just as easy, he said, to use his education to commute toward a high-tech job in Silicon Valley everyday. But he wouldn't be happy.
"I enjoy my work and I have the freedom to do what I want to do," he said. "I feel lucky."
Recently, he repaired a pinball machine called Mars Attacks!, based on the extra-campy Tim Burton film of the '90s. The game had increased in value online. So Mao's customer had asked him to strip it all out, to rebuild it.
It took a week to finish. And then he was off to another one, maybe Bionic Commando, or Pool Sharks, or some other old thing hungry for a quarter that no longer arrived. That's when Mao feels inspired, man and machine entangled anew.
Call Bryan Mao at BMAO Amusement at 925-370-0195.