California Games Anthology Chapter 3: The Lauren Adventure
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The summer after 6th Grade was especially adventurous. I spent every day with my best friend Jon who lived across the lake from me. We stayed up late all summer long playing video games and making public access shows and game reviews on my video camera.
THE CIRCLE OPENS
At the start of summer I fell head over heels for a girl named Lauren from school. Lauren was cute, with long dark hair and intensely deep eyes. At the same time this was happening, my best friend Jon had also fallen for the love of his life, a redheaded girl named Cecilia who rode his bus.
At twelve years old all we could think about were Lauren and Cecilia, and they became the topic of many epic conversations had that summer. Our days were spent at the pool, playing California Games and talking about girls.
A LIFETIME OF LONG SUMMERS AND LATE NIGHTS
The pool seemed to be our hangout of choice. It was always a beautiful day, and when I wasn’t swimming I was laying next to the pool and eating lunch, sometimes playing Lynx using the Sun Visor to block the glare.
There were times when these long conversations with Jon would stretch through the night as we stayed up late watching movies and playing games.
Of course, California Games wasn’t the only thing we were playing. Even then we were retro gamers, and conversations were often had over long nights of Legend of Zelda on Nintendo, or Ghostbusters and Phantasy Star on Sega Master System. The events of that summer solidified our friendship and helped define us as brothers for life.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 1994
As it turned out, Jon was already pretty decent friends with Lauren and clued me in that she lived not far from us in the next neighborhood over.
Jon was always seeking out adventure, which is what made him such a fun friend to have. That night he convinced me that we should go on a “mission”.
Jon thought that it was a good idea for me to profess my feelings in a note and walk it over to Lauren’s house with a flower. (This was not a good idea, this was entertainment for Jon) “Come on” he coaxed, “We’ll walk over there and ask her to come to the pool or something.”
I thought it could be a fun adventure, and the worst she could say is “no” so I manned up and went for it. Being twelve years old, undertaking this sort of adventure meant traversing on foot.
THURSDAY, JULY 21, 1994
The next day I was set to spend the night at Jon’s, and had spent most of the morning moving everything into place. I needed to buy a flower, which meant I needed to get to the store. I could have easily asked my parents to take me, but I was shy at the time and didn’t want my family to know how much I liked this girl.
I found out that my grandma was going to the grocery store, so I grabbed a couple dollars and tagged along.
Once inside Publix, I somehow managed to break away from my grandma, pick out a flower for Lauren, get through the checkout, make it to the car, hide the flower under my seat, and meet my grandma in the store again without missing a beat.
Later that night I smuggled the flower over to Jon’s house without being noticed, and we put it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh overnight.
We stayed up all night plotting our adventure. Jon often mapped out Zelda and other games on graph paper, and this adventure was no different. He drew a map of the neighborhood on graph paper and laid out our plans while I wrote my letter.
I sporadically looked up to catch bits of Kids in the Hall, Duckman, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Comedy Central, and took “BMX breaks” on California Games to clear my mind of writer’s block.
FRIDAY, JULY 22, 1994
At exactly 1:30 the following afternoon we departed for our big adventure. According to Jon’s graph paper map, Plan-A called for us to take “the short cut” through the woods (swampy Everglades) and cross a canal that separated our two neighborhoods.
Jon thought we could ford the canal like in Oregon Trail and found this to be the perfect excuse to drag along his three-foot machete to cut through the underbrush. Within minutes both of us had fallen into the canal and made a swampy mess of ourselves.
After returning home to clean up and resupply, we were ready to go again. Plan-A failed when we fell in the canal, and Plan-B replaced Jon’s “shortcut” with a more traditional six mile round trip along the outer edge of our neighborhoods, mostly along a very a busy road with no sidewalks and multiple lanes of traffic passing by at 60 mph.
GO FOR LAUNCH
We grabbed some snacks, filled my backpack with Snapple and were out the door. I put my Lynx Pouch and backpack on with the grandiosity of an astronaut strapping into a space suit. It was now 3:00 in the afternoon and we needed to go. There was no way the parents would have approved of us walking along such a busy road, if we were going to do this we’d have to book it and be back in time for Jon’s mom to return home from work.
With miles to go and daylight burning, we embarked on our second journey. We were no longer slashing our way through the perilous jungle swamp of South Florida, but Jon still brought his three-foot machete along anyway. (You know, “just in case.”)
We trekked through our neighborhood, made our way past the main entrance and onto the busy road. That journey felt like the most real thing we had ever done, as though we were on a secret mission and about to hike across uncharted lands. For a bunch of 6th graders, this was real adventure.
Imagine us, walking down the middle of the street with a Lynx Pouch strapped to my belt, a backpack full of Snapple bottles, and a massive machete. The fact that we were only twelve years old and that Jon was wielding a giant machete didn’t seem to phase the hobo who approached us with crazy eyes and demanded a cigarette. The world must have known we meant serious business that day.
ON THE BORDER
We were almost to Lauren’s house when we stopped for a break. We sat on a concrete bridge by a river at the entrance to her neighborhood. I was hot and sweaty from the summer sun but came prepared with refreshments and paper towels to dry off before seeing Lauren. I had even packed a clean shirt.
