The weather is getting warmer and that means summer is just about here and when I was a kid that meant one of many things. It meant summer vacation, wiffle ball, roller blades and, of course, remote controlled cars. Back then you were lucky enough just to have an R/C car, but now you can have anything from a car to a helicopter to a boat…and I’m jealous.
Back in my day
I remember my first remote controlled toy was a tank. I got it for Christmas and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world, but even at a young age I didn’t understand why it only moved in two directions. The tank moved forward in a straight line but always turned left while going backwards. It was a little awkward and far from the cars I saw at Toys R Us, but it was something and right then my quest for a better R/C car was born.
It didn’t help that one of my friends had a “real” R/C dune buggy. By “real” I mean it was a total kit car that had an engine, shocks, required actual gasoline and had a remote control that rivaled Doc Brown’s. This was one expensive toy and it was meant for serious action. I knew it was way out of my league and parental price range, but a boy can dream, can’t he?
Where the rubber meets the road
My little two-way tank had a rather short life. Its limitations made it rather uninteresting and required several pounds of C batteries, so before too long it just became a GI Joe accessory. I wanted a full R/C car real bad and my parents knew it, finally obliging me on my birthday somewhere around third grade. As far as I was concerned, my parents went all out because my first R/C car was a Ferrari Testarossa. I didn’t know at time that it was a Radio Shack toy that only cost $20 but it didn’t matter, I thought it was the best car ever made. Finally I had a car that could go in every direction, went fast and looked cool. It was metallic silver but I quickly painted it red so I could pretend to be Magnum PI.
I had a big driveway growing up so my house quickly became the neighborhood race track. We’d draw a course with chalk and practice our skidding and donuts. However, one interesting challenge to the whole thing was that my next door neighbor had the same car and it operated on near the same frequency as mine, so whenever we raced we’d end up half-controlling each others’ cars. I’d press left and my car would turn right. He accelerated and his car went in reverse. Our Saturday afternoons of racing looked more like a destruction derbies than the F1 races in our heads, but it was all fun regardless. I went through a few other remote controlled cars after that but the Ferrari was my first and will thus always be my most loved.
Flying the friendly skies
However, that was then and this is now..and right now I’m jealous of every third grader out there. All I wanted was a simple car, but today kids can have R/C toys I could only dream of…helicopters!
I admit, next to a helicopter that can fly and terrorize people from above, a Ferrari seems pretty boring. I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with some good old fashioned speed on wheels, but these helicopters are a lot of fun and come in all shapes and sizes. You have your expensive models, of course, that fly nearly like the real thing, but you also have your affordable, near-disposable helicopters that are little more than styrofoam with a propeller. I can play with these little guys all day long at home and at the office. I can only imagine what my 9-year-old self and best friend would have done had we a couple of R/C helicopters. We could have been TC and Magnum PI at the same time! Honestly though, they probably would have crashed and gotten stuck in a tree within two days, so maybe a car was better in the long run.
As if helicopters weren’t cool enough, you can even find affordable R/C boats at the toy store these days. Helicopters were one thing but boats were for the super elite only. Cars only needed a few yards of sidewalk. Helicopters just needed a little open air, but you need water for boats and that made them instantly more fun because it was all the rarer. As a kid I knew that R/C boats were not toys, they were for the serious hobbyist and well out of reach. Now 15 years later and you can find yourself a mini R/C boat for your bathtub for less than $10. Even larger scale boats are under $50 and most certainly worth every penny if you have access to a pond or river near your home.
Oh to be a kid today
Technology is a wonderful thing and not only makes our lives easier but makes toys a lot more enjoyable. Remote controlled toys may not be any cheaper these days (they still hang around $20 for starters) but you’re no longer limited to the road like I was. You can defy gravity with any assortment of helicopters, UFOs, and air planes, or you can rule the open seas with a speed boat or hovercraft. However, as an adult, the one remote controlled toy I want more than any other is an easy decision – a blimp.
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