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25 Things That Make a 90s Kid Think of Summer

I frequently get a little prickly when I hear the 90s are old-fashioned or a long time ago.  It feels like something 5 years ago, but to my horror, the 90s were as far back as THIRTY-TWO years ago!  If Back to the Future was made today, instead of making the jump from 1985 to 1965 (which seemed like two different worlds), Marty Mcfly would be time-traveling from 2022 to 1992!  It would definitely be considered two other worlds today, too.  Talk about crazy!  

I'm older than I feel, although some days I'm a little stiffer and slower than I'd like to be.  My wife and I use a line from the DuckTales reboot "It's because you're so old and moving is so hard."  I'm 38, but I feel like I'm still a 25-year-old, which is a good thing... I think.  I say all that to not sound like an oldtimer with my following statement.  

Kids today are missing out because summertime in the 90s will never be beat.  

Everything from movies or music, pop culture, snacks, tv shows, and everyday activities were much better back then.  Let's just state the obvious, though.  There was one thing that made all of our summer shenanigans possible that wouldn't fly today.  

We weren't supervised as much as kids today are and got away with a lot more.  

We also had to be creative to entertain ourselves rather than be entertained by our parents.

It wasn't because our parents were neglectful; it was just a different time.  We enjoyed a freedom and security that no longer exists.  We spent hours playing outside and wouldn't come home until our parents yelled for dinner.  Then we'd be back out on the streets until dark.  Nobody worried when they didn't see us because they knew the neighbors and where we were all hanging out.

Peak 90s Summer Attire

I also spent a lot of time indoors, watching reruns on daytime television and playing with my action figures.  I created whole universes and storylines that lasted the entire summer.  I made wrestling leagues and fantasy sports leagues and played out the seasons in my head.  When we got our first computer and Prodigy internet, I'd spend hours researching pro wrestling rumors and storylines, making clipart, and attempting to beat that frustrating Windows MineSweeper game.

When we weren't indoors, my brother and I rode bikes in the street with the neighborhood kids.  If not, we'd be in our pool in the backyard, swimming until we turned to prunes.  We didn't have to worry about dropping our cellphones into the pool because they didn't exist yet.  When our friends wanted to talk, they'd call the house and ask our parents if we were there.  If not, they walked over and rang the doorbell.  

Looking back, the best thing about all of the summers of the 1990s was no social media to distract (or document) us.  We were carefree, and there was no evidence left behind.  And to be honest, we really didn't get into trouble.  We mainly did what we wanted to do, when, and how we wanted to do it.  We embraced summer in a way that is no longer possible due to stranger danger and whatnot.  

Maybe we know more now and just got lucky back then, I don't know.  Whatever the case, we were the last generation of kids to experience the true freedom of summer before technology took over and the world got more complicated and less safe.  

Perhaps, as the oldtimers say, those were the "good old days."  

Enough complaining, let's get down to my list of 25 things that will remind you of summer in the 90s!

1.  Nickelodeon's "Nick in the Afternoon"

This summer programming block ran during the mid-90s on Nickelodeon.  It was hosted by the network's mascot, a popsicle stick named Stick Stickly, who provided comedic bits throughout the afternoon in between summer-themed episodes of shows from the network's library.  I spent many afternoons watching Salute Your Shorts and summer-based episodes of Pete and Pete alongside old Stick.  There was also that one summer in the early 90s where Nick's summer programming was centered around Mark Weiner and his Weinerville puppet show.  Yeah, that was weird.

2.  Slip n Slides

These dangerously fun pieces of yellow plastic were banned in my house.  My next-door neighbor luckily had one.  We'd lay it out on the lawn, turn on the garden hose, and run, slide, and tumble for hours of fun.  When that wasn't good enough, my brother and I rednecked our own version with a spare blue tarp from Dad's shed.  Kinda hurt to slide on, but it still got the job done if you put enough water on it.

