The Best Vending Machine Ever.

If you live in anything resembling suburbia, maybe you’ve seen an Allstar vending machine. They’re stuffed with trading cards of all types, and at least around here, there’s one near the exit of every grocery store.

I’m going to take the long way to get there, but here’s a quick summary of this article: DO NOT IGNORE THESE MACHINES.

If you’ve only afforded them a passing glance, you may have gotten the wrong impression. Sports card packs are the predominant choices, but there’s much more to Allstar machines than that. Movie, TV and toon cards are in there too, along with non-card items that are unbelievably endearingly in their screwiness.

Best of all, the assortments in these machines are anything but new. You’ll easily find packs of cards from twenty or even thirty years ago. The machines exist more as portable collectible shops, inspiring us to relive our pasts through the quarters in our pockets.

I’ve wanted to pay tribute to Allstar for a while now, and last night brought the perfect storm. We went grocery shopping very late, at a Pathmark that was so surrounded by construction that most passersby probably assumed it to be closed. There weren’t many shoppers inside, so I didn’t feel bashful about snapping photos.

I also had an unusual amount of singles in my pocket – change from that CVS run where I paid for fifty-cent gum with a twenty.

In no uncertain terms, fate was telling me to spend a lot of money at that machine.

All in, I guess I spent fifteen bucks. Maybe a little bit more.

I was out of control. Not everything in the machine was interesting, but I needed at least one of everything that was. This article just wouldn’t have felt complete without that single-wrapped $2 Pokemon hologram.

I went home with a thrilling mix of crazy fun.

Cards! Pranks! A special penny that I’ll tell you about later!

There’s a serious load of nostalgia in that spread, and it’s pretty sweet that I can net such a load at my nearest grocery store. That’s a big part of the appeal. I might find this stuff easily at a well-established flea market, but that’s different. That’s expected. This was just me at the store, buying grapefruit and crackers. To get that spread from a quick trip for grapefruit is the very definition of a miracle.

Below are the highlights of my acquired treasure:

I won’t bore you with an examination of every pack of cards, but suffice to say, I am now well-armed should anyone decide to randomly gift me a Beckett baseball card album.

Key scores:

#1: A pack of Dinosaurs Attack! cards, which for some reason was only fifty cents. Almost everything else in the machine was a dollar or more. I’m not complaining.

#2: A pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards, just for the memories it brings. I caved to peer pressure and collected baseball cards as a kid, and when I think “baseball cards,” the 1986 Topps set is the first thing I picture. Then as now, I have no idea who any of the players are. Except Gary Carter. For some reason, I always felt a connection to Gary Carter.

#3: A pack of X-Men movie cards. One depicts the scene where Wolverine lets Rogue eat his beef jerky. It took me a hundred viewings to see that that really was beef jerky. Now I have proof-by-card!

The machine had a bunch of “special” Pokemon cards, each individually packaged. From various Pokemon trading card games, they ranged in type and price. Though I know almost nothing about those games, I felt it was necessary to waste a few bucks on one.

The cards only show you their backsides in the machine, so you have no idea if you’ll get anything good. Turns out, I still don’t know if I got anything good.

It’s a Trapinch hologram. The one where Trapinch looks dead. Pokemon card game players: Is that any good?

Next is this pair of classic pranks. They were two dollars each, and on a stretch, they’re possibly worth half that much.

There was no way I could leave without the “bug in the ice cube” gag. I’ve had many of these, and though I can’t remember ever utilizing one for its intended purpose, I sure loved collecting plastic bugs in plastic cubes. It’s just one of those unexplainable things that makes people people.

I also picked up some “Green Mouth Sweets,” which are ugly but allegedly edible candies that will turn your target’s mouth green. Good luck convincing anyone to eat those things; they look like wrapped chunks of sick cat shit.

Last and most interesting is THIS. Oh, yes. THIS.

It’s a genuine 1943 steel penny, something I remember very well from my short but spirited bout of coin collecting.

The sticker says “genuine” like it’s something to be excited about, but all 1943 pennies were made of steel. (Well, all but a few – but the copper ones sell for tens of thousands of dollars.) During World War II, the army’s need for lots of copper caused a temporary shift in the penny’s composition. I doubt anyone complained, because pennies look so much neater in silver.

Even if you’ve never heard of this, you’ve probably had many steel pennies. Over time, coins get dirty, and 1943 pennies are usually filthy enough to look the same as the copper ones. Really, the only thing that makes this one special is its shine. Even so, it’s still worth approximately $1.85 less than what I paid.

Whatever. I can’t believe I got that from a grocery store vending machine. A steel penny, a bug in an ice cube and a pack of X-Men cards. From Pathmark.

Yeah, time for you to start paying attention to those Allstar machines. They’re wonderful.

UPDATE: Based on reader feedback, these machines are rare finds outside of the NY/NJ area. Sorry guys. 🙁 But now you have a reason to come here?