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The Wayback Machine

A Star Wars Christmas

The Christmas of 1977 was pretty much devoid of Star Wars toys, as the possible demand for them was grossly underestimated. In truth, who could’ve imaging that the Star Wars universe and everything associated with it would be such an incredible phenomenon?

Christmas of 1978 looked a little more promising, with manufacturers having an entire year to make up for their error the previous Christmas…

Underneath my Christmas tree that fateful morning in ’78 were several coveted Star Wars items. I’ve written about the remote-controlled R2D2 I received in a previous article, but I also got action figures of C3PO and R2D2 and Luke’s land speeder. For a grade school kid like me, this was like getting a bag of gold bullion. I remember with fondness, the hours of fun I had, dreaming up my own Star Wars adventures. Next to my G.I. Joe, these were my favorite toys by far.

Unlike me, my brother hung on to all of his Star Wars stuff over the years, and a few old pieces of mine now reside at his house, with his. It’s nice to know that they still exist and are being looked after.

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The Wayback Machine

Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle

Growing up in the 1970’s, few heroes loomed larger than Evel Knievel. His legendary motorcycle jumps were the stuff that kids’ dreams were made of. Long before wasting time online was even a thing, kids, parents, families, would gather to see whatever spectacle was featured on weekly programs like The Wide World Of Sports.

While the weekend’s sporting highlight might be an exhibition of The Harlem Globetrotters or Olympic bobsledding, it was just as likely to be a ridiculously dangerous motorcycle jump by Evel Knievel. He might be jumping cars or buses, or even The Snake River Canyon in a rocket.

Accompanying Evel’s exploits, was the inevitable goldmine of toys, action figures, t-shirts, and Halloween costumes. Evelmania was at its pinnacle, and anything that could get labeled with his trademark star-spangledness…was.

When Ideal began producing The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, it immediately went to the top of every kid’s wishlist. The kid who lived two doors down from from me got one. My friends at school got them, though they were cautioned against bringing them in to play with at recess. Remarkably, I was able to bring my Lone Ranger silver six-shooters for show-and-tell.

Evel Knievel’s estate is now producing a version of the stunt cycle, for those of us that still feel the need to own one. Brand-new and straight out of the box, you’re more likely to enjoy it over an eBay purchase of a run-through-the-ringer original. Have fun!

Dan Pavelich

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The Wayback Machine

Push-ups!

Growing up in the suburbs in the 1970’s, there were two ways that we cooled off from the summer heat. First, there was the sprinkler. If we could get Mom to set up the sprinkler, we were in heaven. That was almost as good as a trip to the beach. The second way we cooled off, also courtesy of Mom, was an ice-cold, orange sherbet Push-up.

Luckily for us, our Mom always had the freezer well-stocked in the heat of summer; Push-ups, Fudgsicles, Popsicles, Freeze Pops…were always at the ready for sun-soaked kids. I liked Push-ups best of all, with their red, yellow and blue polkadotted cylinders.

Push-ups seemed to taste better than regular orange sherbet out of the tub. They were a couple of minutes of melty heaven, until disappointment revealed the clear plastic end of the platform that actually “pushed up” the treat that was named after it.

The good news is, you can still buy Push-ups today, in a variety of flavors and packaging. If you’re looking for the most vintage experience, Target sells a version that even comes packaged just like you remember, in polkadotted cylinders. Enjoy!

Dan Pavelich

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The Wayback Machine

R2-D2 Arrives

It must’ve been Christmas ’77 or ’78, when my brother and I awoke to find dual remote-controlled R2-D2’s underneath the tree. Initially, Kenner and the rest of the toy manufacturers had greatly under-estimated the demand for all things Star Wars, so the toys connected to the movie weren’t easy to come by. Somehow, though, there they were!

R2 looked just like the real thing, only in miniature. I remember quite clearly that this was my favorite gift that Christmas. I also remember thinking, “How in the world did Santa get this for me?” I only knew of one other kid in the neighborhood that had a Star Wars toy, so I was really thrilled. 

Amazingly, our Mom had plenty of the correct batteries on hand. I don’t know how she always managed that. Maybe Santa had some way of contacting parents, to let them know the battery requirements of what he was bringing ahead of time. However it was worked out, I was one happy kid that Christmas!

Dan Pavelich

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The Wayback Machine

The Duncan Imperial

When I was in grade school in the mid-seventies, the yo-yo made a huge comeback. I can clearly remember getting one in my Christmas stocking one year. It was a deep, slightly-transparent red, like a giant Smith Brothers’ cough drop.

At the time, a yo-yo probably cost $1, yet yielded a million dollars worth of fun. Santa had brought the premier yo-yo of the day, The Duncan Imperial. Although I never got to be proficient with it, I could make it sleep and walk the dog a little. I also seem to remember that my Dad would join in once in awhile, which was unusual. It must’ve brought back a good memory or two for him, because he wasn’t usually interested in doing “kid stuff.”

When I was looking for stocking stuffer for my daughter and my wife last Christmas, I picked up a Duncan Imperial for each of them, which they had great fun with on Christmas Day. You know, a lot of things don’t live up to their memories when they’re revisited as an adult, but The Duncan Imperial yo-yo sure did.

D.P.

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The Wayback Machine

Return To Burger Chef!

Growing up in the 1970’s, fast food was a bigger treat than it is today. Home-cooked meals were the general rule of the day, but occasionally, we got to go out to eat. Usually, it was because we were spending the night with our grandparents.

One of the places that my grandparents like to take us to was Burger Chef. There were two in our town back then, and the buildings are still recognizable today. One is a Mexican restaurant, and the other is a liquor store. Every time I drive past one of them, the memories come back to me.

