Riffing on a idea that Jerzy Drozd (of the Art & Story podcast, as well as a co-host with my on the Saturday Supercast) mentioned on his new A&S Supreme content podcast, Thunderpunch Daily, I’ve been thinking about those (as he framed it) couch jumping moments we all had as kids. A couch jumping moment is when you’re watching or reading something so awesome that you can’t help it and you use the living room furniture as a trampoline, jumping all over the place in excitement. Now I know that I tend to reminisce a lot on Branded, and I honestly try very hard to provide a portal with which to “travel back in time” with the content of this site on a regular basis, but today I really want to take myself back to a specific moment. Of the handful of completely vivid memories I have of my childhood, this is one of the fondest…
It’s 1984 and I’m seven years-old. It’s around mid afternoon in central Florida on a Saturday, sometime in October or November. I’d just recently moved from Tampa to the Orlando area, into a neighborhood that was a whole heck of a lot larger than the one I’d left behind. My elementary school was just inside the subdivision proper, about a mile from our new house, and it and a near by 7-Eleven marked the edge of the area I was allowed to travel on my own. I’d just made a pit-stop at the convenience store, filling my pockets with Nerds and Giant Chewy SweetTarts and grabbing a Big Gulp before heading back to the playground behind the school. Though I hated having to go to a new school, meeting new kids, and tackling division and multiplication in 2nd grade math, I loved the actual school building and the grounds around it.
Though I doubt I thought much about it at the time, the sprawling octagon-shaped structure felt a lot like the architecture used by the Empire in the Star Wars flicks. The outside had a lot of similar aspects as the shield generator bunker on Endor, and the inside was set up in a hub and spoke formation much like my mind’s eye vision of the Deathstar layout. Outside there were plenty of paved sidewalks and ramps that made for the perfect BMX obstacle course with plenty of curbs to jump and small sets of stairs to descend. These lead to the back of the building which house a pretty sizable playground with two huge swing sets, a climbing net, a half-sized basketball court, a kickball field, three separate slides of various heights, a set of monkey bars, and three or four jungle gyms in the shapes of giant domes and rocket ships. On this particular Saturday I was alone on the playground. It was still pretty hot even though it was fall, and there must not have been a cloud in the sky because the sun was blazing down making it hard to see because it was reflecting off of all the shiny metal slides.
There was only one thing running through my mind that afternoon as I’d just come back from seeing the re-release of Return of the Jedi in the theater with my dad. It was a particularly great experience as the theater had a bunch of employees dressed to the nines in very authentic-looking costumes. There were a few skiff guards from the pit of Carkoon scene, where Jaba was sacrificing Luke, Han and Chewie to Sarlac, but the ones that really caught my eye were a couple of Biker Scouts in full armor. Like a lot of kids, the speeder bike chase through the forest of Endor was the absolute peak of cinematic excitement in ’83-’84, and ever single time I saw it I’d get completely jazzed, barely able to contain myself from going nuts in the theatre. I couldn’t stop thinking about that chase sequence and one of my favorite things to do was to try and reenact it all over that playground. I’d start off by running around the entire perimeter, imagining I was Luke and there were two scouts on my tail. Fake yawning and growling, I’d try and mimic the noise of the speeder bikes as I zoomed around the jungle gyms and under the monkey bars making my way to the slides. After careening down the slides a few times, burning my butt and the bottoms of my thighs on the white hot steel, I’d retire to the swing sets where I’d really try and get going at a decent clip, swinging higher and higher. I’d do this until I got to a point where I was scaring myself, which meant that it was time for the big finale. Remember the scene where Luke jumps off his bike sending it crashing into a tree, well that was the point I’d send myself flying off the swing, tumbling into the soft dirt under the set and trying to pop back up quickly to me feet so that I could extend my imaginary lightsaber to take care of the biker scouts bearing down on me.
There was some part of me that always wished there was a playground made up of equipment and vehicles from the star wars films, in particular ROTJ. The idea of sitting on a speeder bike for real was intoxicating. Though I wouldn’t change my childhood play experiences for anything in the world, I never realized that at the time, that dream was a reality…
I found this ad the other day in an October issue of Woman’s Day magazine from 1984. At first I thought it was just a cool looking branded play fort, but after tearing it out and while preparing to scan it I noticed the single coolest swing set accessory in the history of mankind, a child-sized speeder bike swing! How freaking cool is that! I think my brain would have imploded had I known of existence of this Gym-Dandy Scout Walker Command Tower with Speeder Bike Ride as a kid. Heck, just typing the name of the play-set evokes Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB Gun spiel from A Christmas Story. “…with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time…”
And seriously, just how neat is this ad? With the 2nd Deathstar, the Millennium Falcon, an A-Wing fighter, and a Tie-Interceptor floating in the night sky, while a bunch of kids play on the set; their trusty golden retriever at standing watch like a Chewbacca or Chief Chirpa. Just too awesome. The only thing that’s a little weird about this play-set is that it’s mimicking Imperial equipment, which seems a bit weird.
The one thing I can imagine trumping the coolness factor of this set is the idea of a BMX bike with the shell of a speeder bike wrapped around the frame. I wonder if those existed…?