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The Power Wheels I Never Had: Finally Joyriding a Toy Car Around the Big City

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All photos by Max Touhey. Click on the images to expand them.

I always wanted a Power Wheels. But I'm a native New Yorker who grew up in a small walk-up apartment, and my mom was not keen on the idea. "We can go to a museum, or to a show, or take your bike to the park," Mom said, encouragingly, to five-year-old Hana. But those rah-rah commercials of the 80s and 90s proved too pervasive; my mother's logical arguments against the purchase—its price, how there was no room to store it, how there was no one to carry it up the stairs—did nothing to placate me. While I was admittedly far from deprived, I still yearned to take to the open road sidewalk in a plastic vehicle, covered in stickers, complete with a megaphone, and powered by a 12-volt battery. What would it be like to ride one? So I called Fisher-Price, and they agreed to send over a shiny black Ford F-150 for a test-drive. Yes, to a 30-year-old.

Putting it together was, in a word, difficult. First of all, it arrived in an enormous box that weighed 95 pounds and barely fit through any doors. Or hallways. Or into elevators. Second of all, exploding the box revealed that, but for the main body of the car, all the other parts were in pieces. There were a lot of baggies with small parts and warning labels and a manual that totaled 27 pages and contained 31 assembly steps. My boyfriend's response went from "It's an F-150; it's one of my favorite trucks! I always wanted one as a kid, too!" to "This is more complicated than it needs to be. That's a lot of screws." With some huffing and puffing and rejiggering of plastic bits and screwdrivering, the car stood, complete. The empty box could fit three of me. Yes, I climbed inside to check before chucking it in recycling. Total time as a micro mechanic: 2 hours, 11 minutes. Though the steering wheel might've been on backwards and there were two mysterious screws left over. My new baby lived with the bikes overnight.

We plugged in the battery, which required 18 hours of charging before it could be installed under the hood.

Then I set off with our photographer Max. On the sidewalk, I wedged myself into a seat designed for two small children and pressed down on the tiny silver gas pedal. The car jerked forward, and then we, the F-150 and I, settled into a nice, easy, 2.5 mph pace. Turning onto Broadway, we heard first zinger of the day.

Man with cane: "Do you have a license?"

Answer: Of course. I got it when I was 20... but yes. A 5'4" woman perched on top of a toy car is bound to draw curious stares and unsolicited commentary, so I pulled up in front of a bagel shop. Paranoid, I checked the engine battery one more time, popping the hood and feeling quite savvy about the whole situation.

The first person who stopped to say hi was a private investigator. "Is that an F-150?" he asked, excitedly. "I would like a 250." I told him my sob story about never getting to ride one as a kid, and he sided with mom: "Who's is going to take it up and down the damn steps?" (Grown-ups.) As to whether he encountered a similar problem with his kids, he replied, "Hell no. I have a house in Long Island." Welp.

Then someone took my picture.

And immediately Instagrammed it.

Then an unemployed accountant gave us directions to Riverside Park that required the least amount of slopes and stairs, and we set off again down Broadway.

A backpack-toting child, looking longingly back at me, as his mother held his hand and kept walking: "I want one."

Max walked, slowly, beside me.

New York City is not an ideal place for Power Wheels in the best of circumstances. But when snow and ice limit the walkable sidewalk space to just a few feet wide, there are traffic jams.

Sometimes, we had to carry it over obstacles.

More sympathizers emerged as we rolled, at a glacial pace befitting the weather, towards the park. "I wish I had one when I was a kid," said another passerby, who later lapped us with his dog.

A witty lady, whisking by: "Well, mine's a Mercedes."

Then we hit open road.

Riverside Drive was a cakewalk.

We parked by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, spotted 3.5-year-old twins crossing the street, and invited them to take a look. They poked and prodded everything, cautiously at first, and then enthusiastically. They toggled everything that would toggle and pressed every button that would press.

"What does this do? What does this do?" Well, sweetheart, in a real car, that shows how fast you're going, but it's just a sticker. Mom gently reminded them, "Guys, if we put something like this in our living room, it would take up the whole thing!" I feel you, kids. Their mother told Max that they don't even have tricycles in their apartment because of the lack of space.

"This is an amazing car," one breathed. "How does it work?" After a brief discussion of rotors, the twins' mom had to drag them away. Max and I waved good-bye to them as they stared through the bus window, and enticed another passerby with our vigorous farewell.

We spotted a group of pre-teens playing touch football in the snow, so I reversed and inched backwards to inquire. I explained my story ("Why didn't you put it in your elevator?" one yelled) and did a straw poll. About half had seen a Power Wheels on TV or in person. About one-third would want one if space and cost weren't issues. And about the same number had tried one or driven one. "At grandma's house!" one shouted. Said another kid softly, wearing a hat with earflaps, "I always wanted one." Kids today. They haven't changed.

We forged ahead into Riverside Park...

... where we ran into Puggles and Callie, who wanted to give it a spin.

"I'm thinking how much my kids would have loved this when they were growing up," said Joyce, the dogs' mom. "But it would have been absolutely impossible."

They had fun sitting inside (we think), and it felt like a real, used car after they got out.

After the canine encounter, we had to head back up a hill towards Riverside Drive.

Let's just say that despite the very awesome "torture test" Ford put these Power Wheels through, it was no match for a steep, icy incline.

Somehow, I thought making a fist would help propel me forward.

Later, I laughed at this line from the video: "When I heard that Ford was partnering with Power Wheels, it just made sense, because both are well-known for their toughness." In this case: New York City, 1; Power Wheels, 0. So I pushed. It all felt so real.

We ran into a six-year-old and his babysitter. Where would he put a car like this, if he had one?

Six-year-old: "I don't have a garage and my room is small so I have no idea!"

Shy at first, he then agreed to throw his backpack in the truck bed, hop into the driver's seat, and try it out for real. "I could put it in the space next to my bed," he offered. Said his babysitter: "How would you get to your dresser?"

His babysitter explained it's more common to have these kinds of toys in the suburbs, which prompted a "Can we go to the suburbs?" That discussion set aside, he climbed in. Steering proved challenging at first.

But he quickly got the hang of it. It felt "awesome," he exclaimed, breathless. "I felt like I was in a rocket ship, and I put my head in the clouds!"

In fact, we couldn't get him out of the car. "Let's get this baby backwards," he hooted, wanting to try it in reverse. He nicknamed it the Black Wagon, and we were sorry to pry it from his appropriately sized hands.

And so marked the end of a grand experiment in reliving childhood, in second chances. It was every bit as awesome as I'd imagined. I wouldn't give up growing up in New York City for anything, but it would be pretty cool if every space-starved kid got the chance to test-drive one, even if it's just for a few hours. It makes you feel powerful, in control—and that's not a feeling that comes easily in a place as big as New York when you're as small as a six-year-old. Lesson learned.

Editors' note: Fisher-Price shipped the car to Curbed to test-drive for this story, but freight shipping complications make it too onerous to return. Curbed plans to donate it to a local kids' charity. Please do send suggestions to tips@curbed.com.

· Power Wheels F-150 [official]
· Micro Week coverage [Curbed]