Chase figures — Discovering the real joy in toy shopping.

Painted Mater, Crashed The King, Dynaco Lightning — this is where it started. Cars. The two hour commercial for toys. What fun it was.

My son got involved in the Cars franchise when he was around three years old. They were his everything. He carried around one of these matchbox-sized screen replicas for what seemed like a lifetime. These cars were readily available at all stores. Everywhere. Grocery stores, convenient stores, box stores, drug stores. We could not escape them. There was one problem. Liam did not want any of the Cars characters we found. He didn’t want Lightning McQueen. He wanted the Lightning that was painted blue. He didn’t want Mater. He wanted the Mater that was painted blue. He didn’t want The King. He wanted The King that was crashed. Luckily, they made all of these characters! Unfortunately, they were all “chase figures.” According to Google, “A chase figure is a toy that is released in limited amounts relative to the rest of an assortment, often something like one chase figure for every two cases of regular product or similar.”

A few of his Cars

Cool Liam.

It was fun. But I did it alone. I usually found these on eBay or Craigslist. At the time, I was in a band that toured a lot. I would stop at truckstops and Walmarts in every city I could looking for certain characters. I would come home from the road and he would expect something unique. And I delivered. He got them all — we had over 150.

Then one day he put them down and never picked them back up.

Time went by and the chasing passed. Then he discovered the Ninja Turtles.

Nickelodeon had just released a new cartoon series reboot that Liam fell in love with. Of course, along with the show came a full toy line. We found ourselves in a similar position. Liam did not want the characters that were regularly featured in the cartoon. Liam wanted the chase figures. The hunt was on.

On the hunt

The Rat King, DogPound, Snakeweed, Leather Head, Cockroach Terminator, The Larping Turtles. “Not this Shredder, the OTHER Shredder.” I don’t know if all of these were technically chase figures or not, but they were really hard to find. We would peruse the Internet and look at release dates of figures. We would watch toy reviews on YouTube and Liam would dream of owning a hard to find character. Then, we hunted. I remember running down the main corridor of Target on a daily basis, sorting through the tall racks while Liam would tackle the low stock. He would weave under my hunched over torso, squeezing between me and the shelf, sorting as quickly as possible hunting for the prize. Often we would communicate with shouts of “Whatcha got,” and “Find anything?” It was a blast. We found them all. Every one of them.

The Spoils

And now, they sit holding their breath, waiting for someone to pop the lid on the rubbermaid tub they call their home. I can’t pay Liam to sit down and build a fight scene with them anymore, so I wonder if it was worth it. Here I have hundreds of dollars of molded plastic taking up space in my home that’s too sentimental to part with. So what does a person pursuing minimalism do with such things? I have decided the answer for now is nothing. I can afford the space, they’re neatly stored, and anyway, they’re not mine to discard. So back to my question — Was it worth it? Was the raw and pure, unabashedly, consumeristic mission worth it?


I now recognize that the beauty was the fellowship, not the purchase — and to me, thats what my pursuit of minimalism is. My son and I spent so much time together just hunting, even though once we actually got the thing, we never really played with it. The best part of this was rummaging through the toy bins, making impromptu stops at Toys-R-Us, mostly leaving empty handed, but leaving with a bond that has not been forgotten.

At the time, we thought the thrill was the find, and the prize was the purchase. But, those prizes were quickly left to tarnish at the bottom of overflowing rubber bins. What I know now is the thrill was the bond. And the prize? The look on his face. We did it, together. We found them. Chasing figures was a gift, though the figures themselves weren’t.

The prize was real though, hand in hand with me, running from entrance to aisle in the big box retailers, making memories that I will never, ever forget.


This story was originally published at