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"The Best Toy Ever" - Power Wheels Jeep Essay
This essay was originally written December 5th, 2008 at one o'clock in
the morning. My intention was to publish it here at some point. Somehow
I managed to avoid doing so, until now. Thus it is now presented below
as it was originally written.
For no other reason than the fact I can do so, I'd like to contrast how
much difficulty I had in school with the essay/writing portion of
standardized testing against writing this and many other essays.
Standardized testing was something I did very well on as a matter of course. More than anything else, it was the fact that I didn't care about the topics* they wanted me to write about back then. Nor did I feel overly obligated to explain why I didn't care.
While I don't ever recall an actual dislike of writing, it's possible
that my view on the matter was just a result of being late to mature.
Which has definitely been the truth at many points in my life so far.
At some point I'd like to write an autobiography, and I should probably
be gathering its parts as I go along instead of all at once later in
life. After all, nobody knows how long they've got...
I think some of the best toys are the
ones that kids can use in ways other than the manufacturer intended.
Likewise, I also think that the best toys are the ones that have the
potential to be dangerous.
Before you get too angry, or call me
crazy, let me qualify that a bit. When I say "dangerous", I don’t mean
toys that would cause serious harm or death to someone who used them
improperly. Toys should be reasonably safe even when you color outside
the lines with them (so to speak). I’m focusing much more on the
"adventurous", "thrilling" or "exciting" meaning that sometimes comes
along with danger.
What I really want to talk about,
though, is the best toy I ever had as a youngster. It is because of the
fact that said toy was both dangerous and later able to be used way
outside of what the manufacturer had ever intended that it came to be
one of our favorite toys.
That toy was a Power Wheels Jeep.
My grandfather bought it new in the
80s, and it fast became a staple of visiting my grandparents’ place
every Sunday. My brother James and I loved cruising around their vast
yard with that thing, and we later found out that one of the
neighborhood children had a Power Wheels car...I think it was a
Corvette. We’d catch up with her and spend a lot of time driving around
my grandparents’ massive yard.
Of course, we loved to drive that
Jeep as fast as it would go, and it was great fun up until the time
James tried to drive it up alongside the base of a big old tree. It
proved too much for the Jeep to handle, and it turned over with him in
it. (I was inside at the time, and therefore got to see the
considerable consternation this caused my parents.) I suspect that had
we known of these things at the time, his little demonstration would
have been amazingly prescient of what happens in these modern times
with some SUVs.
I think that led to the high speed
being disconnected for "safety" purposes. As children we begged and
pleaded for dad to reconnect the high speed wire, so we could go fast
or at least keep up with the ‘vette. He wouldn’t go for it, and in the
end we figured out which wire to reconnect to get our beloved high
speed back when nobody was watching. It was kind of a pain to do this,
and we did eventually get caught. We chose to deny it all first, like
most good children would.
Our attention to driving safety while
operating the Power Wheels Jeep was, of course, impeccable. James and I
frequently had our portable cassette players and headphones playing
while driving (at the high speed of course).
The Jeep was not without problems.
Since it was only used on the weekends, it tended to be left alone for
long periods of time with the charger plugged in. This burned up more
than one set of batteries, and even caused the electrical system to
burn up at one point. I’m sure we begged for it to be fixed every time,
and it was.
In time, my grandparents moved to a
smaller house and the Jeep came to live at our home, where it got a lot
more use. The batteries wore out once again, and I think the charger
eventually quit working, leaving it powerless.
Fortunately, we were quick to come up
with another idea. One guy could drive while the other pushed, and I
frequently ended up doing the pushing, which was fine with me after a
This is where the true enjoyment of
the Jeep became evident. We were older (with me being about twelve at
the time) and supposed to be past the days of Power Wheels Jeep
driving. It was certain that the two of us were past the official
weight limit of the thing anyhow. Heck, just one of us in the thing was
over the weight limit...
But we kept right on, with the weight
limit out of our minds and my easily being able to push it much faster
than Power Wheels ever intended it to be able to go.
At some point, we hit upon the
brilliant idea of having "accidents" in the Jeep, and it very
frequently was turned over, or crashed into some waiting garbage cans.
In time this took its toll on the body, causing the windshield to break
off and the hood to disappear to points unknown. The sun also worked on
the plastic, bleaching the color out until our Jeep was a rather
miserable shade of light red.
The Jeep always had a tendency for
the steering rod to come out of the connection to the front wheels.
This was bad enough when it was new. At our much higher speeds and
considerably more reckless driving, it was a very common occurrence to
be driving along and have the steering column come unglued. It would
then careen wildly out of control, usually off to the left and more
often than not we’d let it crash into something on its way down.
By now, our beloved Jeep was a rough
looking wreck with more than its fair share of "bites" from accidents
both contrived and real (when the steering shaft would pop loose at
speed). The grille, hood and windshield were long gone. Now in our
early teens, we still played with it regularly, even though we really
were too big for it. And being teens, we were speed crazed...we simply
had to go faster somehow. I realized how to achieve that goal pretty
quickly when I took the entirety of the electrical system and the two
rear wheel motors off. Without the resistance presented by the motors,
it was possible to get the thing up to some really ridiculous speeds
with me still running along behind it, and pushing with everything I
Ralph Nader would have been proud of us. Our Jeep was definitely unsafe at any speed.
Still, our Power Wheels Jeep saw a
lot of miles racing up and down the streets outside our home. We drove
it, the neighbor kids drove it, and even the odd young visitor would
get to drive it.. I think we played with that thing until I was in
junior high school at the least, and I know it sat around the house for
quite some time after that.
At some point, we got a companion
vehicle. This was a dangerous contraption made of Pipeworks pipes and
wheels arranged such that one person could sit inside a sort of "cage"
while another pushed from the back. Or, I suppose, you could have
ridden it down a hill. We frequently took turns racing this dangerous
contraption right alongside the Jeep.
Eventually, though, the Jeep was put
aside and left to spend the rest of its days sitting outside, next to
the dangerous homebrew "pipemobile" contraption. It sat around for
another good few years, and the plastic began to crumble away into
nothing, leaving only a small metal frame holding most of it together.
I do know what happened to it,
although by the time I found out, it had been gone for quite a while.
My mother quietly took the forgotten Power Wheels Jeep out to the curb
for trash collection, and the garbage truck actually took it. The
"pipemobile" survived a bit longer, coming out every now and again for
a dangerous spin around the driveway, until a broken wheel sidelined
it. (We did in fact have a nice set of Pipeworks wheels that had never
seen the outdoors, but my mother forbid us to replace the broken wheel
on the dangerous contraption with one of those. While I disagreed at
the time with her decision, I’ve come to appreciate it now since our
"indoor" set of Pipeworks remains in pristine condition.)
I miss that Power Wheels Jeep. It was truly the best toy we ever had growing up.
They say you can find everything on the Internet. As such, it pleases me greatly to point out a community of Power Wheels enthusiasts and "modders".
Bits and pieces of the Jeep's wiring harness somehow survived its being
discarded. They ended up on my grandfather's workbench where years
later, they were used to restore his furnace to working order.
Though probably never intended for use at 120 volts AC, said wires were
so incredibly overbuilt that I felt it'd be OK. It's still running that
way to this very day.
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* Some of the topics found on these standardized tests included "how
would you feel about a McDonald's restaurant taking over your school
cafeteria" and some equally inane thing concerning whether the
definition of what constitutes a "pizza" should be subject to some sort
of central governance or standards body.