To my memory, Burger Chef was the originator of the kid’s meal. I remember that at one time, your burger & fries were served up on a Burger Chef Frisbee. There are actually a few for sale on eBay right now. There were two versions, one was glow-in-the-dark, the other was red. How could a kid in the 1970’s not be roped in by a gimmick like that?

My childhood memories of Burger Chef, and spending time with my grandparents, whom I really loved, will always stay with me. Like a warm, sun-tinted Polaroid, they are among the best that I have.

D.P.

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Eats The Wayback Machine

The Sweetest Smile

When I was a kid, I’d tag along with my Mom to the bakery to get donuts. If they had smiley face cookies, and they usually did, she’d get me one. Even today, when I walk into a bakery, just the smell of the place takes me back to being a kid and getting one of those sweet, yellow beauties.

These days, I still come across this old friend now & then. I still pick one up, I still enjoy it, and I still marvel at how something so small and seemingly-insignificant can make me happier, completely turning my day around. When people say that you should savor life, I think this is exactly what they mean.

No, a perfect moment doesn’t have to involve baked goods, but it sure does help.

D.P.

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The Wayback Machine

Stephen “Spaz” Schnee & “Return Of The Living ’80’s!”

For several months, I kept seeing Stephen “Spaz” Schnee’s name on Facebook, commenting on my friends’ posts. We had a lot of very similar opinions, so I sent a friend request and found that he’s a music aficionado, with multiple outlets on Facebook, Mix Cloud and YouTube. 

What I really like about the content he creates, is that there’s no snobbery whatsoever. He’s the kind of guy who gets just as excited hearing a great song today as he did twenty years ago, when he first heard it. It’s a point of view that’s legitimately contagious. 

I listened to his recent podcast, Return Of The Living ’80’s, a show that tasks itself with finding obscure and seldom-heard musical gems from the decade of excess. From the promo sheet Spaz was kind enough to forward to me; 

“Each episode of RETURN OF THE LIVING ‘80s was and is meant to be more than just a collection of ‘80s music. I try to bring back the excitement of hearing new things by adding those ‘shoulda been hits’ alongside more familiar ‘80s tunes that many fans would know. My goal is to make the show sound like it comes FROM the ‘80s! However, I try to avoid the BIG hits of the ‘80s and focus on the medium sized hits and the long-forgotten radio smashes. I want each show to be familiar and comforting yet still exciting and new. That is what the ‘80s mean to me – a time of innocence (my own) in a musical world that was constantly changing. 

One more thing of note in regard to RETURN OF THE LIVING ‘80s: While I am the DJ/host, I let the music do the talking. Basically, I provide the intro/outro to the shows and back-announce the songs and that is about it. I don’t reminisce much and I don’t offer back stories on the bands. I just want people to hear the music. That is truly what it is all about to me.”

I immediately headed over to Mixcloud to have a listen. While I knew a couple of the tracks he played, some were complete surprises. I hadn’t heard Aztec Camera’s “Oblivious” since 1983, when a friend of mine bought the record. Wow, did it transport me back in time! It’s not the kind of song you’d hear on ’80’s-themed radio today, so it had quietly slipped into the ether of my past.

Even better than finding that lost friend, was discovering Orange Juice’s “I Can’t Help Myself” and Positive Noise’s “Lightning Strikes,” two songs that I don’t believe I’d ever heard before. Like two lost souls from an unreleased John Hughes movie, they became instant favorites!

Thank you, Spaz, for giving me a little more of what was probably the best part of growing up in the ’80’s, the music.

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The Wayback Machine

The Baseball Card Kid

If you were a kid growing up in the 60’s or 70’s, chances are you collected Topps baseball cards. Whether you played the actual game or not, nearly every kid had a collection. They weren’t only good for trading, they were even better at making noise between the spokes of your candy-colored Schwinn. Now that’s the sound of summer!

When I was in grade school, my Mom would buy me a pack of cards if I went grocery shopping with her. They were in every checkout aisle, and I couldn’t wait to get my grubby little hands on ‘em after the shopping was finally done. 

If I’m remembering correctly, for most of my childhood they hovered around the 15-cent mark. Once in awhile, I would luck out and Mom would buy me three packs, instead of the usual single pack. I can still remember the feel of that waxy wrapper, which smelled like the often rock-hard stick of bubblegum hiding in between Barry Foote and Oscar Gamble.

You’d always get a few cards that you already had, “doubles,” to keep with the stack of cards you’d trade, but every once in awhile, you’d get something special, like a Reggie Jackson or a full-team picture card. Occasionally, they’d do runs of fathers and sons who’d both played in the bigs, pictured on the same card. Those were cool, too, and hard to come by.

Even though I’m nearly 53 now, I’ve still got the bulk of what I collected as a kid, before so many companies like Fleer entered the market, and collecting everything became financially impossible for a kid. I finally bought binders and protective plastic sheets to keep everything safe and organized a few years ago. It was a lot of sorting work, but it was also a lot of fun taking a long look back.

The best part was that after I had sorted everything, I must’ve had 100 cards that were doubles and triples, left over. I went online and asked my friends if any had kids that collected baseball cards. About a half-dozen replied that they did, so I sorted the cards by region, so they might get players that their Dads had told them about. I pictured myself as a kid, and what it would have meant to me to be handed a bunch of Chicago Cubs cards from the 1930’s, when I was a kid in the 70’s.

That thought still makes me smile. Funny how a few little rectangles of cardboard could mean so much, all these years later.

D.P.