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.