Time Travel 101

Have you ever felt like you were somehow transported to a different time zone? I remember watching episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” where characters would move from one time period to the next, sometimes with tragic consequences while other situations proved to be comical.

Or, the movie, “Back to the Future.” I was right there with Marty McFly and Doc.

These shows, peppered with a few comic book escapades always made me wonder if time travel was real.

Well, it is. And, whether or not you want to admit it, like me, you have probably experienced a trip from one dimension to the next.

Most of my time traveling log is filled with encounters with people who are time travelers themselves. Individuals so passionate about their pursuits that while in their presence one leaves the current calendar year and steps back, (rarely forward) to meet the traveler where they once existed. 

The journey back could be to the fifties and sixties teleported by a muscle car enthusiast who takes you for a ride in a period transforming car with all the trappings of the age of four barrel carburetors, racing stripes, eight ball shift knobs and a plastic Jesus mounted on the dashboard. It is easy to slip back to a period when worries of gas efficiency were none and the main concern was finding a filling station (remember, that was their name in this time zone) open after 9:00PM as you cruised the main drag with a coke in one hand and your girlfriend beside you.

Time shift can occur sitting around with friends discussing music from a time when the best music rolled from a friend’s house who could afford the latest LPs or 45s. Through the magic of needle drops and turntables you could listen to the same song set over and over with no commercials. Eventually the album would be replaced by the next popular tracks, then taking its place in a growing library…that today is sold on E-Bay or yard sales when the folks sell the homestead.

And…

A time travel experience can be a train trip through mountains passes of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania shared with a cross section of humanity bound together only by a common direction of travel.

As a nation we have been crossing the Rockies and swinging through the Deep South on trains since the golden spike was planted in 1869. Trains, unlike planes, stop in stations that have histories. 

Distinct from airports and Uber stops, train stations wear their past on their painted shut windows and weathered brick facades. The stations may have served our fathers traveling on troop trains or grandparents and great grandparents as they traveled from eastern ports to Midwest prairies in an effort to established roots in a new country.

On a recent train trip from Washington DC to Connellsville, PA I experienced a time portal worm hole which slipped me out of one time zone and into another.

The trip started in Union station with a hodge-podge band of sweaty west bound travelers. Women tugged at their blouses pulling them away from their skin while desperately trying to pump cool air in. Little kids with pop stained lips tugged at pant legs looking for some place to wipe off. When the gate attendant announced the boarding of the Capital Limited the crowd formed a human train wrapping from the gate to out and around the man in the middle of the concourse providing a “DC” shoe shine. There was no conversation among the passengers. Most were more concerned with looking down at the blue glow of their phones and kicking their bags forward every time the line moved an inch like drivers in rush hour traffic jams thinking an inch forward was an inch closer to home.

At this point our only common purpose was staying cool, not losing our place in line and secretly picking out the person we hoped we did not have to sit next to. One of my picks was an urban cowboy in a black leather cowboy hat, a paisley print red western shirt a crumpled box of Marlboros in his pocket and the fragrance of day old cigarette smoke clouding around him like Charlie Brown’s buddy Pigpen.

The runner up was a large man traveling in navy sweatpants and a too small red T-shirt. He must have decided this day was a good day not to wear underwear. Each time he adjusted his luggage or reached for one of the boys traveling with him, his oversized sweatpants dropped and the shirt hiked up to reveal an early moon rising.

He should have observed the old Latin phrase,

“Semper Ubi, sub ubi.” Correctly translated “Always where under where.”

Fortunately, when we boarded both choices were sent to the front with the Chicago bound passengers, I was sent to the last car with the rest of the early drop offs.

When we finally made it to the outside platform the train was waiting restlessly for all of us to board. Once on board you could feel power wanting to pull forward like a new puppy tugging at the end of a leash eager to explore new smells. The train spit occasional bursts of air similar to an impatient husband huffing, waiting on his wife to finish the last touch of makeup.

Once down the rails the railcars begin to rock like a cradle being swayed gently coaxing sleep. It’s not long before the sandman visit the car and snores bounce off the walls.

For me there is too much to see to settle for sleep. I want to see the countryside and experience as much of the trip as I can. Because of this I escape the rolling bedroom and spend most of my trip in the observation car.

Passing time in the observation car I was rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime views. The train slithered through V cuts of cragged rocks. The fire toned sky was grounded by trees, with their tentacle silhouettes looking like they were drawn with an ink pen touched on wet paper. Each bend in the rails shared a different intensity of color that dripped orange, purple and blue through the car’s glass ceiling.

Open seating in the observation car dictates that if a seat is available it is yours. Somewhere between Martinsburg, W.VA and Cumberland, MD, I was joined by an Amish family. Grandpa, his teenage son and his three year old grandson found seats directly across from my booth while Grandpa’s daughter, her husband and little baby Nancy snagged the empty seats across from me in my booth.

Little Nancy was plopped on the table and quickly started smiling either with me or at me while I finished off a peanut butter sandwich, which I really think she was trying to charm out of me. Nancy’s hair was braided behind her ear and her bangs were knotted forming two little apostrophes on her forehead. Her black tunic draped over her spilled on the table behind her and in front, it fell between two chubby legs covered with black stockings up to her knees. The tunic covered a summer grass green blouse that popped out at the sleeves and collar; the color contrasted against her skin as white as the background of this text; an angel could not be purer.

Mom and dad were not shy in getting a conversation started. We talked about their farming life, and their ultimate destination of Bismarck, SD. The whole family was riding the train from Baltimore, MD to Omaha, NE and then a van to Bismarck for chiropractic appointments. Even little Nancy was going to get her first adjustment and it pained me a little visualizing her being bent and twisted by the chiropractic arts.

Eventually, the family was able to sit together and they politely took their leave of my booth and joined Grandpa and the two boys across the aisle.

I know I mocked my sleeping comrades earlier but some things you just need to give in to. The swaying of the cars, the late evening after a long day of travel, finally forced me to surrendered to a cat nap.

When I woke up time, travel happened. I was in a different era than when I nodded off. By some quirk of physics or wizardry transformation,  I was no longer in the 2016.

The sights and sounds around me launched me back a hundred years. The tunes of a harmonica reeling out “Jimmy Crack Corn” filled the train car. The first thing my groggy eyes capture is a family dressed in 19th century clothing, men with whiskers that would make ZZ Top jealous and little Nancy bouncing on the table looking like a turn of the century baby doll. There was nothing in my immediate view or hearing that indicated I was anywhere but on the “Last Train to Yuma,” just waiting for the robbers to stop us at the next junction.

Time travel is real Marty McFly and you don’t need a DeLorean.

When clearer thinking returned, I listened and tried to crop everything out of the picture except little Nancy moving in rhythm on the table to mom’s melodies and the rest of the family toe tapping and finger walking across the table to the joy of the moment. I didn’t want anything from the future to creep in and destroy the past.

When we finally pulled into the Connellsville station, I was back to the future with a job the next day, grass to mow and phone calls to return.

But,

For several hours I was locked in an adventure that fuels today’s moments with memories and images no camera could capture or video explain and proof in my own mind that time travel is real.

Living in more than one moment at a time is a gift given to all of us as…all part of growing up.

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