April 11, 2005

the hovercar: an ode

in my formative years, when i was yet a mere sapling to the mighty oak that stands before you today, he was a cub scout. with the pointless little projects and silly uniforms i hated the experience itself but tangentially encountered one of the most influential forces of any young boy's childhood.

for you see, all cub scouts had an automatic subscription to boy’s life magazine, and boy’s life magazine had a certain advertisement in the back of every issue that no cub scout can ever forget. here, seared into the memories of millions of former scouts is the baffling photo from that ad:

a hovercraft. the weird triangular structure, large circular anti-gravity pads, and silvery mystery cylinder on the front. how could any seven-year old leafing casually through the “gifts and gimmicks” section fail to be captivated by such an outlandish contraption? yet, as soon as these youngsters inspected the description closely they would find that it was not, in fact, an actual “hovercar” for sale at around $5, rather an instructional booklet of how to build such a hovercar using only, of all things, an “ordinary vacuum cleaner.” now, if the panel had simply read “hovercar” with no picture or further elaboration most american males aged 6-40 would still probably remember it, but there are two reasons that it was the most deceptive advertisement of our generation. the first is the kid’s expression. he appears to be inspecting it, as though he just found it hovering outside his bedroom window one morning. like he didn’t just spend the last 6 months of his life in the garage with his dad’s welding torch. the second is that the hovercar appears to be about 2 feet off the ground. impressionable flying enthusiasts are led to believe that this thing hovers above houses and trees. over time i recall learning, in this order, that: you had to build it yourself, it remains a fraction of an inch above the ground at all times, that ground has to be perfectly flat and smooth, and it requires a power cord. not the futuristic vehicle that we envisioned.

i only bring it up since i thought about the hovercar yesterday after years of the memory slumbering in the back of my mind and realized that it is probably the most universally recognizable icon of many childhoods; the holy grail of many a young cub scout’s life.