Obsessing on cars in little boxes

The Crossroads in Boulder was the first indoor mall I visited. I was five and we’d just moved from Poughkeepsie, which though already IBM country, was still pretty rural and only had strip shopping centers. The year was 1965. On my first visit, I decided the mall was called the Crossroads because it was like being on two indoor roads that crossed, a giant plus of a building filled with stores. (In reality, it probably got its name from some intersection of two important roads in Boulder.)

At the crossroads of the Crossroads was a toy shop, a smallish store crammed with stuff. The aisles were narrow and the shelves tall (to me). And on one counter sat a glass display case with stepped shelves. Parked on the shelves were miniature cars, Matchbox cars, and these I coveted from my first visit to the Crossroads. I don’t know what they cost then, but I wasn’t often able to buy one. I would stand and stare at the white Cadillac ambulance on visit after visit, needing that car more than I needed anything else in the world. I also wanted, needed the Chevrolet El Camino, though not as badly as the ambulance. Back then, Matchbox cars were made by a company call Lesney, and that also made them special. They were imported. From Britain. Little metal cars that felt heavy, real, constructed somewhere.

The box was the final element that turned them into kid obsession. Once you pointed to the car you wanted — could afford, really — the store clerk would slide open a drawer and pull out the special blue and yellow box with the car in it. The box had the car’s picture and name, and was instant garage for each car — no plastic blister pack here. That’s where the name comes from, though I’ve never seen a matchbox that size, so I assume it must have been the standard in England.

My son Patrick has the sharpest eyes around. His nickname is Eagle-Eyes McDoom. While it’s a given he often spots the things he wants, this is not always the case. The other day he was in Stop ‘n Shop and saw what I’d seen at the Crossroads in 1965: a “Matchbox Lesney Edition.” In a bid to sell quality and nostalgia, Mattel, which owns Matchbox now, is offering vehicles featuring “the classic combination of quality die-cast body and chasis to honor the heritage of the Lesney name.” Patrick bought me one, generous son that he is, a ’56 Cadillac Eldorado. It feels like the old Matchboxes, with a weight and heft today’s mostly plastic cars can’t match. It even came with that classic blue and yellow box. The irony: car and box were packaged together in the blister pack, for there is no display case at Stop ‘n Shop or a clerk to get the little box out of the drawer. I’ve since gone back and grabbed the ’70 Plymouth Cuda Hemi. Now, it they’d only get in the Cadillac ambulance.

6 Responses to “Obsessing on cars in little boxes”

  1. Charlie


    That is a great piece. Thanks for bringing me back to my Matchbox days! Although I don’t know if Lesney was still making those cars in the early 70’s when I coveted them so dearly.

    By the way, I’m splitting reading time tonight between your blog and Anne Lamott. You both make me laugh.


    • rich

      Hey Charlie, happy to talk on WordPress. I’m now using it to run five sites. I don’t follow Shitty First Drafts as much as I really should and just keep writing (though they are shitty when I get them down).

  2. rich

    Wow, in company with Anne. I’ll take that any day. Remember, shitty first drafts. That’s how stuff gets written.

  3. Charlie Gray


    Shitty first drafts. I remember that well from Hemingway. I don’t practice it much, but I am beginning to get back to it. And yes, Anne, whom I have only recently discovered, is quite fine literary company.

    Oh, by the way, I have a WordPress question for you…in all your freetime: )

  4. Charlie

    As long as the shitty first drafts don’t follow Patrick into the lunch room with Apricot Jam, or an acre of Romaine lettuce, then I guess you’re doing just fine! I have simply to get started, jump in that is, with Word Press. Maybe I should be pantomiming keyboard strokes as Lamott mimes writing. Will that help? I guess the primary WordPress question is do you recommend it for the technologically challenged?

    • rich

      I think it’s easy to use, but I’ve been using a lot of tech stuff for too long to be a great judge. It’s like Facebook on steroids, since Facebook is really just dumbed down blogging for everyone. There’s much you can ignore and get going right away.


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