Growing up in a small town in Colorado was a great experience, though I’d never have admitted it at the time. No kid would like the fact that until high school, the nearest McDonalds was two hours away, and that drive was over a mountain pass, that was often closed in the winter. Now I don’t mean that it was closed FOR the winter, we weren’t that remote. But more than once did we head out to drive to Pueblo for an orthodontist appointment (yes, I was a brace face as well, and that was something else we didn’t have in the valley) on a clear winter day, and we would have to turn around and head home because La Veta pass was closed until the snow stopped and the plows could clear it off.
That wasn’t so bad, it was when you got stuck on the other side that was bad, though I only remember that happening once when I was on a high school speech trip, and as kids we all had a blast, getting to spend an extra night in the hotel, staying up playing poker and truth or dare. (I still remember how my best friend Eric was dating two girls at that time, and we dared him to go out and write the name of his favorite in the snow. He did; but nobody ever went out to see what he wrote, and even years later he wouldn’t tell anyone!)
But growing up in Alamosa, CO wasn’t about what we didn’t have; most of it we weren’t aware of. Sure I didn’t like the fact the MTV came out and it took our cable company several years to get it. See, we had cable forever, simply because it was almost a necessity. Being in the middle of the mountains (Alamosa is in the San Luis Valley, in southern Colorado) there was no free TV reception except for a couple of fuzzy stations from Albuquerque. So almost everyone I knew had cable, just to get the standard twelve channels. We didn’t get most of the ‘good’ (I think it was David Gilmore, in Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ on The Wall – “200 channels of shit on the TV” (oops, it was actually ‘Nobody Home’, and the line is actually “Got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from”)) until I was again in high school, though we did have USA network for a long time (and I still look back and fondly remember “Night Flight” every Friday and Saturday night.
What we did end up having was Millie’s Hobby Hut. This was a tiny craft shop, run, of course, by Millie herself. Inside she had lots of yarn and crochet hooks and doll parts and books on how to make these things. But in the back corner there was one small shelf, where she stocked Estes Rockets and TSR Dungeons and Dragons. She was real good about ordering just about anything we needed. Yes, it looked funny to see all these teenage boys shopping among the blue haired sect, but we didn’t care.
I never realized it at the time, but I was in at the beginning of what was a fad, then a trend, and is now a pretty large, if niche business. Not in the business mind you, but as a consumer. When I first found that small, white box, I had no idea what it would eventually become. It was just a new game called Dungeons and Dragons, but it sounded different than anything I had ever seen. This wasn’t Monopoly or Risk by any shot. But I bought it, read the three booklets inside, and was chomping to play. Of course, it took another two trips to Pueblo and three months for us to ever find the special dice that were required for it. Polyhedral dice (as they are called) can be found at any toy store now, and there are so many specialty hobby shops that it is a game players dream compared to back then. In fact, I’d never even been in a store dedicated to games until I was in my thirties.
From junior high, through high school and part of college my friends and I played D&D all the time. We had a lot of fun with it, though we never got as serious as many people seem to have. We never got lost in the sewers, and we all actually managed to get girlfriends as well. I pretty much stopped playing in college, and didn’t pick it up again until a few years ago, when I started playing with the kids. I managed to miss an entire edition of the rules, but the important thing is it is something we can do together still.
But we didn’t restrict ourselves to that either. We loved playing games, and anything that we could find we devoured. We would have marathon sessions of two-board risk, or day long games of monopoly during every Christmas break. Scott had some war game with marines on the moon at which he regularly kicked the crap out of me, regardless of whether I played the Russians or Americans – he always nuked me first.
Now before you think we were these fat, pimply, pasty faced geeks who never saw the sun, that wasn’t true either. At least about being fat – that didn’t happen until the beer drinking started. And we did see the sun. It was Dad who got me interested in modeling. Of course it started with snap together cars, and a plan or two. But once you built them all they did was gather dust. He liked to build large sailing ships – with all the details. His best project was a scratch built riverboat. Unfortunately, as these things do, they have all been pretty much destroyed over time. (A couple were in a display case at the college, and someone dropped the heavy glass lid on them, breaking both the lid and the ships; Allen had another, and on the first night in their new house heard a noise, was feeling around for a light, put his hand in the rigging and it startled him, causing him to jerk his hand back, smashing it against the wall; etc.)
Now model rockets – there was something that did more than gather dust. First you built it, and then you could go out and fly it. At one point, I must have had close to forty rockets hanging from the ceiling all the way around my room. I loved the science fiction models – space stations, Mars Landers, huge alien ships, and even R2D2 from Star Wars. And my friends loved to go and fly them with me.
We would go to a field only a couple of blocks away, a tackle box with the launcher, engines and everything needed to fly, and our arms full of rockets. It always amazed me how some of the biggest (I think one of them, made to look like it was from the Star Trek universe (though it was not anything official) was over four feet long) flew beautifully. And we would always attract all the little kids when we started – and they loved to go running after the rockets. It took a while to get them to catch them correctly, and more than one was broken not from landing, but from the foot that landed on it immediately after touchdown.
More than one ended up on the roof of the college library, and those were a big pain to get – because of course it was never open at the time. Several would be repaired only to fly again the next week. Unfortunately the last time I saw any of these was in a box my parents used to have, and every one was broken. Model rockets are, after all, nothing more than balsa and cardboard tubes, so they don’t pack up very well. I’ve since tried to get my boys interested in model rockets, but no success so far.
But even beyond the occasional excursion to tempt the border of space, I was in the Boy Scouts for several years. Unfortunately, my time there ended due more to organizational failure than anything else, as eventually the troop lost its leaders, its meeting place, and then its focus, effectively disbanding. I did achieve the rank of Star however. I was also initiated into the Order of the Arrow, which was quite fun.
When the troop still existed, it was a lot of fun. I remember several camping trips back behind the Sand Dunes. Only one year did we ever have enough boys to go to summer camp as a troop, but San Isabel Scout Ranch always made a ‘provisional’ troop of all those boys who didn’t have a troop. One year we even had a staff member from England as our provisional Scoutmaster, and he was a lot of fun, though he did get a bit tired of the ‘limey’ jokes by the end of the week. Of course, my inner geek was not far behind, and we were known to take our D&D books up with us to summer camp – a practice I’ve found that my sons still do.
I was pretty much like any other kids growing up then. Yes, I played video games when they came out; we even used to each get a roll of quarters, and have four of use get on the Gauntlet machine at Wal-Mart for several hours. But generally I sucked at them, though I still love pinball to this day, especially the Alien Poker machine down at the arcade, where three times I came within a few points of the high score, only to find it reset the next week at a lower level. So I stuck with board and strategy games, even to this day.