On The Rocket Ride

Recently I went into a store that had a roped-off area crammed with a bunch of vintage items from the ’50s and ’60s, like a jukebox, a soda bottle machine and some old toys and games.  Two of the most striking items in this modest museum of memories were the rocket ride and the motorboat ride.

In those days virtually every grocery store and five-and-dime had at least one of these rides outside, right near the front door, ready to entice any youngster who was going shopping with Mom.  It might be a space ship, or a motorboat, or a race car or fire engine out there, colorful and gleaming and impossibly tantalizing to the childhood imagination.  It was savvy marketing, directly aimed at the kid.  You’d see the contraption going in and then spend the entire time in the store pestering and begging your Mom to let you ride, saying “please” and “it’s just one dime” a hundred times and promising to be good if she’d just grant you that one request.  Moms must have groaned every time they saw the rocket ride outside a store.

Most times, your Mom would say no and you’d pile back into the station wagon, but once in while your Mom would break down and fish out a dime.  You’d climb in, pretending to be an astronaut or fireman or one of the Hardy Boys in their boat, and grab the wheel.  When your Mom dropped the coin into the slot, the machine would rumble and shake and tilt and turn, the storefront and the parking lot would drop away somehow, and you’d have your two minutes of living a dream while your Mom checked her watch.

Now the rocket rides and motorboats and the small-scale imagination zones they created are gone, and the sidewalks in front of stores are crammed with Redbox kiosks and potted plants and pallets of windshield fluid.

I’m guessing that Moms everywhere had something to do with that unfortunate development.