It was a day filled with joy and also humiliation.
The year was 2001—the year we made contact. This was a red-letter year by any stretch of the international imagination. Wikipedia, reliable if unscholarly reference site for lazy college students, was born in January of that year. The Russian space station, Mir, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in March, signaling Russia’s prolonged admittance to losing the space race. Just a few months before our story begins, there was that little incident in New York City that touched off a global war on terror, and just two days prior, the first Harry Potter film hit theaters worldwide, leading to legions of Potter fans bitching about how much of the book was left out of the film. How old do you feel NOW?
It was the morning of November 18th, just seven days before my eighteenth birthday. I had the illustrious career of a municipal lifeguard at the time, working with four good friends to save lives, swim whenever we wanted to, and ogle women in bikinis. It was a good life; a simple life. The day before, sometime after the pool closed to the public and we lifeguards were cleaning the deck, compatriot Shea Loescher suggested something radical: we should totally drive to the midtown Walmart at like four o’clock in the morning and camp out for the GameCube launch. This is something I had never done before, but I liked the idea—crazy as it sounded. Now, some history.
Alaskans have it rough. Winter lasts like seven months, because we don’t really have a spring or fall. Spring just means “breakup and melting,” and fall means “everything dies and freezes, but it hasn’t snowed yet.” Winters are bitter cold, even in southerly Anchorage. To wake up in the middle of the night and sit in a parking lot in the middle of November was tantamount to suicide, though I would again brave Jack Frost’s wrath in 2006 for the launch of the Nintendo Wii—I learn from my mistakes. Anyway, perhaps in an effort to keep people from moving en masse from this icebox, the state government issues every Alaskan citizen something called the Permanent Fund Dividend, basically a yearly check for just over $1,000…that you have to pay taxes on. My parents always put my PFD check into a college fund, but I got a sliver every year to spend on myself. This year, I got a bigger sliver, and I would spend it on a GameCube.
My mother wrote me a check for $250. This is important.
The next morning, I was awoken by the honk of Shea’s car in the driveway. His headlights shone brightly through my bedroom blinds and quickly snapped me up, not that I slept well anyway. I was like a kid trying to sleep on Christmas Eve—not gonna happen. So I hopped out of bed, put on my warmest winter clothes, grabbed my Game Boy Advance (old-school, baby!) and ran out the door. We drove mostly in silence, rubbing our hands together for warmth, to the Walmart parking lot. It was empty. We kept the car on so that some heat was being generated, and pulled out our GBA’s. I had a link cable, but the only game I brought was Mario Kart: Super Circuit, and we played download play on that for about an hour, maybe more. Batteries drain much faster at sub-freezing temperatures! Eventually, more cars started showing up. Around six o’clock a.m., a small line began forming at the door. The store opened at seven. Shea was unprepared for an “outside of the car” line, but decided if he wanted a GameCube, he’d have to man up and get in that line. He called his girlfriend, Kim (who was also a lifeguard), and asked her to bring a parka for him.
Twenty minutes later, we were both in line. I was cold, but not freezing, but Shea was almost comically cold—I seem to recall ice forming on his eyebrows. Kim did arrive and gave him a parka (and a hat), and they huddled together for warmth. The store did, eventually, open, and the small line had, by then, grown into quite the crowd. People rushed into the electronics department, cash in hand, ready to plop down for a system and Luigi’s Mansion. Our little group stayed relatively calm and behind the mob, knowing there’d be enough for everybody. Indeed there was, and I went to the counter with a system and Rogue Leader (I believe I somehow ended up also buying Madden). As payment for these wares, I handed the cashier…
You guessed it. My mother’s check. Made out to Zachary Miller.
The cashier looked confused. He said he couldn’t take this, as it wasn’t made out to Walmart. My heart sank, and I immediately understood how checks operated. Wonderful time for an economics lesson, Universe! I may have been close to tears, but Kim, standing behind me, valiantly offered to buy the stuff for me on her debit card, as long as I got her the money that night at work. If Shea hadn’t been there, I would’ve asked this girl to marry me at that moment. Neither Shea nor myself offered any serious objection to her plan, but I did catch a lot of flak for the check incident for days afterward—and deservedly so. To be fair, I didn’t really write or use checks. I had a debit card, but there must not have been $250 in my account (I was fast and loose with my earned money back then—weren’t we all?). Sadly, I was actually unable to play the system upon getting it home; I had a swim meet across town and left the purple cube to my eager younger brother, who I think played Rogue Leader for the rest of the morning and afternoon. On the way home from the meet, I cashed the check and gave the money to Kim that night. Things were back to normal, my debt was paid, and I was able to fully engorge on GameCube goodness.
The GameCube was a special system for me. It was the first system I bought wholly with my own money. Previously, my parents had bought me a Super Nintendo for my birthday and an N64 bundle for getting straight A’s in my AP classes for a semester. The GameCube was also the only console I took with me when I moved into the college dorms. Madden, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, and Smash Bros. Melee dominated my floor, and my dorm room became a popular hangout among the gamers in my hall. I stayed up way too late playing The Wind Waker and beat Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 with every character. Funny thing about Tony Hawk—I had a DVD player that doubled as a CD player, so I would often pop a CD in there and play my own jams while turning the in-game music volume all the way down in Tony Hawk. Good freaking times. I also went through a brief but intense Law & Order phase. Very odd.
Happy Birthday, purple box; you still have lots of eager fans.