I combed my hair and rubbed a paper cologne sample all over myself that I had torn out of an Esquire magazine at the grocery store with my grandma the afternoon before. We sat for a few minutes, dangling our feet over the side of the bridge, drinking Snapple and skating the Hollywood halfpipe to calm my middle schooler nervousness.
Meanwhile, Jon was giving me the pep-talk: “Don’t worry man, you’ve got this. You’ve GOT this!” he said. I took one last gulp of Snapple and slid the Lynx back into its pouch like a cowboy holstering his gun in the old west.
“Thanks for coming along and introducing us.” I said to Jon. “No problem, man” he responded. “You would’ve done the same for me with Cecilia, had I been in your shoes.” He was right. This is what summer was all about. We headed on back down the road and powered through that last stretch over to Lauren’s house.
Jon stood behind me as I walked up to ring her doorbell. It was now after 4:00 pm and Lauren came to the door wrapped in a large towel with dripping wet hair. She greeted us with a smile. Lauren had already been swimming and just stepped out of the shower, she was getting ready to leave with her family to meet her grandparents for dinner at a restaurant uptown, which completely nixed our plan to invite her back to the pool.
Lauren didn’t seem to know what to say, and the confused expression on her face only made me even more self-conscious than I already was. Years later she would confess to me that nobody had ever done anything that nice for her before, and she was just as self-conscious as I was.
It also turned out that the priceless expression on her face had far more to do with the giant machete Jon was holding than anything to do with me or the Lynx pouch strapped to the side of my shorts.
Lauren blushed and said she’d call when she got home and that we’d hang out sometime that week. She closed the door, it clicked shut, and with that our mission was over.
All of the walking, the planning, going to the grocery store with my grandma, that entire adventure.. just for two minutes of talking to the girl of my dreams and her promise to call, but that adventure was a total success! Jon and I turned around and started back home. At that moment I was both ecstatically happy and filled teenaged angst, thinking of what we had just done and wondering if she’d call.
THE LONG VOYAGE HOME
We booked it back to the house as fast as we could, just in time for Jon’s mom to get home from work. We ordered a pizza, relaxed by the pool and watched the sun set over the distant ocean.
As night fell we watched TV through the sliding glass door from the pool to the living room. It was Friday night and Steve Urkel was taunting Carl Winslow on TGIF. I surfed the waves of California Games and swam while I anxiously awaited Lauren’s call. It came the following day. I scored my first “Unreal 360” surfing that night, it was a stellar ending to an incredible day.
Things worked out fine with Lauren. We went out a few times at the end of the summer. As with most middle school “relationships” it wasn’t to be taken seriously and other girls would come and go once school started.
I found out years later that Lauren was totally flattered and had hung onto the note all those years later. We eventually reconnected after college and we’re still close today.
Things turned out quite differently for Jon and Cecilia though. Jon asked Cecilia out on a date to Applebee’s and she said yes. They had a great time and ended up dating in middle school, stayed together through high school, went to college together and, as incredible as this may sound, they ended up getting married. I was best man at their wedding. Today Jon and Cecilia are happily married with three amazing children and a wonderful life, and they’re still my best friends in the world.
Decades later I find myself retelling this story as though California Games were a fourth character that day, aside from Lauren, Jon and myself.
California Games came along for the journey and had just as much to do with my getting through that day as anything else. The Atari Lynx acted as a “Fail Safe” for me to clear my mind for that moment of zen.
That adventure and the events surrounding it grew into an annual tradition. Every July, Jon and I still set aside a few days to hang out by the pool, go off on an adventure, stay up late and play games, new and old. California Games will always be a deep part of that personal culture.
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
By high school Jon and I had both moved out of the old neighborhood. Had our life been a ’90s sitcom, Jon would’ve been the one with the wacky neighbor always popping in unexpectedly and taking food out of the refrigerator.
Visiting his new house for the first time I was introduced to Jon’s neighbor and friend who, as it turned out, was himself a classic gamer and committed Atari aficionado. You may know him today as Atari Joe.
It was uncommon to meet somebody in the wild who had an Atari Lynx, let alone somebody who knew what an Atari Lynx was. My first real conversation with Joe was about California Games, and I found that he shared my sentiments about the game exactly.
So in a way you could say that California Games is partially responsible for what ultimately led to this site. If you think about it, none of us would be here right now if it weren’t for California Games.
“California Games makes me feel like summertime. Bar-B-Qs. Hot Rods. Surfing. The Beach. Girls. Yep, summertime is the best time of the year. California Games has been part of every summer since 1989. It’s just a game that feels like summer to me. And in January when I’m sick of the cold nastiness, I just pull out California Games and give it a play and it’s like it’s summer all over again…”
– Atari Joe
▸ CALIFORNIA GAMES ANTHOLOGY concludes soon with Chapter 4: The Misadventures of Bodacious Greg
California Games was programmed at EPYX by James Donald, Pete Wierzbicki, Larry Abel and Stephen Jungels.
Justin is a Technology Entrepreneur, Futurist and Raconteur, and an avid Atari aficionado behind the creation of Atari I/O. He is also a contributing writer at The Retroist under the name Atari I/O. You can follow him at his website https://www.atari.io
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