I must have watched more TV when I was really little than I thought, because I remember a bunch of shows. "Adventures from the Book of Virtues", "Arthur", "Barney", "The Big Comfy Couch", "Bill Nye the Science Guy", "Lamb Chop's Play-Along", "The Magic School Bus", "Mr. Rogers", "Pappyland", "The Puzzle Place", "Reading Rainbow", "Sesame Street", "Shining Time Station", "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego", "Wishbone", and "Zoom". You've probably heard of most of those except "Pappyland", which is so obscure that neither the writer nor any of the puppeteers and actors have Wikipedia pages. As far as I can tell it was never broadcast outside of New York state. On top of that, I was two or three when I watched it, and remembered literally nothing except that the protagonist had a magic paintbrush or something and a bear and a turtle once argued "Right!" "Left!" "Right!" Left!" So finding it on the interwebs was extremely difficult.
I don't remember much about "Carmen Sandiego" either, except for the late Lynne Thigpen's ACME Chief (probably the first black person I ever saw) and the Rockapella song. So I knew Carmen's name long before I knew about the city in California and that caused a bit of confusion down the line. Sometime during middle school, Rockapella actually came and performed for us in an assembly so that was sweet and piqued my memory.
Why thank you ^_^
I don't think I would have much interest in that show now, since it's about a bunch of kids answering geography trivia questions, but having dabbled in some of the books and computer games since then I am kind of obsessed with the franchise as a whole and especially its protagonist. Since I'm also obsessed with music, you can understand my joy at discovering a couple of out-of-print music albums dedicated to the series. The first, released the year before I was born and appropriately eponymously titled:
To my knowledge all of the songs are original to this album (one is a Frank Sinatra cover but this version is original to the album). Only one, the aforementioned theme song that closes the album, is directly related to Carmen Sandiego, but most of them are geography and/or travel themed. And then there's "The Violin". In catchy Celtic fashion it tells the story of a guy who grows up under pressure from his parents to learn to play the violin before they will truly accept him, and then his wife leaves him for someone who can play the violin, and then (SPOILER ALERT) he drowns in an shipwreck and his last thought is that next time he'll learn to play the violin. All right then.
The year after I was born (if you're clever, you can look up both release dates of and extrapolate the year I was born) came this album:
Again, only the closing song is about Carmen Sandiego. Appropriately titled "Carmen's Song", it's an alternative theme that pales in comparison to the original but is still catchy and awesome, which just speaks to how catchy and awesome the original is. And guess how many songs follow the album's space theme? I'll tell you how many: one. They Might Be Giants chips in "Why Does the Sun Shine (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)" from their EP of the same name, covering the original from the 1959 children's science album "Space Songs". Other than that, again, I believe all the songs are original to this album. More than half of them feature the TV show's host Greg Lee. He sings about eating cake for breakfast, because by this point apparently they'd given up any pretense of trying to stay on topic.
And what a topic! I hate to love her, you know, because stealing things is bad and not a trait to admire, but Carmen is just the best at it. She makes Gru look like an underachiever. "The moon? That's cute. I stole Saturn's rings and the Great Red Spot of Jupiter." Like Boba Fett and other mysterious cool people, her backstory varies depending on the source, but usually the gist is that she was a morally upright ACME agent until she got bored and defected to do something more exciting.
That was one of the smallest things she ever stole. It was onward and upward from there. Granted, as alluded to she does have help. She runs the Villains' International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.) with a bunch of pawns with puns for names, like "Morton U. Bargandfore" and "Hugo First". But she's got more brains than all of them put together. She's the driving force, the glue, the mastermind of all masterminds. And I'm sorry, but she will always be much, much cooler than anyone who fights against her.
This artwork obviously isn't official but I made it official in my own little fantasy world, and to me it summarizes the awesomeness that is Carmen Sandiego. That level of confidence that she can and will escape from any situation unharmed (at least until she develops colon cancer at age fifty-three, forcing her to learn humility and re-evaluate her entire life) is just breathtaking. I don't know what this artwork is called, but I call it "Don't Shoot, I'm Glamorous".
Now for the question that must have occurred to everyone by this point. What man could ever be worthy of such a goddess of thievery? None, of course, but just as she took pity on incompetent villains and let them into her secret organization, so too she found room in her heart for someone. All of this is totally canon.
They sat down to talk and quickly discovered that besides the physical chemistry, and notwithstanding Carmen's immense superiority, they had a shocking amount of stuff in common. This is fiction, after all, so I guess it's okay to say that they were soulmates.
Waldo eventually got up the courage to share his feelings. He tried to be all smooth about it. "Carmen," he said, "you've... stolen my heart."
She rolled her eyes, because she'd heard that one at least eight hundred times before. But at the same time she failed to suppress a blush and a smile, because he had stolen hers too. And it was cute how he always paid for stuff that she would have just taken anyway.
But Carmen Sandiego couldn't stay in one place for long, and where she was going, Waldo couldn't follow. For the first time she felt torn between love and duty. But when her decision was made, she took comfort in Waldo's parting words:
And they did, three years later. Waldo had been tormented by her absence day and night for the entirety of those three years, thinking of her in his waking moments and dreaming of her as he slept. He knew better than to let her slip away again. He proposed to her right then and there. She said yes.
