On Saturday, I made my second consecutive trip to JediCon WV in Wheeling, and I was blessed with another sunny day for driving through the southeast Ohio hills at the time of year when the leaves are turning. As last year, I found myself a good stretch of roads I’d never traveled before, just so I could enjoy the trip, and to put myself in a nostalgic mood for my Collect All 21! reading, I set my Pandora station to Journey and – when my phone signal was inevitably lost in the valleys – queued up a series of Retroist podcasts on stuff like The A-Team and WarGames.
There were many more costumers in attendance this year – and it’s hard to tell, but the youngest person in that photo, almost at the far right edge, being held by his mom? He’s wearing a toddler Vader outfit. \m/ – several of whom changed through two or three outfits over the course of the day.
Loved catching up with the people I’d met last year and meeting new friends, and I had worked up a new presentation and set of readings for this year, which seemed to go over well. There was video shot, so hopefully I’ll have a clip or two to share soon.
Talked a lot of nostalgia, of course, and check THIS out:
Okay, so that’s one of the worst toys to come out of the original line, but this particular example on one of the dealer’s shelves just put a huge smile on my face because those are CHILDREN’S PALACE (or Child World, depending on your region) clearance stickers! The bandolier that I dug up during my Peter Panda days had almost this exact same set of labels plastered on it – with one difference: Mine had one more markdown sticker, ’cause I only paid NINETY CENTS for it.
The Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum was its usual throwback self, especially when I spotted a Green Machine that still made me jealous thirty years after seeing them on our neighborhood street. And hey, three words: TRUE FONZIE ACTION.
A small set of photos is here. They don’t do justice, of course, to the pleasure of spending a day with fellow Star Wars fans and kids of the ’80s – but then again, that’d be a tall order. Even for The A-Team.
You know what snuck up on me?
I really enjoyed my first trip to Wheeling for the 2009 show, so I happily accepted the invitation to share some more Collect All 21! memories this fall – and check THIS out: Former Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons – “The Man Who Shot Luke Skywalker” – is not only coming back to this year’s JediCon, he designed this amazing toy-populated Empire Strikes Back-inspired poster as a commemorative bonus:
I mean, come ON – that’ s just Too. Freaking. Cool.
Kim will be giving another retrospective on his Kenner years, and Star Wars animator Jon Seay is expected to attend with some pieces of the original Death Star to show off. Besides, how much of an excuse do you need, really, to spend a fall day hanging out with some fellow Star Wars fans in a fun and truly nostalgia-inducing atmosphere?
Flashbacks, courtesy of awhile spent exploring the Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum last Saturday during JediCon WV:
When I was five years old and we lived in the house my parents bought when we first moved to Canton, there was a kid named Danny who lived in the yellow-bricked house next door. He was a year or two older than me and had a Big Wheel which looked pretty much exactly like the one up there on the shelf. Though I don’t remember this, my mom recalls that Danny charged me to ride it.
I apparently paid in the only currency I had: Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars.
Before Danny could totally clean out my tire-shaped Mattel Hot Wheels carrying case, though, mom and dad got me a Big Wheel of my own.
Mine looked different, though – it was red, not orange, and had a plastic brake lever instead of a metal one with a plastic handle. The back wheels were wider, too, and the front wheel – the BIG one – was black and yellow instead of black and silver.
It takes very little effort, even now, to remember what it felt like riding it; the smooth, molded plastic handgrips against my palms; the way the texture of a road or sidewalk transmitted itself through the seat and the wheel and the handlebars while I pedaled; the thrill of pulling up hard on the brake and turning at the same time to do a spin-out.
When it was brand-new, we went to visit my grandma, across the state in Upper Sandusky, and I was allowed to bring it along. There was a parade or something downtown, and I was riding on the sidewalk when my family ran into someone they knew – and their two sons had Big Wheels, too! These guys were pretending that fire shot from their back wheels, which I thought was fun and cool, and when I said, “Yeah, mine too!” one of them looked at my newer, red-not-orange, fat-rear-tired ride with disdain, and said something to the effect of “Not from yours: Your wheels are weird.” And then they rode off. (Seriously – what a dick, right?)
When I was six, we moved to a new neighborhood, a dead-end street surrounded by trees and fields out in what my parents called “the boondocks.” My new neighbor, Rick, had a Big Wheel of his own, and even though we both knew how to ride bikes, these were the years when we really put our Big Wheels through their paces: plywood-and-cinderblock ramps; demolition derbies; endless races around a tight oval in our driveway.
Eventually, we were too big to squeeze into the Big Wheels sitting down. No problem: We took off the seats and drove them by standing on the back and pushing with one foot, and man, could you get those things flying. Soooo much faster than pedaling, and easier to jump away from when the inevitable flip or collision came your way.
Our Big Wheels mirrored each other in their decay. Busted brake handles; splits in the bases that caused the point just forward of the seat to scrape the ground; and the bane of practically every Big Wheel I ever saw, the one spot on the front tire that wore itself flat and made for an increasingly prominent “thump” with every rotation.
