My Favorite Joe
GI Joe was created with a plethora of characters each representing a slice of America. Many argue the stereotypes were unfair. I counter that the stereotypes give character to these little plastic army men. As an avid reader, the Larry Hama written file cards were a great addition to the toys to give them life and background.
The Old Dominion was home to several GI Joe members. Virginia is listed as the birthplace of Keel Haul in the city of Charlottesville. The Cobra traitor Mercer was born in Richmond. Big Salvo hails from the far reaches of Northern Virginia’s Arlington. But for me, growing up in rural Southern Virginia along the North Carolina border, Greensboro’s Cross Country was my guy. The stereotypical southern, good ol’ boy, redneck rang out in his design and file card.
The figure was odd, not very muscular, had a goofy smile, and an odd mashup of parts. Compared to some of the more dynamic characters of the time, Cross Country can easily be looked over. At first glance, Cross Country is a bit plain but like most of the figures from A Real American Hero, the design is chocked full of details.
The uniform, for lack of a better word, didn’t strike me as odd or off-putting at the time. The gray civil war kepi hat and spats merely designated him as a true son of the south. I don’t believe it was as jarring then as it is now. I didn’t even register the vaguely designed belt buckle. The Version 2 Battle Corps figure released in 1993 made no qualms about incorporating the Confederate flag into the design.
I received him as a trifecta of GI Joe gifts on Christmas morning 1986 with the Night Raven and Tomahawk. The HAVOC and Cross Country were a distant third to those awesome aircraft. The file card and the characterization in a couple paragraphs made all the difference. The son of two heavy equipment operators, Robert Blais followed his destiny to drive large tracked vehicles.
A little imagination goes a long way and I can picture little Bobby Blais playing in a dirt pile with his once bright yellow Tonka toys while Ma and Pa are working hard in the big dirt movers. Towards the end of the day, the dirt covered boy is sitting in the lap of a parent and given the opportunity to drive on of the full-sized Tonka tractors. A smile on his dusty face, Bobby know exactly what he wants in life. The closing quote on the card seals him as a hard driving, mud slinging, “wild man”.
I don’t believe there would be any way either figure would make it to shelves today or even past the drawing board. As a toy design, we will probably never see anything released like it again, for better or worse. I’ll hang on to mine though and continue to take him along on our family vacations in an effort to continue Cross Country’s across the country travels.