In my day … we didn’t use seatbelts

Growing up in the 70s, my generation never had to use seatbelts, so we love freaking out our kids (and harassing our moms) about it. I have one buddy who tells about a four-hour drive his family took with a car so full that he and his little brother had to squish into the passenger seat leg space beneath the glove box. mom_carSeveral of our moms tell about holding us as babies in their laps during trips down the interstate. And I remember several times that my little niece would stand on the back seat and lean out the window to yell at other cars (as a pipsqueak, she had a lot of road rage).

I’ve got an even odder story.

My folks had a pair of motorcycles when I was a kid and on weekends we’d go riding (I had a cute little helmet that I kept at the ready). Dad had a Honda CX500 two-seater with windshield; mom had his older 350 that she “tooled around with” during the week.

Proof that I have the coolest mom ever: she used to drop me off at kindergarten on her motorcycle!

So one day we were out for a cruise and dad stopped on a gravel road to talk to mom. I was on the back of his cycle and he told me not to move, but … well, I was six years old and not good at paying attention. So after a minute or so, I decided I wanted to ride with mom and I moved to hop off. I must have only been about fifty pounds then, but dad wasn’t expecting the sudden weight shift and he lost his footing.

dad_cycleWe skidded on the gravel for just a minute but unfortunately he’d stopped at an angle and couldn’t correct before we went into the ditch and down a fairly steep – but luckily short – hill. Neither of us were hurt (though I told everyone at school I’d been in a motorcycle crash. I can be a touch dramatic at times.) because dad managed to hold the bike off the ground until I shimmied out to safety. We cracked the windshield though, horizontally across the entire length of it.

Being the parent, dad felt guilty about all this. Being the one who caused it, I felt worse. Neither of us much wanted to continue the ride, but we had to get home.

There was also the issue of what to do about the windshield. We had hopes that we could get it repaired if we salvaged the broken-off bit, but of course there’s nowhere to stash something like that on a bike.

So it was decided that I would be in charge of it. Picture this: I’m riding behind my dad and instead of holding onto his waist like normal I’m holding onto the broken windshield that he’s propped on the gas tank in front of him. On the highway. With stern instructions from my mom that I’m not to move my hands an inch either way or I’ll cut myself on the jagged edges. Oh, and I also need to remember not to pull it tight if we stop suddenly, or I’ll lurch it right into my dad’s chest.

So, yeah, we weren’t real safety conscious.

But now, whenever my generation starts reminiscing about the pre-safety belt era, I get to throw out this baffling-but-true line: Back in my day, seatbelts were nothing but shards of broken glass!


Marty McFly’s Second Chance

BTTFdateIn one week, Marty McFly is going to visit from 1985. Hill Valley, wherever it is, will get a quick touch-down from him and the Doc. They’ll snag a sports almanac, and — whoosh — they’ll be off again. The last chapter (chronologically) in the trilogy will be finished.

That’s a rather melancholy thought until I realized … Wait!   It’s not over. Actually …

Marty’s life is about to get magical.

BTTFcarA quick recap for those of you who haven’t seen the movies dozens of times (I’ve been told such people exist): Doc grabbed Marty from 1985 and they spent an afternoon in 2015 before heading back to 1955, 1885, and finally 1985 again. Each time the time machine touched down, they made changes that would affect the future, and by the end of the series, Marty had gone through enough personal changes that the future Doc was helping him save (his life a pitiful mess, his kids’ lives worse) is no longer going to unfold that way. But they wiBTTFtrainll come to 2015 anyway. They will because they did; it’s part of Marty’s past.

After much mucking about in time, Marty and Doc parted in 1985. Marty watched the DeLorean get pulverized, then Doc and his family took off in the pimped-out steam engine to parts unknown. The end.

But if Marty was listening closely (He often wasn’t, but I’m guessing this bit stuck with him), he’d have picked up on one sentence that is about to change everything. BTTFdocExplainsWhen Doc brings him to 2015 and explains what is going to happen to Marty’s son, Doc tells him that he has traced all the events of Marty’s family’s tragedies back to this one event. We already know that Doc was time-hopping quite extensively before he went back for Marty, but this tells us that most of his travels post-2015 involved checking in with Marty.

And since they fixed the one event that was causing all the trouble, the world Doc comes to will be quite different. But that won’t change the fact that Doc will come to visit throughout Marty’s life because that’s already part of Doc’s past.

Do you see yet what’s so great?

From the moment young Marty leaves us in 2015, middle-aged Marty (heck, probably Martin now) is about to live the dream. Every day of his life will be full of promise.

