For me, the 80s were spent in a most Spielbergian fashion: middle class split-level home in a rolling suburb. Weekends were spent at the mall and summer nights were spent playing flashlight tag throughout the neighborhood.
In the fall, the giant JC Penney and Sears catalogues would arrive, and I’d instantly flump them over to the back pages where the toys awaited my approval. I’d pore over those dozen pages so carefully that the spine was permanently bent to visions of Transformers and Lego sets.
And, while I was usually able to make a pretty respectable haul for a pre-teen, some of the coolest gifts consistently evaded my grasp. Those toys haunt me today, and my heart still goes pitter-patter when I run across them online.
Here are my most desired gifts I didn’t get, arranged by year, for your approval. What big game alluded your hunting skills? Be sure to comment below….
1980: Big Trak
Why I had to have it: Big Trak was a programmable tank that worked like a semiautonomous remote-controlled car. Kids could enter up to 15 commands (go forward, pause, turn X degrees, etc.), and Big Trak would trundle off on its goal to scare the crap out of the family cat.
Why I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: The big man thought I was maybe a touch too young for a complex microproccesor toy like Big Trak, despite my protestations to my parents that my older cousin had one, and I totally wouldn’t break it.
1981: US1 Highway Trucking Race Track
Why I had to have it: The US1 Highway Trucking Race Track compares to other slot car sets like Power Wheels compared to pedal cars. US1 was a true H-O scale slot track that allowed for semis, construction sites, loading and unloading.
Hell, just watch the video — it makes my timbers shiver even today.
What I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: I had a lot of slot car track, and if you’ve ever owned slot car track, you can definitely taste the disappointment. Cars would get jammed on the track, their little motor buzzing… you’d goose the engine, and watch as the car sailed off the track into cracked oblivion.
Why I had to have it: Sometime around 1981, my parents got an Intellivision, forever spawning my track record of picking the wrong gaming console for every generation since. Don’t get me wrong — I had a great time with Space Armada, Nova Blast and the rest of the crew, but it lacked the infinite game library of the Atari 2600, and forever seemed as crude as a baby’s toy after the Colecovision came out. The graphics on the Colecovision seemed positively photorealistic at the time, and home versions of arcade games were vibrant.
Why I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: “Ho, ho, ho. You only get one console every generation, kid, and you chose poorly. Greed’s a bitch. Also, Merry Christmas.”
1983: Domino Rally
Why I had to have it: For some reason, the early 80s featured an elaborate domino craze. Domino Rally was one of a few big-league domino sets that allowed kids to build their own gigantic domino runs without the need for those pesky, full-sized dominos. The possibilities of spending hours carefully arraying them on the kitchen floor were endless.
Why I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: Santa likely received a last minute urgent plea from my father, who didn’t want to spend his entire Christmas day “setting up &$*#ing dominos that accidentally get knocked down every 5 minutes.”
1984: Power Wheels
Why I had to have it: What child can resist the allure of his or her own transportation? This, my friends, was my generation’s Red Ryder airgun. To get one of these under the tree meant you’d officially arrived. No hill would be too steep for my wiry physique to climb with the aid of battery-powered magic. Once I had my own powered vehicle, I mused, I could go anywhere.
Why I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: Once he had his own powered vehicle, they mused, he could go anywhere.
1985: Omnibot 2000
Why I had to have it: I circled this pricey little proto-bot in the Sears catalog, and even used two colors of ink — pink and blue. Ever since I tried to build my own robot years before (it was a disastrous failure), I’d dreamed of a helper robot. And Omnibot 2000 was to be my robot sidekick — it could even pour your drink! This little fella could motor about the house, track you with its eyes, respond to verbal commands … and did I mention the drink pouring?
Why I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: Even Santa’s credit card has limits… and the $599 price tag (in 80s dollars) probably was a bit much for the old man’s Diner’s Club card.
1986: Lazer Tag
Why I had to have it: Ever since the first childhood cries of “I shot you — you’re dead!” during a game of cops and robbers, kids have wanted an arbiter of fairness when playing toy guns. Lazer Tag was finally the way to see who the crack shot on the block was. And even if kids managed to cover the sensor on their silver vest, there was always the helmet to aim for.
Why I can only assume Santa couldn’t seal the deal: I honestly don’t know. The gun sets weren’t ridiculously overpriced — I can only assume that was the year I repeatedly picked my nose, wiped it on my mom’s good towels, and blamed my younger sister.