3.  The Ice Cream Man

Not a child anywhere in America should go through life without purchasing something from an ice cream truck at least once.  I preferred the ice cream-on-a-stick with a gumball as a nose or eyes, like the Mario Brothers or Ninja Turtles ones.  The WWF ice cream sandwiches were always a top seller too.  Speaking of Pete and Pete on Nickelodeon earlier, I think I need to fire up the old DVD set and catch the classic episode about their ice cream man, Mr. Tastee.  My 6th-grade Health teacher's son was an extra for the series.  The show was filmed in a town just over the border in New Jersey, about 20 minutes from where I grew up.  The above clip is a short compilation of that iconic episode.

4.  Arcade Games

Kids today won't realize the thrill of getting dropped off at an arcade with pockets full of quarters to spend their afternoon playing games and winning prizes.  We had an arcade a few towns over called "Mr. Arcade," where Mom took us a few times to kill an afternoon and dropped us off for several birthday parties.  I loved wandering around, choosing my next play, waiting my turn on certain games, or watching the "experts" play at higher levels than I ever attained.  The whole thing was like an out-of-body experience for a kid that young.  The sights, sounds, and smells.  The closest (and it's not really close) a kid would come today is Chuck E. Cheeze.  That is, if you don't get involved in a brawl or stabbing.

5.  Jelly Sandals

Obviously, I never wore these, but the girl who grew up next door always wore her pink jelly shoes in summer.  My wife has frequently commented about how she loved her "jellies," and our daughter now has her own, too.  Even though I have no personal experience with these plastic and rubber sandals, to me, hardly anything says summer footwear like a girl's jelly sandals.  

6.  Baseball Cards in Bicycle Spokes

My brother and I spent a lot of time on our bicycles as kids.  We invented all sorts of games and stories as we rode in circles around our block.  One of the things we loved to do was clip old baseball cards to the frame so that the spokes of the wheels would make a rumbling noise like a car's engine.  I don't see kids today doing that anymore.  Then again, I don't ever see kids on bicycles today, either.  

7.  Calamine Lotion 

I've always been the one in the family bugs are attracted to, and I was always getting bit.  This gooey pink liquid used for calming itchy mosquito bites was all over my legs and arms all the time!  I can still picture my Mom standing in the bathroom, dipping a cotton ball into that pinkish-brown bottle and dabbing it on the many mosquito bites I'd get from playing outside.  Do people use calamine lotion anymore, or has it been replaced by something like that Benadryl spray?

8.  The Fox Kid's X-Men Cartoon Theme Song

I'm willing to bet that most of you are now humming the theme song right now!  While the show wasn't a "summer show," I remember watching the show on rainy summer afternoons at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  If you CLICK HERE, you can read an article I wrote last September that mentions that (and shows off some pretty neat X-Men trading cards!)  

9.  Fla-Vor-Ice Pops

Kids of the 90s everywhere enjoyed this brain freeze in a tube as often as possible.  Fla-Vor-Ice is the most popular brand and was recently reported as being in short supply.  This summer, we've been enjoying the Kool-Aid brand, and it's not bad at all.  We called theme Freezie pops in my house, and I always grabbed the purple ones as my favorite.  Blue comes in a close second.  How about you?

10.  Velcro Paddle Ball

This staple of any collection of "garage toys," these games were a fun variation of the age-old game of "catch."  No baseball mitt and significantly less hand-eye coordination were needed, though.  Eventually, the tennis balls would get dirty and not stick to the velcro any longer, but we always had a bucket of tennis balls lying around for street hockey and other activities.  For some reason, they were always pink and green, too.  I bet you can hear that sound of the ball ripping away from the velcro when you look at the above picture, can't you?

