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Growing Up Geek

The Goonies Jail in Astoria, Oregon

By May 9, 2016 Growing Up Geek, My Geek Adventures

This weekend while on a quick getaway to Astoria, Oregon, my wife asked what places we should visit. It took me less than half a second to shout out, “the Goonies Jail!!!”

Now serving as the Oregon Film Museum, the former jail and movie set, is a tribute to The Goonies and other films shot in the state.
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For a moment, I felt just a glimmer of the Force

By February 3, 2015 Growing Up Geek

You never know when nostalgia is going to strike. For me, it happened on a random stroll one day through sleepy, downtown Springfield. We were just wandering down Main Street and stumbled across the most rad antiques store window display, crammed full of vintage Star Wars collectibles.

I had this brief, jarring moment where I felt like I had tripped over some invisible, metaphysical pathway from my past. Were these my toys? I had to reset my brain momentarily. These were toys that I had, just not these particular toys.

It’s been a while since I had been this close to original Star Wars toys in the wild. I found myself captivated, staring through the dirty pane of glass, as my mind raced back to imaginary sci-fi battles of my youth.

But I wasn’t the only one taken back…

The force is strong with this vintage shop. #starwars

A photo posted by JL Watkins (@littlelostrobot) on

“You used to play with these?” my daughter asked, completely fascinated by the toys in the display. She didn’t even realize that they seemed so much older and different than the modern figures she’s seen her whole life. To her, they were just really neat toys. “All of them” I replied, breaking my gaze to look at her.

“That’s pretty cool!” she said as we walked away. It certainly was.

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It’s always been ‘Cruel Summer’

By July 11, 2014 Growing Up Geek, Music

“Hot summer streets, and the pavements are burning. I sit around, trying to smile, but the air is so heavy and dry.”

The hot summer breeze drifts into the Valley, carrying along with it the promise of recreation and a respite from the daily grind. My own adventures begin when I lace up a fresh pair of black Converse sneakers and hear my favorite summer jam on the radio. Sometime near late May, radio stations mercilessly shuffle and repeat playlists until a single track – through sheer tyranny of will – conquers the national zeitgeist, becoming the unofficial ‘song of summer.’ For me, it happens to be Bananarama’s Cruel Summer.

It’s always been Cruel Summer.
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The Pool Scene from “Let The Right One In”

By July 10, 2014 Growing Up Geek, Movies, Music

Everything is calm just above the surface. I squirm nervously in my seat, helplessly watching as young Oskar is led into a watery trap.

While I found the whole film to be brilliant, it’s the final moments of Let The Right One In that forever sealed it in my subconscious. Apart from all the bloody dismemberment, there’s something quite haunting about the pool scene. It’s a flawlessly executed sequence, with slow-burning tension. The part that left a lasting impression for me was the synth-pop tune “Flash in the Night” playing on the radio. It’s this one small added detail that lent a haunting realism to the moment. The song immediately triggers for me a flood of nostalgia and emotional triggers.
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My nerd loot from StarFest ’89

By April 9, 2014 Growing Up Geek, The Vault

I’m glad to see that even 25 years ago, I was snapping photos of my geeky obsessions. I recently uncovered this pic from StarFest ’89 in Denver, Colorado. My middle school friends and I were devotees of StarFest and StarCon, saving up our allowance money and planning out our costumes and convention activities months in advance. Once we got to high school, our parents finally relented, allowing us to stay overnight at the hotel. Looking back, it probably wasn’t too worrisome for them, as we were total nerds and weren’t likely to get into too much trouble.

Scattered atop the hotel bedspread you’ll notice: Vulcan Language guide, The Visitors Handbook, Batman movie buttons, rolled up Enterprise NCC-1701 D poster, Star Trek: The Next Generation Data action figure, and convention newsletters featuring Star Trek V.

On the table in the background: homemade Tricorder, replica lightsaber, Star Trek collectibles price guide, and an RCA VHS camcorder.

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That time I collected Spawn figures…

By March 25, 2014 Growing Up Geek, The Vault

Found this shameful polaroid scattered amongst a million other embarrassing photos in a cardboard box that’s probably better left closed. It’s not a drunken party pic or a terrible college fashion choice. This is much worse. It was just a fraction of my Spawn action figure collection, circa 1998. Notice that I built a pegboard wall rack to display them? Creepy.

There’s was a moment when my friend Xjan and I went temporarily insane, buying series after series of these figures. At one point we both just wanted them to go away. We eventually set up a vendor booth at a toy convention and sold through half of our collections. Xjan sold the rest of his to a Korean buyer on eBay. I gave mine to Hasser to sell on eBay and he eventually ditched them at a consignment shop in Greenville, South Carolina.

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Rolling in Phantom Menace collectibles (1999)

By January 22, 2014 Collectibles, Growing Up Geek, The Vault

Here’s a somewhat embarrassing photo from 1999, just a few weeks before the eagerly-anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters. I was a TV news photographer and we were doing a live remote from a local Target store which just received the first shipment of Phantom Menace toys. I was overjoyed to be among the first nerds to be handling the figures. Looking back now, it’s kinda weird to me that this photo was even taken, considering that it wasn’t immediately going up on Facebook or Instagram. Posterity, I suppose.

Now mind you, I wasn’t allowed to purchase any of these figures. There was a hard street date release on these toys, and this Target wasn’t going to be open until 9am. Luckily, I had a backup plan. I hauled-ass back to work, parked my live truck, and then raced to the nearby Toys R’ Us, which happened to be holding a midnight release party.

Actually, it wasn’t so much a release party, as it was an opportunity for a mob of unruly toy collectors to trample each other in order to get a JarJar Binks action figure. I rolled up on the scene, where a line stretched around the store and met-up with my buddies from The WB, who got me in the store, just ahead of the line. The clock struck midnight, the doors flung open, and then it was complete mayhem for the next hour as all the Star Wars displays were stripped bare. I managed to snatch up a full set of action figures and went home deliriously happy.

The next morning in the clear light of day – I recall glancing over the figures thinking, “I reallydon’t think I’m that into this Star Wars movie” and returned all but Darth Maul to the store. The Force was definitely strong with me that day.

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