Stalled in Nostalgia

Stalled In…The Hess Truck

For me, the holidays don’t start when the Christmas decorations go up or when the seasonal drinks go back on the market. For me, the holidays start when I hear one tune, one 30-second jingle that evokes memories of Christmases past. “The Hess Truck’s back and it’s better than ever for Christmas this year, the Hess Truck’s here!”

I could be living in a house shaped like a Santa hat surrounded by mounds of snow with reindeer frolicking in them and Rod Stewart’s “Winter Wonderland” playing in the background on repeat but unless I hear that festive jingle on the radio, I will not consider the holiday season to be in motion. Perhaps it is a result of poor TV habits (I have watched at least one season of every bad television show that has ever existed and own the DVDs for at least half of them) or a secret affection for tanker trucks but the Hess Truck phenomena never fails to kick off my Christmas enthusiasm.

The Hess Truck tradition started in 1964 when founder Leon Hess decided to make an affordable toy for struggling families during the holiday season. At $1.29 per toy (with batteries included), the Hess Truck became an instant success. My question is, am I allowed to be bitter about a past that I was never a part of? Because the price of Hess Trucks nowadays has skyrocketed to 26 dollars per gizmo. Is 26 dollars an affordable price? Have I been deluded all this time in thinking that it wasn’t? Has my whole life been a lie?

I understand that markets are changing and that the same trucks that sold in the 1960s cannot compete with all the fancy, remote controlled toys that are filling up every child’s Christmas list, but a price jump of that magnitude seems a little ridiculous. But then again, the Hess Truck concept is a little ridiculous in itself. Think about it. The Hess Corporation is a company selling toys in the shape of something that carries its product, gas. That would be like if Apple created a plastic mini-computer toy that occasionally lit up and made some noises and also cost 26 dollars. Now imagine if that toy was a hit and every year, Apple would have a commercial advertising this toy which was actually nothing more than one of those plastic cell phones you give to babies when they want to chew on something and feel like an adult at the same time.

Then again, most of the concepts in this country are a little unorthodox when it comes to holidays. For example, what exactly are we doing when we buy a Christmas tree? In simple terms, we are handing over the cash equivalent of a first-born child for a plant that we will stick in an aesthetically pleasing corner of our living room and decorate with glass balls for the sole purpose of staring at it. Then, after a couple of days, we will lug the tree to the curb and go back to drinking coffee and reading the paper in a treeless living room with the only difference being that the trash can is filled with wrapping paper and the cat starts coughing up balls of tinsel instead of mice. What I’m getting at here is that, in terms of holiday traditions, the Hess Truck may be the most normal.

However, the label Hess “Truck” is, in itself, inaccurate. Though the Hess tradition started with tanker trucks and fire trucks, times have changed. In order to stay marketable, the company has had to change its design to accommodate for the rising demand for over-the-top gadgets. Now, we have Hess trucks carrying race cars, helicopters and space shuttles (because who needs realism when there’s a whole universe that needs exploring). I’m starting to think the Hess Corporation is borrowing tactics from Burger King. (Bacon is good. Ice cream is good. Put bacon on ice cream! Vs. Space shuttles are good. Hess Trucks are good. Put space shuttles on Hess Trucks!) It’s only a matter of time before Hess Trucks are hauling Transformers on their backside (which I wouldn’t mind too much… hearing the Hess Truck theme song in Megatron’s voice would significantly improve my life).

Despite the toy’s dramatically shifting design, the Hess Truck continues to be a holiday favorite. Although the children of my family have outgrown the Hess Truck tradition (for the most part), I can still enjoy the delightful commercial jingle that plays through the television speakers and signals the start of Christmas, even if it is a little ridiculous.

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