11.  Bonne Bell Lip Smackers

When I asked my wife if she remembered these chapsticks and lip glosses, she stared at the photo with fond remembrance on her face and a soft "yeaaaah."  The flavored chapstick and lip glosses were the rage with middle school girls during the 90s and came in various flavors and colors.  Bonne Bell shut down in 2015 but sold the Lip Smackers brand to cosmetics company Wet 'n Wild, which still markets the products under the Lip Smackers name.  They are still available on Amazon if you're so interested.

12.  Ice Cream Cup with Wooden Spoon

I loved these little things.  After all, who doesn't love ice cream?  It wasn't the best ice cream in the world, but it's still ice cream.  My wife may hate these, but I loved getting these little cups in the summertime with the little wooden tongue depressor spoon in them.  Until the wooden spoon inevitably left splinters on your tongue.  

13.  Xena the Warrior Princess and Hercules ReRuns

Watching Xena and Hercules reruns, bored to tears on my parent's couch on a scorching hot, rainy afternoon in our un-airconditioned house, is one of many happy memories when I look back through the rose tint of my nostalgia glasses.  The episodes were often rerun, and if I think about it, that's how I caught most of the show, to be honest.  Watching Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo fight ancient monsters was immensely popular during the mid-90s.  Many 90s kids will fondly remember this show and, like me, the time spent watching it on rainy summer afternoons.  

14.  Blockbuster Video Rentals

Nothing beat a trip to the video store as a kid.  I've waxed poetic on this site a few times about my fondness for our local store, Dollar Video, in articles you can find HERE or HERE.  For most of America during the 90s, Blockbuster Video was where it was at.  What better way to spend a Friday night in the summertime than watching some movies with your friends?  There was also no better way to check out the latest SEGA game before Mom agreed to spend the big bucks on buying it.  I killed many rainy summer afternoons strolling the isle of Dollar Video, and I usually only returned home with candy cigarettes and some memories.

15.  Blockbuster Movies on Independence Day Weekend 

It seemed like a big blockbuster movie was released every 4th of July weekend during the 90s.  The trend of releasing major motion pictures on Independence Day weekend started in 1985 with Back to the Future and 1986's Big Trouble in Little China, but it took off in 1991 with Terminator 2.  A League of Their Own (92), Apollo 13 (95), Independence Day (96), Men in Black (97), Armageddon (98), and Wild Wild West (99) rounded out the list of July 4th movies.  This trend has died off somewhat, with many July 4th movies not faring well and a change in viewing habits due to the pandemic.  It felt like through mass marketing in the 90s, from billboards and tv commercials to fast-food tie-ins, these movies were everywhere.  I remember the marketing for Independence Day included one clever tactic.  There were random floppy disks (remember those) that you could pick up in toy stores that allowed you to play pieces of a computer game that required the rest of the set of disks to complete the game!  

16.  The Decade of Will Smith

Speaking of big blockbuster movies released on the 4th of July, after Independence Day was released in 1996, Will Smith was cemented as Hollywood royalty.  Fresh off his run from 1990 to 1996 on the hit sitcom Fresh Prince of Bell Air, Smith had starring roles in the blockbuster hits in 1996 with Independence Day, 1997's Men in Black, and 1999's Wild, Wild West.  He took 1998 off summer films but starred in November's hit Enemy of the State opposite Gene Hackman.  He also used 1998 to release the music videos for his hit singles, "Miami" and "Just the Two Of Us."  

17.  Icee Slushies 

With all of this talk about movies, who hasn't experienced this dilemma while standing in line at the concession stand at the movie theater.  Red or Blue Icee slushie?  I usually went with blue, but occasionally red was good too!  

18.  USA Network's Up All Night

USA's Up All Night with Rhonda Shear was a program that ran on Friday and Saturday nights from 1989 to 1998 that consisted of low-budget films bookended by in-studio or on-location comedy skits featuring the show's hosts.  In addition to skits, the hosts would provide commentary on the featured films.  Typically running from 11pm to 5am, the films ranged from cult classics, B movies, or many movies featuring nude or scantily clad women (with the nudity edited out, of course.)  Seeing how Friday and Saturday nights were the only nights I ever was allowed to stay up late, I was able to gain some of my useless trivia knowledge from all of the lame movies I caught thanks to Rhonda Shear's fine program.  

