Time travel! Is it possible? Who cares?
I guess a lot of people do. I don’t get too exercised over the science of it, but as long as it’s a theoretical possibility, we need to consider the danger.
It is important to plan for the day it happens to YOU. What if you find a machine, get stuck inside, and end up in a different time? Or go some-when via the Stephen King method, falling through the air inside a closet? Don’t forget Claire Frasier—all she had to do was touch a big rock.
I’ve read books. I’ve seen movies. People who time travel are never adequately prepared for what will happen. I won’t let myself be so unprepared.
To that end, I’ve decided to run a simulation for time travel to the mid-1980s. Why only go back as far as the 80s? Maybe I’m not very ambitious. Or maybe it was this: at a dinner the other night, our server had blonde mohawk-ish hair, an off-one-shoulder t-shirt, and a full bird’s feather as an earring.
She was so 1980s it hurt.
“The past is not dead. It’s not even the past.” Faulkner understood fashion.
So here we go. I’m going with the “find a machine, employ fatalistic curiosity, get stuck inside, arrive in different time” method.
The dial says November 5, 1986. I emerge from the ship. Location: upstate rural New York.
I’m in the forest, mercifully hidden from prying eyes.
Time to plan. I scribble a list of all the businesses I want to invest in, only to realize that I have no money to purchase stock. I can’t stick around to reap the benefits anyway. So what the hell am I going to do?
Wing it. Have fun. Be selfish. It’s the 80s, not ancient Greece. I will use my future knowledge to dominate these primitives. I’ll go to NYC to ogle the ridiculous suits and use a giant prototype cellphone with antennae. I’ll become a god among mortals. Why not?
The time-travel device is conspicuous, even deep in the forest. I cover it with branches; a poor disguise, but it’s all I’ve got. I bury my 2016 driver’s license in the dirt under a nearby tree.
10:00 AM: I arrive at the closest city. Payphones are everywhere; quarters are going to be my best friends. Fortunately, I have a few in my pocket.
It’s essential that I blend in with the locals. I find a department store. Inside, I trade my clothing for a shiny suit with shoulder pads, skinny tie, huge sunglasses, and bright red Converse high tops. That should do it.
I’m like a chameleon on a tree branch.
The overhead speakers play Phil Collins. It nauseates, but I have to be strong. Not everything in this time will be pleasant.
I try to pay with cash at the register, but some of my money is 2000s-style. The 20s are especially conspicuous. The clerk assumes I am trying to pass counterfeit bills and calls the police. I snatch the phone from his hand and smash him over the head with it.
I take the all the cash in the register and run. Two blocks later, police officers converge from all sides and tackle me.
They book me at the station, but I have no ID and no fingerprints that will match anything in their records.
They ask me why I did it.
I immediately start screaming that I’m from the future.
Take me to the president! I can help! The Soviet Union is about to fall! Invest in Microsoft! Go to Prince concerts while you still can! Mickey Rourke is about to look super weird!
They lock me in a cell. I cry and beg them to let me go. I can’t give them my real name. This could lead them to my family in Georgia, and I really don’t want to meet my ten-year-old self.
That kid is weird.
Night comes. I’m given some water, meatloaf, and green beans. There are donuts in the office, but they won’t let me have any. The shoulder pads on this suit are super itchy.
The night shift officer has the radio on; music echoes down the hall.
Phil Collins. I wonder if I can knock myself out against the concrete walls.
The FBI shows up. My shouting about the Soviet Union spooked the local police, and they made a call. Two agents take me into federal custody. I try to bribe my way out by promising to help them bet on future sporting events.
They load me into the back of their car for a trip to DC.
Everyone is smoking. The cops smoked, the FBI agents smoke. My asthma is acting up.
During the drive, I try harder to convince them that I really did time travel from the future. They laugh and ask if we have flying cars.
No, still road cars.
What do they look like?
Kind of the same.
Do people still watch movies?
What are some of the big ones in your time?
Ghostbusters. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Captain America. Jungle Book.
They laugh harder. Yeah, so what’s different?
Everyone has a computer in their pocket that’s a phone and a camera and an encyclopedia and an addiction.
“Soviet spy!” they shout. One of them punches me.
I cry for a bit and ask if they have seen Labyrinth. They say it’s a kids’ movie.
I hate them.
In DC, the agents lock me in a room. More questioning, more attempts to determine if I’m a Soviet. I tell them only the truth: I’m American, I’m from the future, and I’m really hungry. This goes on for hours.
I promise that if they let me go, I will tell them where my time-travel ship is. They agree. “I want the deal in writing!” I say. I don’t even know if this is a real thing, but it happens in movies all the time.
They give me a document signed by the director of the FBI. I have no way of knowing if it’s legit, but I tell them about the ship in the forest anyway.
They do not let me go.
At least open a window, I ask. Or empty some of the ashtrays.
Four hours later, confirmation about the time machine comes through. I get VERY popular after that. But to the FBI’s dismay, they lose the machine. Just as their agents arrived, a group of wholesome, adventurous Spielbergian pre-teens wandered into the device and vanished from sight.
All they have left is me.
The agents want to know what’s coming down the road. They offer me a hotel room (under guard), a daily budget, and some new clothes—but only if I start talking.
I consider Ray Bradbury’s butterfly effect, and how the slightest change in a timeline can cause catastrophic reactions in the future.
But I also want to be comfortable.
I tell them everything.
For the next few weeks, I become a professional future-snitch. I spend the day describing the next 30 years and eating donuts, earning the trust of some of the agents and support staff. At night I go to the movies. Big Trouble in Little China. Aliens. Highlander. The Fly. Blue Velvet. Howard the Duck (don’t judge).
I buy a Walkman to drown out the Phil Collins that infects every public space.
After a week, the FBI trusts me to go out on my own. I purchase a samurai costume and attend a midnight showing of The Last Dragon.
Even though I’m trapped in the past, I know it’s important to plan for the future. To that end, I buy toys. Star Wars in particular, as many mint-condition action figures as my new storage unit will hold. And then a second storage unit, and a third.
Coming home one night after clearing out the last toy shop in the metro area, I notice a woman following. She wears a gray Member’s Only jacket, Reebok high tops, and a dour expression.
I run. She chases.
Unwilling to give up my two armfuls of first-run Han Solo action figures, I’m much slower than her. She catches up and takes a headshot at close range, putting a bullet right through my brain. I die in the gutter, Star Wars merchandise tumbling into the sludge. My blood drips through the grating as Phil Collins plays from the loudspeaker of a nearby RadioShack.
So that’s it! As I said earlier, it’s important to run these hypotheticals in case you ever get caught up in a time travel situation. Now that I know EXACTLY what would happen to me in 1986, I can run simulations for every other decade.
I suggest you do the same.
What decade would you start with? I had the 80s on the brain after seeing that server in the restaurant. And from every movie reboot or remake ever.
*I wanted to do a kind of nostalgia post about the 1980s without relying on the hey, remember this thing? format. As expected, it led to utter silliness.
**I’m fairly sure that shouting about the Soviet Union in 1986 would not get you picked up by the FBI six hours later. But I had to move the story along. If this were a novel, I’d put a bit more thought into it. Also, this would not be a novel.
***The movies mentioned were all from 1986, but I realize they were not all in theaters during the same two-week period. Let’s say I found some dollar theaters showing late-run releases from that year.
****I’m sure Phil Collins is a nice person.