"I'm sorry," he said, "this was kind of rushed, so I haven't got a ring yet, but -"
Carmen gave him a dismissive wave of her hand. "Been there, stolen that. I took them from Saturn, remember?"
"Er - right." Waldo was a little more at ease now, seeing how well she was taking this. "I meant one for your finger, with a diamond in it."
"Ha!" Carmen said. "Diamonds aren't worth nearly as much as diamond companies want you to think they are. Besides, if I wanted one, I would steal a jewelry store franchise." But then a worse thought occurred to her: what would this mean for her lifestyle? Could she really settle down? She had missed Waldo, to be sure, but she was certain she would miss her globetrotting thievery just as much. She felt torn now between love and fear.
Carmen wasn't used to trusting people. In her line of work, trusting people was a good way to die. But she was truly in love, and so she chose to take a leap of faith, and found that her new husband was true to his word.
Books and television came to replace Carmen's real adventures, and eventually she came to accept that and embrace her life with Waldo. But "happily ever after" doesn't last as long as it used to, and there is no rest for the wicked...
Carmen Sandiego came out of retirement, with Waldo as her redundant yet loving sidekick, to find her lost child in the most epic adventure of her entire career. If it ever gets out of development hell, this adventure will be depicted on the big screen in "Carmen Sandiego Steals the Universe". If successful, it will be followed by a direct-to-video sequel, "Carmen Sandiego Develops Colon Cancer, Learns Humility, and Re-Evaluates Her Entire Life". The title isn't finalized. The closing scene is, though (SPOILER ALERT):
Carmen manages to keep her eyes open a few moments longer to look at Waldo. He looks a little different from when they met but, like her, he's only improved with age. She thinks of all they've been through together, of his unflinching loyalty to her through thick and thin from the first moment he offered her that drink. She sees the love in his eyes and the pain that probably surpasses her own. And with her final breath she says, "Maybe your heart was the biggest thing I ever stole after all."
I can't believe I just made myself cry with my own writing.
She will also star in a few non-canon crossovers just for fun, because every franchise will become even cooler with her in it. For example, what could be better than her stealing the artifacts that Indiana Jones recovers? She would probably get to them first. She would steal not just the Ark of the Covenant, but the entire Well of Souls. And you just know that despite their initial disagreements they would end up working together and making out (this would be before she met Waldo).
"We're not all that different, you and I," Carmen says to Indy as they catch their breath after fighting off eighty-seven Nazis. "Both of us have devoted our lives to stealing things. The difference is that I'm much better at it than you."
"The difference," Indy growls, refusing to look at her, "is that I am a tenured professor of archaeology. The artifacts that I st- that I recover go into a museum. To be shared with the world. To enrich, to enlighten. Or at least they would if they didn't always get taken away first."
"Such nobility," Carmen says, letting out a tinkly little laugh as she sees that she's gotten under his skin. "But does the end goal change the fact that these things don't belong to you? That you're taking them from where their rightful owners left them for a reason? And do tell me more about how an archaeologist's toolkit consists solely of a bullwhip and a revolver."
Indy doesn't have a snappy response ready. Somehow no one has ever called him out on that before. He winces to his core as Carmen laughs again, louder this time. She's almost as bad as Marion.
To Carmen Sandiego, as has been readily demonstrated, space and time are as easily traversed as an empty dirt road. So it is that she also finds herself a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. After grappling with the Nazis, she's developed a fondness for taking on evil dictatorships, and when she sees how the Galactic Empire is cracking down on thieves she knows she has to take a stand. She misses working with lesser beings so she enlists with the Rebellion and quickly demonstrates her value to them.
"You've got the Death Star plans?" the hologram of General Dodonna says breathlessly.
Carmen keeps a straight face. "Well, not exactly."
General Dodonna fails to keep a straight face. "Not exactly? How so?"
Carmen smirks a little. "The mission you gave me was much too easy. I decided to do something more worthy of my skill set."
Now General Dodonna goes ballistic. He isn't normally the type to do so, but the Rebellion placed its hope in Carmen Sandiego and now it appears she's let them down for no good reason. "Too easy? Are you [redacted] kidding me?? Your mission was of unspeakable importance! Trillions of lives are at stake here, Carmen! What, pray tell, was 'more worthy' of Your Holiness?"
Meanwhile, on Coruscant...
"Hang on, I gotta take this." A meeting with two of Emperor Palpatine's advisers has just been interrupted by an important phone call. "Vader! How's my favorite Sith?" He leans back in his desk chair, relaxed, feeling that life is good and all is right with the galaxy now that - "Whoa, whoa, whoa, huh? She what? Are you trying to be funny, Vader? I - yeah, yeah, real funny, ha ha. Look, I'm very busy right now, and - Vader, this isn't funny anymore. How stupid do you think I am? I didn't get to be ruler of the galaxy by being gullible. Yeah, whatever, bye." Palpatine hangs up and rolls his eyes at his advisers. "That moron's trying to convince me that someone 'stole the Death Star'. Isn't that the stupidest thing you've ever heard?"
They laugh. "Yeah," Mas Amedda says. "Even stupider than most inhabited planets having only one type of terrain."
"Right?" Palpatine says.
In conclusion, that's why Carmen Sandiego is my heroine and I want to be just like her when I grow up.
Rockapella - Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Because what else could I possibly close with? Do it, Rockapella!
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.