19.  Scalding Hot Playground Equipment

In the "some things never change" department, we took our daughter to a playground a few weeks ago and I was reminded of a childhood memory.  In the summer heat, those slides and swings get as hot as the sun's surface!  One thing today's kids have going for them is that most slides are plastic, and, while they get hot, they can't be as hot as the metal ones of yesteryear.  The slides on my playground as a kid were pure metal, and I'm sure more than one of us still has burn marks on our behinds!

20.  Pro Wrestling in the 90s!

Nothing was bigger than Pro Wrestling in the late 90s.  I use that phrase a lot, but I genuinely mean it when I say NOTHING was more popular.  From 1996 to 1999, you couldn't walk through a mall, grocery store, airport, or gas station without seeing wrestling merchandise or magazines everywhere.  For a while, you were lucky to actually see them because it meant they hadn't sold out yet.  Check out my Collections HERE section for a whole host of articles that I've written on the topic.

21.  Silk Stalkings

I've never seen an episode.  But anyone who watched Monday Night RAW during the height of its popularity in the 90s knew that Silk Stalkings was on immediately afterward.  There was what seemed like at least one commercial for the show per break and a reminder from Good Ole' J.R. right before the show ended to stay tuned to USA Network.  This crime drama followed two detectives who solve crimes of passion among the ultra-rich in Palm Beach, Florida.  

22.  Disposable Cameras

Before we all had high-definition professional-grade quality cameras in our hip pocket that stored thousands of photos, we had to take only about 25 photos per roll of film.  Then we'd take the film to a store, have it sent away to be developed, and then days later go pick it up.  Sometimes, it would take weeks to even see if your photos came out!  Imagine not viewing and deleting bad images before immediately retaking the photo?  Unheard of, these days.  In the 90s, these disposable cameras became very popular amongst the kid/teen crowd because they were cheap and only took a handful of photos before you could have Mom or Dad drop you off at the drug store to have them developed.  Plus, they were pretty cheap so we kids could afford them on our allowance.

23.  School Supply Shopping

The end of summer often bought a lot of dread as the thought of returning to school began creeping into my mind as I counted down the days of freedom I had left.  One bright spot was when, about mid-August, the letter from school would arrive in the mail providing my assigned teacher or class list and the required supplies needed for the coming year.  Mom would load us in the car and we would hit up the local store for all the new folders, pens, pencils, and Trapper Keepers we could get her to agree to buy.  I'd always try to get the coolest Batman or Turtles folders while all the girls bought the colorful Lisa Frank items.  I actually had the above Trapper Keeper in 4th grade.  In New York, school starts after Labor Day, but this year, the "Back to School" items were already on the shelf at Target in early June before school even let out for the summer.  I guess like Christmas items starting in October, they've decided "start early, start often" is best.  

24.  Pool Toys

Nowadays, every pool I see has the standard giant white unicorn and pink donut floaties.  But back in the 90s, we had cool pool toys, like underwater rings or other items that we'd throw in the pool in random spots and have to race to who could collect their color ring the fastest.  One of my favorite toys my parents bought for us was a set of dinosaur eggs that you'd have to open and see if the right color dinosaur was inside the egg.  If not, you'd have to hurry to find another egg and hope it had your assigned color or lose precious time coming up for air!  I'm sure these kinds of toys are still available today, but it seems like diving underwater until nearly passing out from holding your breath isn't encouraged with today's kids.  

25.  Nick at Nite's Block Party Summer

Last but certainly not least is the Block Party Summer.  While the Block Party continued after the 90s, it was never as good as the first few years.  One of my most cherished television memories from childhood, I've written what will likely be this site's lasting legacy on the internet:  my tribute to The Nick-at-Nite Block Party Summer.  Check it out!