The last time I remember playing with my Big Wheel, Rick and I had tied it to the back of my bicycle with about twenty feet of rope. It was hard as hell for the person doing the pulling to get started, but once the bike was moving down the street, it took just a few slight flicks of the handlebars to send the Big Wheel rider on a massive crack-the-whip sweep, winging back and forth until the trip ended in a cloud of dust and gravel and someone rolling down the road howling in glee.
That’s what I saw sitting up there on the shelf in an old building in Wheeling, West Virginia.
I was glad that JediCon WV was on my calendar Saturday, not just for the whole spend-a-day-with-other-Star-Wars-fans thing, but also because I figured it would prevent me from basically pacing around the house and worrying about running my first marathon the next day.
Up at six o’clock, then, intent on leaving by seven for the two-hour drive to Wheeling, West Virginia.
JediCon, though it was a small event, was a milestone for me: It was the first show to which I’d been invited as a guest by the organizers, who got in touch with me shortly after I relaunched “Collect All 21″ back in April. And just a few weeks back, they asked if I’d like to do a presentation/reading from the book – another first for me.
I’m a huge fan of road trips: I love checking out different routes and figuring out how to see places I’ve never been without going too far out of my way. I love stocking the car with maps and music and audiobooks. I love that feeling of pulling out of the driveway before sunup knowing that daylight will illuminate things I’ve never seen.
This was also the first Saturday in 18 weeks that I wouldn’t be running.
For the drive to Wheeling, I’d chosen a route mostly clear of the main freeways: U.S. Route 250, running forty miles shorter than the trip by interstates 77 and 70, but comparable in terms of estimated travel time. I had, in fact traveled a small part of this road before: An Arby’s at a rural intersection struck me as familiar, and I remembered it was where Jenn and I had stopped for lunch a few years ago after dropping Kelsey off for a week at the YMCA’s Camp Tippecanoe. It was her first time away from home not being spent with family, and it was the same camp where I’d spent a few weeks over a couple summers when I was a kid. It was a quiet lunch that day, and a little sad.
Beyond that, I was mostly on a two-lane road I’d never driven, and it was a beautiful morning for the trip, with a low, gray sky, hills all around, and the woods nearing their seasonal-change color peak. To keep myself in a nostalgic mood fitting for my reading and a day around Star Wars, I listened to Wil Wheaton’s “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.”
I reached the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum just after 9 a.m., and saw a couple guys unloading a life-sized Darth Vader statue built from Legos. The convention was in the museum’s basement, in a room much smaller than I’d expected. A few of the vendors and fan organizations were no-shows, and one of the other guests – a guy who’d worked on the original Star Wars and was supposed to bring pieces of the original Death Star to display – had canceled the day before.
Still, I was here, as was Kim Simmons, a photographer who had worked for Kenner and shot many of the original packaging photos and action-figure setups, and spending a day with fellow Star Wars fans has, to me, never failed to be fun.
Kim sat down at my table, recognizing me and my book from the OSWCC Summer Social in 2008, right after I’d launched the first edition, and we wound up talking for a half-hour or so. A super-nice guy, he was going to buy a copy, but instead we settled on a trade for a signed print of the old Dewback box scene he’d created.
He also said he’d let me use his laptop and projector for my reading, since I’d brought along a slideshow of childhood pictures to accompany some of my memories. My reading started a little later than the 11 a.m. scheduled time, due to a slight technical glitch with the projector, but when it started, there were probably about a dozen people in the room, and a handful of others arrived after I’d begun. I had fun, and it seemed like I got laughs at the right moments, and I think I saw smiles of recognized shared nostalgia while I read and clicked through the slides.
Over the eight hours I was there, even though this was easily the smallest convention I’ve ever attended, I sold more copies of “Collect All 21!” than I ever have before, probably because it was aimed directly at Star Wars fans, and I had something in common with every visitor who walked in.
In the silent auction for charity, I wound up the high bidder for a sweet DVD packed with a hundred and ten 1970s and 80s Kenner Star Wars commercials. (Wampaaa! Wampaaaaaaaa!)
Spent some time talking Legos with a very friendly builder from the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum (practically right across the river in Bellaire, Ohio, and if I’d had more time, I’d have tried to work a stop there into the trip, because she made it sound awfully neat).
I left for home just before 5 p.m., my boxes of books a bit lighter, my spirits high, my nerves about the race still at bay, and the sun just starting to turn the hills to fire and rust.
It’s waaaay too nice a day for me to spend an awful lot of daylight here at the computer, but I’m really excited about this news: On Saturday, October 10, at the Kruger Toy & Train Museum in Wheeling, West Virginia, I’ll be a guest at JediCon WV 2009 at the very kind invitation of co-founder Mike McMillan.
And look at this: Star Wars Topps Galaxy artist Don Pedicini, Jr. is going to be there, as are Kim Simmons – The Man Who Shot Luke Skywalker – and Jon Seay, a Star Wars animator from who’s supposed to be bringing pieces of the original Death Star used in filming.
Between now & then I’ll be stocking up on copies of Collect All 21! to sign and sell. (Hm…Mr. Seay? Yeah, um, how many copies would I have to offer in trade for … never mind.)
Have a fantastic weekend!