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November 24, 2017

A Blast From My Past

I was recently purging some “junk” from the basement and stumbled across a box of old toys, that my now 17year-old son once owned. My first instinct was to toss them but he adamantly insisted they weren’t junk at all, but memories. That got me thinking about the good ‘ol days and that grew into a full blown trip down memory lane to places and things I’d seen and all the cool things I once owned, that I wish I still had…

Here are a few of my favourite things from the past. If you grew up in the 1970’s or 80’s, many of these will resonate with you. Millennials, you may have to ask your parents.

Please feel free to send some of your memories in the space below. Without further adieu, let’s go back in time.

1). Toys

Growing up, I never thought I had enough toys. It seems I was wrong. I was a huge Evel Knievel fan, so when the action figure came out, I had to have it. Of course, not long after that I had to have the touring van, rocket ship and an alternate doll, with a blue uniform as well. Next up, the very creepy looking “Hugo, the Man of a Thousand Faces”; part puppet, part Mr. Potato head. I remember spending a lot of free time with Hugo. Most remember tabletop hockey, but few can say the same for the Phil and Tony Esposito Action Hockey game. Funny shaped players controlled by magnets. One team on the top, the other on the bottom. Smash Up Derby was a lot of fun, but hard to play alone so I’d pack it up and take it to a friends place to play. I wasn’t known as a jock when I was 10, but I was the king of the bolo bat. I remember the local plaza having a competition and I ended up winning. What a career opportunity missed on my part. Of all the action figures I owned, nothing compared to Big Jim, maybe it’s the resemblance to me? Why did I not keep any of these things?

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2). Junk Food

I know that there’s a number of retro candy stores, but nothing compared to saving your pennies to fill your pockets at the corner shop. Bottle Caps; candy that was supposed to taste like different flavours of pop. I hated root beer so I’d either give those away or throw them out. Cheese Nips make me think of my Dad, although I remember them as Cheese Willikers. In fact, every Sunday, he’d sit in front of the TV, watch football, and use “Cheese Willickers!” as a curse, while eating an entire box of them. I wasn’t much of a gum guy, but the stuff that came in a pack of hockey cards was the best. Actually, I think it smelled even better than it tasted. I was always covered in a sugary film, that I would wipe on my pants, before shoving a wad into my mouth. Pop Rocks freaked me out the first time I had them. I remember my mom telling me they were dangerous, and I don’t think she was referring to the sugar content. I’ve actually seen Pop Shop pop somewhere recently, but for those not old enough to remember, this was started by former NHLer Eddie Shack and he actually had stores, not unlike the beer store, where all you could buy was the different flavours of pop. Does anyone remember the Liquid Four? 4 candy bars in 1. I didn’t like the bordeaux chunk so I usually tossed that, so I guess it was 3 bars in 1 for me.

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3). Electronics

So many great memories here. Let’s begin with the walkman. In the summer of 1986, I was working my first part-time job as a shoe salesman (boy) at Aldo. With my first paycheque, I bought a walkman. It wasn’t a Sony, but I loved it because it also had AM/FM on it. The sound was incredible for the time, but those headphones weren’t comfortable at all. My mother worked in a camera/electronics store, so I had my share of boom boxes, but it didn’t get any better than the day she brought me home one with a double cassette player. The 3rd item, many younger folks won’t recognize, but that was what was used as a TV remote. The problem was the long wire that went from the box to the TV. After tripping over it a dozen times and knocking the box onto the floor, it had to be replaced. The digital watch you see, was state of the art at the time. If you look closely, you’ll see “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday” on it. That’s right, that beauty actually played Beatles songs. Magnetic players and a vibrating field, that’s how we played electronic football when I was a kid. Sadly, my sister had a party one day and her friends melted all the players. Finally, my favourite part of school; movie day. Yep, I was the AV geek who used to work the projector in class.

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4). Transportation

While most kids my age were riding tricycles, I was zipping around on my big wheel. I can still hear the sound of the plastic wheels as I’d hit the break and do a 360 skid. While I owned many bicycles, my motocross bike was my favourite. I mean, the thing had freaking shocks. Unfortunately, it was stolen from my front yard just a month after I got it and my parents had no plans on replacing it. One of my pals owned a Honda 70 mini bike. Rather than heading to trails, we’d go to a large parking lot and take turns riding. Unlike most mini-bikes, there was no clutch to change gears, which made it much easier to ride. I never drove a yellow cop car, but we always knew when one was around. You could spot that thing a mile away. Finally, a 1980 AMC Concord. My former bandmate Mike owned this and we practically lived in it. One night, while driving to a gig at the Gasworks, it stalled on Yonge Street and we had to push it 4 blocks, in the pouring rain, with all of our gear inside. You never get those days back.‍

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5). Places

Vinyl records are making a resurgence right now, but it’s hard for many to imagine just how big it was at one time. Sam the Record Man was THE place to go, but for many years A&A records sat right beside it on Yonge St. and both stores thrived. Vinyl stores are popping up all over the place, but there will never be another Sams. The Canadian National Exhibition is still around and has been since 1912, but it’s the CNE of the 70’s and 80’s that I will always remember. The Alpine Express, The Flyer, The Zipper. For me, the Ex was always the last blast of fun before heading back to school. While we’re seeing a bit of a revival for live music, back in the 80’s, it was everywhere. The Gasworks was the first club I ever played and it blew me away. The place had 2 floors with a stage on each and most nights you could check out 2 different bands, playing at the same time. Check out this video from its final night to get a sense how big it was. http://gasworks.eyedropvideo.com/.  Maple Leaf Gardens became old and unsuitable by today’s standards, but looking back now, what a shrine. Just think, The Beatles played there. I saw hundreds of Leaf games there, including the final one in 1999. I watched my first rock concert there. Saw the WHA Toronto Toros, where I got to see Evel Knievel lace up skates between periods and do a shootout on the Toro’s backup goalie. Most trips to Maple Leaf Gardens started with dinner at Frank Vetere’s Pizza. I can still remember the smell as you’d walk up the stairs from the subway, onto Carlton Street. Don’t remember if it was good pizza, but I’ll never forget the drinking glasses that you could take home with you. Finally, Exhibition Stadium, a place not made for baseball, but oh, how I miss it. Likely because the memories of going down with my dad, buying tickets day of, and sitting on metal bench seats, with no backs, on the 1st base line. As I got older, I would sit in the LF bleachers, buying the tickets for a buck each at Dominion. The last event I saw there was actually a concert. My wife and I spent a full day and night watching a bill that included Metallica, The Black Crowes, Great White and Aerosmith.

I could go on all day reminiscing about the things I miss from the past, but maybe I’ll save that for a book…

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