Back in those days, you only had to go as far as the nearby corner pharmacy to buy them. After you redeemed your recyclable soda bottles at five cents a pop, you’d tally up the take and head for the corner. They’d have the giant plastic display case, in which all of the displayed vehicles were numbered. All you had to do was tell the pharmacy owner which numbers you wished to purchase, he’d open the case and there they were…the best die-caste cars the world over.
I had a collection of enormous fishing tackle boxes inside of which I stored my wheels. One slot for each vehicle and a separate slot for the smallish cardboard boxes they shipped from the factory in. I’d haul them outside, bulldoze tiny roads through the grass, and then make with the sound-effects.
When I ventured outside with them, that was a signal to my mom that she didn’t have to supervise me at all. Wherever those boxes and I parked, we’d be there for hours on end. I’d allow others to play with mine, but I always preferred that they bring their own. And after I packed them back up and headed indoors, I’d wash every vehicle that had exited the tackle boxes on that day.
I slept with all them sitting next to my bed. My sister was never allowed to touch any of them. And no one, nobody was ever allowed to touch the pristine cardboard boxes they came in.
When I was in the fourth grade, a neighborhood kid stole the lot of them while I was indoors for a spot of lunch. That resulted in my earliest red zone freak out by which I beat every single inch of that kid. Besides, he was one of those Hot Wheels goofs the way it was.
When I was yanked out of my seventh grass classroom one September day and told we were permanently moving to Pennsylvania, my mom said we were taking clothes only, and every thing else was being put up for auction. You see, she had a Datsun. And with two kids and a baby in tow, there wasn’t room for much of anything else.
My immediate response was, “What about my Matchboxes?” Back at the house, we argued long and hard. I resorted to crying, which usually didn’t help. But I figure because the sudden upheaval was being sprung on me and all, she relented.
So when we loaded up the Datsun and moved to Beverly, that car contained one adult, three minors, plenty of clothes and a trunk full of Matchboxes.
As soon as we got settled here in Wilkes-Barre, the difference between the boys in Wilkes-Barre and the boys in Derby, Connecticut became readily apparent as I was being constantly mocked for playing with Matchboxes at such an advanced age…almost thirteen.
So rather than trade barbs and fists with darn near everybody this side of the New York border, those beloved Matchboxes of mine became what I did when I was all alone in my grandmother’s attic. Damn you, Wilkes-Barre!
And it wasn’t too long after that, I still shudder to say, that the Matchboxes were handed down to my unappreciative little brother.
All that aside, if you think die-caste cars being my driving obsession was weird, check this video. This thing became a museum piece late last year.
They way I remember it, if I would have been run over by a bus and killed before I moved to Wilkes-Barre, as I laid there fading away, this video would have been my last fleeting vision of the heaven that awaited me.