Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hot Wheels City

The saddest day of my life #36 (I had many as a child) was the day that I moved from my boyhood home in Missouri to the one I now call "home" in Arkansas. And noooo, not for that reason. It was because I had to leave behind a city full of people...busy people. And streets...busy streets. Streets where there were no traffic accidents, a city of utopian design. A city where, if I may borrow from a song, the streets had no name. Not the city that my corporeal self occupied, but a city that I made with blood, sweat and tears...and masking tape.
Like everything else I did as a kid, I did things differently. I didn't play Hot Wheels like the other kids in the neighborhood. They had their fancy plastic tracks that you could form into loops and pretend that you ran some fucked-up coaster outta hell but I chose the more civilized route; I was more interested in designing parkways and parking lots, I made sure that my roads had normal embankments and my restaurants had curbside parking. I was a city planner! I would haul out an array of old shoeboxes and Styrofoam inserts from electronic devices to become my metropolis. I spent hours drawing in the details of each store, hotel and domicile with a big Marks-A-Lot marker and would even "weather" the ones in the old part of town with my dad's brown shoe polish. Once the city had been laid out, I marked the spot for each building with tape, that way I could pack the city up and bring it back out the next day, like some bizarre Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. The basement of my house was a jigsaw puzzle of yellowing masking tape which would define the major intersections of my town. On school days I would stare longingly at the mish-mash of 90 degree angles and plus signs resting flat against the ground, thinking all day in math class what fun I was missing patrolling the town in my Hot Wheels Datsun hatchback. Once the weekend rolled around, I had total control of the basement floor and my mom was relegated to step over the First Christian Church like the Stay-Puft Marshmellow man on her way to do the laundry. She didn't mind though, at least I wasn't looking at porn or huffing model glue, although my sister's Huckleberry Pie doll came close to addiction. I used to wonder what the new owners of the house thought about the abstract artwork of my city which had surely stained the concrete, leaving a permanent faded image of where I once leisurely traveled in my Matchbox Datsun 300Z.
Speaking of my Datsun, the cars I played with were never very fancy. I of course had the requisite lambourghini parked in my garage but what child of the Eighties didn't! No, I was fascinated more so by the normal cars, it had to have a sense of reality. Matchbox was my favorite, truth-be-told because they usually had rubber wheels. I had buses, vans and station wagons but never anything too sporty. Part of my fascination with the boxy "normal" cars had something to do with me pretending they were part of Voltron Force...the one most people call "Vehicle Voltron" which was made up of three teams: Air, Sea and Land (Land being my favorite). Most people don't remember Vehicle Voltron as it didn't have the driving force of Lion Voltron but it was my favorite and so I pretended that some of my "normal" looking cars were rugged terrain vehicles in the Land Team. Because I was a sucker for pop culture even back then, I collected a lot of TV and movie related Hot Wheels too. The General Lee and the A-Team van were favorite possession of mine. Yeah, they also had the bigger plastic vehicles that came with action figures but usually Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars were all I could afford. I also got a kick out of the novelty cars too: Dragon Dragsters, Marvel Comics Superhero vehicles, battle damage Hot Wheels, cars that you could see inside of through the little cockpit bubble, and anything metallic and shiny were my favorite. I never put these into play in my city of course but once in a while, the T.C.'s helicopter from Magnum P.I. would make a pass with a traffic report.
Seeing as how I was a toy junkie as a kid (Ha! "as a kid"...), I had a lot of storylines going on with all of my different toys and therefore would put something away and come back to it when the mood hit. Cars were a way for me to escape the superpowers world for a while when it just got a little overwhelming. I could not stop playing with toys growing up though, I lived for it and let me tell you, I was an expert on playing with toys! My imagination was fertile and sometimes my little scenarios with action figures played out to epic proportions. Battles would be fully written with dialogue for even the most insignificant Cobra trooper. If you want to compare a normal play session to something, think "G.I. Joe: The Movie." Anywaaaaay, Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars were great for those times when you had that strange mood come over you and Thundercats just couldn't cut it. When I built my city, it was in the last year before I moved away and right around the time I was entering 9th grade, so I think it was a way for me to grow up a little but still play with my toys, just not action figures. I don't feel guilty at all for playing with toys into my early twenties, I even think that it has helped me become more creative with writing and visualizing than if I had suppressed it based on the fact that it wasn't "normal" or "cool."

When I moved out to the country the next year, there were plenty of places for me to explore with my Hot Wheels cars. I could never build the city just like I had it but there was something better...gravel! I had always loved playing in the dirt with my cars because it was one of those primal feelings and it gave your scenario that extra bit of realism. The roots of the nearby trees would become bridges and underpasses, and grass turned into lush farm country. Making roads in the dirt was a neat experience; they looked so real, like they had been there for years, well worn by the thousands of times those cars had traveled over them. My place was always at the end of this looong winding path away from the many other roads I had carved, you would usually have to make it all away around the oak tree to get there. I did have some apprehensions about getting my toys dirty because I was one of those kids who took great care of their toys. Except for my Hot Wheels, I never took any of my toys outside. I still have most of my action figures and playsets and plan on Super Sizing my casket 'cause I'm taking it all with me! I don't think you are ever too old to play with toys or reminisce about it either. In fact, living in Florida has gotten me thinking that with all the bountiful sand and tropical vegetation, I'm missing out a really cool opportunity to go exploring in my Datsun!


JohnnyBerry said...

I remember a Japanese company named Tomica made "Pocket Cars” They were more expensive than Hot Wheels or Matchbox, but they were a lot more realistic.

I had a 1977 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, and a 1980 MC-9 Greyhound Bus that looked and "drove" much better than Matchbox or Hot Wheels.

Another reason I am not fond of Hot Wheels is that my Mother figured out that hitting me with the orange Hot Wheels racing track got my pre-teen attention, and when the Hot Wheels track stopped working, I got sent to military school.

Brooks said...

I had a similar love for playing with matchbox cars. My favorite time to play with them was in the winter (I was from Chicago) when there was lots of snow to use as a raw material for manufacturing landscapes. Driveways, garages, hilly regions for trucks to careen and jump over, long windy roads on cliffs for the sports cars to zoom along... It was so much fun. I wanted other kids to come and admire my work, not to try to play with me. Kids are funny.