Friday, May 13, 2016

Gaming Memory #2: The Hobby Shop

Downtown Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
7th & S.Main.
Sweltering summer radiated down from the sun overhead. There was not a cloud in sight, and the heat wavered and ungulate up from spongy asphalt through the obscenest humidity. It was high noon during mid-summer in southern Kentucky. The constant rhythmic gusts of passing vehicles on the busy road provided some reprieve from the torrid broil, but was of little consolation during the exhorted peddling up the long, torturous hill. In all honesty, the journey would likely require much less effort on foot—but, logic be damned; the spokes of my wheels whirred impatiently as I grew ever nearer to my destination.

Topping the hill, the remainder of the trek promised the cool breeze of a speedy downhill coast into the focus of commerce. In our little town it was dubbed simply “The Boulevard.” The four-lane strip amassed most of the local commerce into one locale, including the local mall, which in turn housed my appointed destination.

Five minutes later, I was buzzing through the mall’s massive paved lot while haphazardly weaving in between parked vehicles and vacant spaces. Still panting slightly from the earlier efforts, I hopped off my bike, propping it lazily against the stucco-style wall near one of the main entrances and eagerly rushed inside.

Pulling out the crinkled wad of cash from my pocket, I took careful care to press out the creases and assure that every bill was facing the same direction in the stack. Twenty one dollar bills. It was time for a new adventure!

Striding up the length of the mall gallery, I took a sharp turn to my left and in an instant my goal was in sight. White light glared with bright fluoresce from behind a glass-paned storefront. Above it, in bold yellow font, where the words, “The Hobby Shop”.

To me, the place was a mecca of amazement… The place for heroes ready to begin a new quest, where wonders lurked abound, and where a brave adventurer could acquire the tools-of-the-trade.

Walking through the entrance into the crowded storefront I was first greeted by a soothing rush of super-cooled air followed by the sweet aroma of a recently smoked cigar. A whistle tootled and droned as an electric model steam locomotive chugged its way around intertwining tracks setup upon an elaborate diorama. The display was lush with greenery and quaint little old-timey buildings, and took up a sizable portion of the center of the shop.

Above it hung a display of assembled WWII fighter planes and bulky bombers that appeared poised to make a run across the mountainous terrain below.

The rickety shelves covering the back wall were stacked, floor-to-ceiling, with various boxed model sets: cars, trains, plains, boats, even stage coaches… if it had ever been a vehicle, somewhere on this wall there was a scale model representation, packaged and ready to be meticulously pieced together. In the nearby corner stood a tall wire-frame rack laden with tiny glass jars of paint in just about every color one could imagine.

Directly to my right, near the entrance, was the service counter, and from there, stretching to the back of the store, an array of wide illuminated glass displays boasting hundreds of historical wargaming miniatures. The lead figures were carefully arranged in chronological order starting with Roman legions and Egyptian armies on one end, and progressing through the eras of warfare to end with a case containing majestic Napoleonic cavalry just above a large grouping of American civil war figures, poised Confederates facing Union soldiers with their cannons in tow.

With every visit I allowed myself to soak in the environment – it seemed every time something new was added or some small change had been made to the various displays to keep them interesting. However, what I had come for was to my left.

In a corner of the shop, pressed perpendicular to the front windows – a very wide, wooden-slatted, multi-tiered rack with dozens upon dozens of tabletop role-playing game books. They were all forward facing with brilliant cover art on full display; a true feast for the eyes. Directly next to this assortment was a towering peg display bearing hundreds of pewter gaming miniatures staring out from their often crinkled plastic blisters.

It was inevitable that I would be here for hours. All of the letter-sized books were neatly packaged in tight cellophane (a requirement since often the covers were left unattached to provide easy access to the amazing maps printed within). This left only the tantalizing teaser text on the reverse to hint at what adventures awaited within the pages.

With a stupid grin and wide eyes, I began my usual routine. I wouldn’t decide what to purchase until I had diligently read the back of each and every book—even those I had read many times before.  And of course, there was the obligatory hour of closely examining each of the Ral Partha and Grenadier fantasy miniatures.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swamplight
Long after the air-conditioning had dried the sweat tight against my skin, and after I had perused every offering of The Hobby Shop, I was ready. I had made my choice. On this particular visit, my purchase would be “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, Module GA2, Swamplight” by Jean Rabe. The mishmash of characters I was running in my current game were around 8th level, and this module would fit into the story quite nicely! And just for good measure, making a correct assumption based on the book’s cover art, I snagged a blister containing a couple lizardman miniatures.

With my haul in hand, I made my way to the service desk where the gentleman there, awkwardly-garbed and boasting thick black-framed “coke-bottle” glasses, looked up from the game of chess he seemed to be playing against an imaginary opponent. In every sense he appeared as what most would have called the stereotypical nerd, but to me he was as much a mysterious dealer of arcane goods and secret knowledge.

“Player or Dungeon Master?” He firmly asked as he slid his glasses snug with a fingertip. Proudly, and likely over-zealously, I responded, “Dungeon Master!”

He grinned wide and leaned against the counter taking the sealed book from my hands and glancing it over… “Ah! Good choice here. Let me tell you about this one…”

After a thorough review of the book contents, and being rung-up and checked-out. I lugged the dingy brown paper bag back out into the summer heat, eager to get home and dive into the book’s content and prepare for my upcoming weekend of adventures with friends.

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Sadly, The Hobby Shop long ago went out of business, and our small town hasn’t had a long-lasting local game shop in decades, but my many visits to that place during various summer vacations of my youth still prompts fond memories.

I have always said that if I ever came into a windfall of money (cue winning lottery numbers here), that I would found a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) here without the worry of having to constantly turn a profit. It would be amazing to recapture that sense of wonder and awe for future generations of gamers, and even more amazing to be able to do that in my home town.

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