Monday, March 30, 2015
Memory Bank: A Night Out in Totowa, N.J. (circa 1975 - 1980)
In case you can’t tell from my toy collection, I had a wonderful and happy childhood in New Jersey of the 1970s.
Although my family lived in the town of Glen Ridge (between Montclair and Bloomfield), we would sometimes spend a night in Totowa, New Jersey, about forty five minutes away from our home on Clinton Road.
Well, for one thing, Totowa was the location, in the late 1970s, of the Totowa Drive-In, on Rte. 46.
It was there, in that venue, that my parents saw such films as Last House on the Left (1972), The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), and Death Race 2000 (1975) while my sister and I were expected to go to sleep in the back of the car.
As I've written about before...we stayed up and peeked.
Of course, we also saw plenty of kid’s movies at the Totowa Drive-In too, mostly Herbie movies from Disney, if memory serves.
But on a day we were going to the Drive-In to see a movie, my Mom would pack us all sub sandwiches, potato chips and homemade blueberry muffins, and we’d all sit in the car together watching the featured movie on the big screen. I remember how twitchy the sound system was, at times, and the big, clunky speakers we'd hang on our windows so we could hear the audio.
But sometimes, when we were in Totowa for movie, we also visited a store that I possess vivid memories of to this day: Two Guys.
What was Two Guys? Well, it was a discount chain that had a hundred or so locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Jersey from about 1946 to 1982.
The store sold Vornado Brand appliances and fans, but had much more to offer as well. The giant store in Totowa had a lumber department, a grocery store, a toy department, a soda/ice cream counter, and a house wares section, for instance. I know there were Two Guys locations in Middletown, East Hanover and Cherry Hill too, but I remember primarily, the Totowa store.
When you first walked in, there was a huge midway. And there, on that path, was a pre-Atari 2600, free-standing Pong game unit, at least for a while. So we would go to Two Guys, buy sodas and my parents would engage in Pong battles for a good long while.
When I discussed Two Guys (originally known as Two Guys from Harrison) with my Dad the other day, he mentioned to me that we also got our first screen tent -- for cross-country camping -- at the Two Guys located in Totowa.
In 2015, I still carry memories of at least one particular visit to Two Guys. It was late at night -- or at least dark out -- perhaps after a trip to the Drive-In, and we went inside.
In the toy department there were rows of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) toys that I had never seen in Toys R Us or other toy store, and which I would never see for sale again, except in the collectible market.
For example, I remember distinctly seeing the Electronic U.S.S. Enterprise from South Bend, as well as the electronic “phaser guns” and belt buckles from the same manufacturer.
I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that Two Guys -- a discount store -- had these toys in stock because they were poor sellers. I remember wanting these toys very badly, but for seventies dollars, they were very expensive.
Not long after that visit -- in the early 1980s -- Two Guys went out of business and was replaced by a store called Bradlees, another chain that is out of business now too.
The Totowa Drive-In is no longer operating, either.
Yet all these places live on in my memories.
I haven't been to Totowa in many years (probably since the late 1980s...), but I do remember the great times I spent there with my family long, long ago, watching movies, playing Pong, and lusting for starship toys.
I told my son, Joel the other night that if I could time travel with him, I'd take him to Totowa in the late seventies to see Star Wars at the drive-in theater, and then buy him some ice cream and toys at Two Guys.
He told me, without batting an eye, that it was a bad idea, because I might run into my younger self.
And what if I bought him a toy that young JKM was supposed to own?
The whole universe would succumb to a reality-shattering paradox!
That's my boy.