Friday, November 7, 2008

Playing the Slots

The mid/late 60's was an exciting time for me as I made the great leap from being a little kid in elementary school to the much more advanced stage of being grown up (haha) in junior high. With it came an awareness of two things that utilized a sizable portion of my limited brain power: girls and slot cars, woven together by the great music of that era.

I'll start with my main obsession. I was crazy about slot cars. Every weekend I would drive my dad crazy, asking him to take me to Revell Raceway on La Tijera Boulevard in Westchester to race on one of the big 8-lane tracks they had there.

I recall a few of the names of Revell's tracks: Grand Prix (the largest, with very tall banked turns), Monaco (my favorite), Laguna Seca and Regal. We'd hand over money to the guy manning the counter to buy blocks of time on the track we wanted. You could pick the track and the lane (such as, "green lane on Monaco"), and sometimes you'd have to wait because it was occupied.

Racing against friends was more fun than going it alone. Sterling was my usual companion. Even though I really didn't care to hang around him, he came in handy when I needed someone to go with. His dad and my dad would take turns driving us over there. Poor Mr. Tom had to endure his son's screaming whenever his car spun out. "Hey dad, hurry up and put my car back on the track! Hurry up!!! C'mon, what's taking you so long??? Hurrrrry Up!!!"

Man, were those days fun.

I graduated from pre-made cars to slot car kits in a box to "scratch-building" them by soldering brass tubing together, along with "rewinding" motors with different gauge wire on the armature (see, I learned some electronics from this hobby) and making other alterations to make them faster. I used to put this concoction called "BlooGoo" on the tires to improve their traction. From a cheap black vinyl carrying case I moved up to what the real "experts" carted their cars and equipment around in: a wooden fishing tackle box. Oooh.

I used to love visiting Karl's Toys and Hobbies in the Crenshaw shopping center to drool over all the slot cars and components displayed in the glass cases and stacked behind the counter.

The slot car craze gathered momentum and peaked somewhere around 1967 or 1968, at which time trying to get a lane on the weekend at Revell was very difficult. Then as most fads do, the craze died out and Revell became a ghost town, eventually closing down. I don't even remember what happened to my cars and parts and even the fishing tackle box. Sometime long ago it must have been given away to someone. Sigh..

A Saturday evening of racing at Revell, a hamburger and the best fries at the McD next door, then coming home while Secret Agent Man was playing on the tube. What could be better than that? Did I mention how much fun that was?

I did say my mind was occupied by two things back then, enhanced by the soundtrack of the times. Slot cars were half the equation. I didn't think too much about girls in elementary school but things changed after hitting junior high. One morning on the football field as our Gray-Y club/team The Chaparrals were practicing, I overheard our high school coaches talking about us.

"These guys already like girls," said one of them.

"You're kidding!" said the other. "Are you serious?"

"Oh yeah, you should hear them talking about it. All the time!"

I stood there and smiled to myself. Girls were a whole lot better than football, that's for sure! But slot cars.. hmm.. Now that's something that was a rare sight at Revell - females. Were there any female slot car aficionados?

This song takes me back to those days of slot cars, Saturday morning sports with the Gray-Y and yes, the girls, too.

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