My Personal Time Machine

Posted on May 18, 2014

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Some of you will remember H. G. Wells’ famous trip into the past and future on his time machine. Made into a movie, The Time Machine, in 1960, it showed our intrepid time travelers moving back and forth in time, going back to 1917, then forward to 1940—lots of war in the world– into the future in 1966, and then his time machine gizmo shoots him forward to October 12, 802,701. Other iterations of this movie have followed starring teenage mutant Ninjas, Terminators, and the like since then. But the original is hard to beat.
People have been fascinated with time probably from the beginning of time, if one has the imagination to go that far back. Albert Einstein in some of his famous thinking and equations posited that time and space are related, and, as some scientists and science fiction buffs conjectured, if you can speed up your trip through space, at least to the speed of light, or faster, you will move back in time.
Astronomers look into deep space, from here on the earth through giant telescopes, or, better, from telescopes out in space, and see stars and galaxies that no longer exist, but blips of light and spaces now gone. They search for the origins of the universe which came into existence with a Big Bang.
This all tends to give me a slight headache, since I can’t wrap my mind around such far out, existential thinking. Time for me has a definite beginning and end. It began at my birth, or conception, and will end at my death.
Of course, if you are a Christian, there are some other parameters we follow, but let’s leave theology aside for the moment, other than to mention that God is finally in control of it all, and I am much comforted by His Will at work rather than H. G. Wells’ time machine. But that doesn’t reduce our fascination with time.
One day last winter I discovered that I had a time machine parked in my very own driveway. Back in late February when we got a break from the bitter cold of this winter, my wife and I pulled the cover off our CamAm Spyder motorcycle and took off for a ride. We headed out of town in a southerly direction towards the Black Belt.
We both remember long Sunday afternoon rides with our parents or friends in their automobiles as children, and as move into our seventies, and so behave more like children we’re told, we set off I suppose to recreate childhood experiences, upgraded a bit with a Spyder instead of an old Buick four holer or maybe a DeSoto. You millenniums, if you wandered into this column, will have to google those.
As we zoomed down the highway, it seemed we were moving into another time, back in time actually.
We passed many small country churches—and these were just the ones visible from the highway—confirming the Bible Belt’s reputation. Many of them were ratty and rundown and some abandoned, but there they were, silent witnesses to the faith, and to the passage of time. But, it was Sunday afternoon after all, and church was out.
As we drove through a number of small towns and communities—and I dare not mention any by name for fear of offending someone who thinks their places are pretty modern—we were both transported by the views from our motorcycle and our imagination into other times.
Small towns seem to preserve much of our past, now lost in the hurly burly of city life. I don’t know what percentages of the population live in small towns, or even what constitutes a “small” town, as opposed to a medium-sized town, or when a large town becomes a small city, but presumably our demographers and geographers and other government “phers” have it all categorized and neatly labeled.
My wife grew up in a small town, Arcadia, Florida, and she remembers what sounds like to me a different world, for I grew up in cities, which even in my childhood and youth already had the character and flavor of a metropolis. I remember streetcars, trolley cars, the movie theaters, the airport, boulevards, and, of course, my neighborhood, probably as large as all of Arcadia, but also a safe place to play cowboys and Indians, ride our bikes, and pretend just about everything.
Louise remembers going trick or treating with all the other kids in Arcadia, no parents or police to keep watch over them as they ambled through their tree shaded neighborhoods, safe and very comfortable with everyone.
On July 4th, the town held a big rodeo since it was in middle of Florida’s cattle growing country and Louise got to ride in the parade, on one of her dad’s ranch horses, all decked out in her cowgirl outfit. We still had cowboys and cowgirls then; I don’t know what we call them today: cowpeople?
But I too remember the cowboy scene, even growing up as a little gringo in Lima, Peru, even further south than Arcadia, Florida. When Hopolong Cassidy came to town once, I shook his hand twice at the airport, but I didn’t get to ride in a 4th of July parade, since this was Peru not the good old USA.
We did get to go to the American Embassy in town on the 4th of July and I vaguely remember what it felt to be an American abroad–even with a Chilean mom–and how proud we were to be in a place decked out with flags and other patriotic bric a brac, and, after all, a little piece of Americaa away from America. Now American embassies resemble besieged forts.
Louise looks back on her childhood with nostalgia, with a fondness and affection which may just be because she was a child who saw the world differently from adults. It has to do with innocence, and innocence is a wonderful, mystical state, only eroded later in life and time by experience.
I think we both sense a little bit of that while riding our time machine through the small towns of Alabama where the pace of life, and time, seems about half as fast as in Tuscaloosa, or Birmingham. You can hear the cicadas in the full trees in the summertime, ride for miles and only see one or two other cars, or maybe the ever-present logging trucks moving the big wood to the paper mills dotting the region.
On the other hand, we passed at least two large buildings, parking lots filled with modern signs advertising “Bingo!” Unlike classic time machines, ours could zip in and out of time at will. Maybe if we slipped back to the 1920s, a speakeasy might have been hiding in the woods, a bingo shack of almost a century ago.
We hardly saw a soul on the way north, following Highway 60 through broad, open fields, many of the low areas under water from all the rains. The fields were still fallow, awaiting the plow and seeds to be sown later in early spring. The cycles of time do not change very much for the farmer I thought, although modern machines and agriculture do make him more efficient.
The sunset to the west as we drove into town was spectacular, smoky reds across the horizon with black streaks of clouds and the coming night. The brilliant nightscape of the city filled with streetlights, stoplights, cars, and the multitudinous neon signs of shops and restaurants, they all beckoned us back into the present. I parked our time machine and covered it up, ready for the next trip into time. This time, maybe we’ll go to the future, but I feel a lot safer in the past.

Posted in: Life in America