Not Quite Radio Days

Old RadioThe other day I was thinking about when my family used to go on vacation.  The topic came up because someone else was planning their vacation and booking flights, and I asked if they ever considered driving.  They immediately shot down that idea, not wanting to be “trapped” in the car for long stretches with their kids, or taking multiple days to get somewhere.  I’m sure that my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place, but I look back fondly on our vacations when I was a kid.  Of course I remember some of the fights too, but there were so many good things that came out of them.

Early vacations with both parents and three kids in a regular car were a bit tight, but in those days our vacations were shorter.  We lived in Florida and drove to other places in Florida, like Disney or the beach, or north to Georgia to visit family.  When we moved to Pennsylvania though, and trips to Georgia and Florida and other destinations got longer, the family bought a mini-van.  It had two bench seats in the back, my older brother taking the front one, while my younger brother and I took the rear.  In order for us both to be able to stretch out back there, we’d put a sleeping bag on the floor.  It turned out to be the best place to nap because down on the floor you avoided most of the light that came through the windows.

The key, however, to long term survival in the car for our family was the purchase of three Walkmans.  It is hard today to imagine the impact that portable tape decks that ran for many hours on a couple of AA batteries had on the world, but it was huge.  Suddenly we kids weren’t fighting with the parents for where to tune the radio.  And while music tapes had their place, for me, for vacations, there was something better.  I have no idea how I got it, but I imagine it come from my older brother, through some friend of his, but I wound up with a tap of Dr. Demento’s radio show.  It wasn’t a real tape, it was copied – maybe from a real tape or maybe from the radio.  But it had songs like Fish Heads and Another One Rides the Bus and more, as well as other comedy bits and longer stories.  This, along with a couple of Bill Cosby tapes would end up being the things I listened to most… until we wandered into the Cracker Barrel one day.

If you’ve never been to a Cracker Barrel, it’s a restaurant with a gift shop attached to it.  The shop is full of candy, folky art and decorations, and a random assortment of toys.  We’d been there many times, and I’d often perused the tape rack, which tended to contain the works of John Denver and a variety of country singers which after I discovered MTV I just wasn’t into anymore.  But one day I was spinning the rack and found a tape that had two “radio dramas”.  I asked my mom what they were and she explained it to me.  I don’t remember who bought them, but we ended up with three tapes.  War of the Worlds, The Shadow and The Green Hornet.  I played those things so many times, I’m surprised they tapes didn’t break.  I’m pretty sure if I look around, here or at my dad’s house, I could find those three tapes.

Many years later, after the Walkman had been replaced by the Discman, I found a radio show style recording of Stephen King’s The Mist.  I love movies and I love TV, but there is just something special about putting on headphones, sitting back, closing your eyes and letting the audio wash over you while imagery explodes in your mind.  It’s like reading a book but without the reading.  In fact, I’m pretty certain stumbling onto those tapes decades ago actually affected how I read, because I let the words sink in and I build the scenes visually within my mind.  The downside is that I read slow.  The upside is that I remember what I read very vividly.

We're AliveAnyway… despite loving those things and them being an integral park of my growing up, I admit I don’t keep track of what’s going on in the world of radio shows.  I mean, yes, I’ve been lusting after the Dark Adventure Radio Theater set for quite some time now, and I run across things now and then, but I haven’t actively sought things out.  But recently I’ve discovered (years later than most) podcasts.  While I tend to hate most talk radio, I’ve been enjoying a few podcasts, mostly entertainment or comedy related like The Nerdist.  It’s actually through that site that I’ve found We’re Alive, which is just awesome and one of those “Why did I not know this existed?” sort of things.  (Mental note: make sure the Apocalypse Rising track knows about this for Dragon*Con.)

So now I’m looking for more.  Know any good radio show podcasts?  I don’t want people just sitting around and talking (but if you say it’s completely awesome I’m sure I’ll try it out).  I want radio dramas, mysteries, horror, adventure, whatever.  Point me in their direction…

Gygax is Gone

Yesterday I learned about Jeff Healey… today its Gary Gygax.

In 1983, I moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania. Technically, I think we lived in Pipersville, but we had to drive to Plumsteadville to get our mail from the post office. Or it was the other way around. That’s no important. What is important is that our new house was just down the street from another family that had two sons, Charlie and Keeley. Charlie was my age, and along with a few other neighborhood kids, we were friends. Keeley was older, several years, and he had a fascinating hobby: painting lead miniatures.

The work he did was very detailed. He would spend hours working with brushes that had very few bristles, sometimes just a single bristle, getting the crevasses between armor plates and the coloring of the eyes. I still have a few that he sold me. But the miniatures weren’t just for painting and for show, they were for role playing games.

Keeley introduced us all to Dungeons & Dragons. He started us on the Red Box, and later segued us into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, where I became captivated by the Fiend Folio. His love of Mack Bolan books lead us into Top Secret, and his love of the Alien and Aliens movies lead us into Star Frontiers.

Needless to say, Gary Gygax, his creations and his legacy, have had a major impact on my life. Twenty-five years of gaming joy and heartache. My hat off to you, Gary. I hope the afterlife holds up to the fantasy worlds you created.

Rubbing the Lucky Nut.

Before I got my job at Toys “R” Us, I visited my parents and my mother pulled out a bag of buckeye nuts.

There isn’t much special about buckeyes. Unless you count this. It seems that my grandfather wasn’t making it up.

See, my father’s father lived in Jacksonville, Florida. We used to visit a couple times a year, except when we were living in Pennsylvania, until he passed on, and outside the house on the right side stood the Buckeye tree. He’d collect the ones that fell and hand them to the grandkids when we came telling us of the luck they held within. We usually were only lucky in losing or misplacing them. I’ve probably had over a hundred of these in my possession over the years, but right now I have only three. Two of these I retained from my younger years of visiting my grandpa. They managed to stay with me through the years and all the moving, mostly trapped in the drawers of my various desks. But the luck of these have probably worn out.

My mother opened the bag and I picked out a buckeye with a good thumb on it. My grandfather used to say that you should just keep it in your pocket and when you need luck just reach in and rub your thumb into the indent in the nut. I took a good one and put it in my pocket. It was for luck on a job interview.

Every day I kept it in my pocket and when my hand would brush against it, I’d reach in and give the nut a couple of rubs. It was in my pocket when I went to the interview and it was in my pocket when they called to tell me I got the job.

Thanks Grandpa Pace. I hope you are looking down at me now, and I hope you are proud at what you see.