How I Got My Mother to Cross the Freeway

On this Mother’s Day, I find myself feeling a bit more nostalgic than usual. At the age of 40, I consider myself quite lucky to still have my mom around. She’s a little too far away to see regularly, but I can still call whenever I please. Now that I have kids of my own, their (mis)adventures usually dominate the conversations. Although, sometimes I’ll call when the kids aren’t with me and my mom and I just reminisce about the old days. The times when I was a kid, wreaking the same havoc on my parents’ lives that mine do now. That time would be the 1980’s. (If you happen to be near a glass of wine, this would be the moment we all simultaneously lift them for a toast.)

I wanted my introductory article for the Retroist to be little more than just spewing my usual love for toys/games/media from the 1980s. Nostalgia is the gooey center of what drives my passion to collect all things from that era. Just about every piece in my personal collection has a story to it. I can tell you exactly when, where and how I got it, even if it’s not the same exact one, the memory still remains. It may not be Mother’s Day when you’re reading this, but any day is a good day to thank your mom for all that she did/does for you. Those days when they have to put aside their own wants and needs for us kids.

There was a time when I used to be cute, and therefore my mother spent unGodly amounts of money on LOTS of “fun” things for me during the 80’s that she probably would’ve rather spent on dresses or shoes. Despite all the dozens of toys/games my mom bought for me, I’m choosing to focus on 1 in particular here because it holds a special place in my heart and I always think of my mom when I see and play this game.

Sometime in the Summer of 1983, on a routine clothing shopping trip, she said I could get 1 Atari game before we left. The store was Sears. Sears was back then, for my family, a lot like what Wal-Mart is to most now; where we got about 90% of everything. (Except that Sears was always a much nicer place to be in, especially as a kid.) Even in 1983, right in the middle of the Great Video Game Crash, our local Sears still had a very nice display and gaming center. Having had my console for almost 1 whole year now, I already had all the “must-have” games on my want-list. So when she said I could get a game, I actually took some time browsing titles I’d never heard of or played before. (This was a first for me.) I remember she left me in the game section while she went and looked at stuff she probably would’ve rather bought.

As usual, I immediately passed all the sports games and headed straight for the action-adventure section. I was always partial to Activision games because, up until that point they had some of the best of the newer titles. I had recently been introduced to “Pitfall!”, and was seriously considering getting that game. However, it was my babysitter who would bring it over with her, and I figured I could always just play it when she came over.

Several games later, a bright, red box caught my eye. That bright, red box belonged to “Freeway”. (A game I later found out was programmed by David Crane, who also made “Pitfall!”.) I studied the screenshot on the back of the box and read the game’s description as intently as I should have with any of my schoolwork. At first, I was drawn to it because it seemed very similar to “Frogger”, which I was a huge fan of. However, like “Pitfall!”, that game belonged to a friend and I could play it when I was over there. This was similar enough to get my attention, but unique enough for me to say I wanted it in my library. After about 20 minutes passed, my mom returned and asked if I had found something. I gleefully showed her this game, and she was instantly amused by the chicken theme on the front cover. My mom has always been an animal-lover, and that love knows no bounds. (Yes, there’s even a special place for pixelated chickens.) I gave her a quick rundown of the gameplay and she stated that she thought it was cute. The purchase was made, and off to home we went.

Activision - Freeway Box Art

As with every new toy or game purchase, the product was IMMEDIATELY played with as soon as the front door closed! After playing it for about 30 minutes, I decided to read the manual to see what else there was I could be missing. I soon discovered that this game offered a simultaneous 2-player mode, which was not common in a lot of games in my collection. Usually, it was my dad (who was home in the evenings, after my mom went off to work) who was the one who played these games with me. My mom has never been a fan of technology, and even things as simple as the Atari intimidated her from ever getting near it. (Seriously….to this day, she’ll still call me to “fix the TV” because the damn dog stepped on the TV/VCR button on the remote. Anyway, I remembered her “cute” comment about the chicken crossing the road, and I decided to ask if she’d like to play. At first, she said no, but I kept assuring her that it was easy and fun. After about 3 tries, she decided to leave the dishes behind in the kitchen and give it a try.

[Via] De Paula

This was the first time my mom actually played AN Atari with me, which is why this game means so much to me now. I’ll never forget that 20 or 30 minutes she took away from doing chores to play this with me. I had more fun watching her get the hang of the controller and try to get that chicken across the road than I ever had playing any game by myself. Laughing and calling the cars on the TV “stupid” when she got hit. After that day, she’d play this game a few other times with me. Then, she even tried some other co?-op games like “Space Invaders” and “Target Fun”. She still never played as often or as long as my dad would (who was genuinely competitive), but that’s what made it all the more entertaining for me. Whenever I pull “Freeway” up on my computer when she’s around, we both have a good laugh about it.

I look back on these little moments with absolute fondness. Thirty-three years later, and I remember it like it was yesterday. As a toy collector AND a parent, these memories help reinforce the fact that playing with your kids is more important than the just the toys/games themselves. If you’re gonna buy toys or games for your kids, make sure you set aside some time to play with them, too. They’ll remember it forever. Even if it’s just trying to get a pixelated chicken across a virtual freeway.

Thanks, Mom and happy Mother’s Day. :)

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