To start with, he’s about to see his high school best friend again. They haven’t lost touch or grown apart; the Doc who’s about to show up at his house is exactly the same guy he was hanging around with thirty years ago, and who will be just as thrilled to see Marty.

He gets to have adventures again. They don’t have to be save-the-world or make-your-pop-undead missions this time. All they have to be is something new, a secret vacation from his regular life.

BTTFImagine middle-aged Martin now. He’s chilling in his house in the suburbs, living a modest life. Married, two kids*. Boring job. Probably lying awake at night driving himself crazy with the scenarios that plague us all … Should he quit his job? Would it be smart to downsize to a smaller house? Should he have tried harder to copyright that crazy idea about flying cars?

* And with any luck they'll no longer look like him, because that was just creepy.
* And with any luck they’ll no longer look like him, because that was just creepy.

But, unlike the rest of us, he’s going to get answers to those what-ifs. Heck, he can even try out a few alternate endings, pick the life he enjoys best.

And if that’s not enough, he can commandeer that DeLorean, crank up Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” and go back to spend more time with all the people he loves most.

Marty, you are one lucky son of a geek.



football-fieldWhenever I visit my hometown, I like to stop by the school, just to see the grounds. Which school? The school.  There was only one in my little town, a complex of buildings that housed all of grades kindergarten through 12th. My kids have a hard time conceptualizing that I only had 60-some kids in my graduating class, but they find it outright hilarious when I tell them we all spent 13 years attending school on the same block.

Here’s the beauty of it, though, and it took me many years to discover it. There is one spot, right on the edge of the playground beside the football & track field, where I can pivot around and find 13 years worth of memories jumping out at me.

It starts with the run-up from the gym to the football field, where I marched Freshman year with the band, trying not to be embarrassed by my uniform and its 2-foot tall hat, replete with fur, golden tassels, and a feather! As a cheerleader my Senior year, I’d jump around in that same aisle, pom-poms a-fluttering, hollering as out team took the field. Funny enough, I couldn’t tell you whether we had winning or losing seasons, but I distinctly remember that every time we lost I was convinced our boys had been gypped.

In the bleachers, I find the spot where I sat with my dad, every Friday of every Autumn of my childhood. It was conveniently near the convenience stand, which beckoned me every ten minutes for more cheap candy and cups of scaldingly hot chocolate. When I was a little kid, whenever my brother wasn’t on the field, I’d head beneath the bleachers to play climbing tag with this one little kid who is now the town’s favorite doctor.

Just beyond the bleachers was the Red Rover square. It was perfect for games like that and Freeze Tag because it was only put into use twice each year: in the fall for the Homecoming bonfire, and again in the spring for parachuting (the elementary school gym class where you’d all circle around a parachute, swoop it in the air and run under it).

On the playground, there were the monkey bars placed with shockingly little foresight over cement, where both I and one of my best friends – on separate occasions- fell and were immediately sent home so our parents could figure out where all the blood was coming from.

The best swings were down by the kindergarten room. We were convinced that if we swung at full speed and jumped out with the perfect trajectory that we could land on its low roof. They had to create a rule against jumping from the swings, which only made us more convinced that the roof was a magical landing pad.

Traveling the long stretch, you see the windows that my buddies and I soaped one Halloween. It was my first act of open rebellion and I expected the whole school to be talking about it the next day. Unlucky for me, the janitor had already been taught that soap washes off.

Over by the middle grades, the L-shaped building jutted out, and in the fall so many leaves accumulated along that wind tunnel that on the best recesses you’d hear gleeful cries of, “Tornado!” and flocks of kids would come running to play in the swirling leaves.

Just beside that nook are the bathrooms where we primped as teenagers during every dance, set in the little gym. You had to look your best to score a slow dance on the free-throw line, of course. And the slow dances were the true test of whether you’d had a fun time; this being the 80s, the rest of the night was spent trying to dance to “Money for Nothin'” and “Panama,” which I’m telling you simply cannot be done. Thinking back, we’d have probably had a better time if they’d just opened the rubber ball closet.

Circling a bit more, you see the cafeteria and the permanent trail in the grass tramped down by junior high kids racing to get in line. By our sophomore year, we’d saunter along, laughing at the naïve kids who still believed there was anything in that cafeteria worth hurrying for.

They’ve torn out the swimming pool now, but since they’ve never done anything else with that space you can still visualize it there – the kids’ wading pool, the single diving board by the deep end, and the hard-pebbled outside court where older girls went to tan. I can still hear the squeals ricocheting down the long hall (because it is physically impossible for a grade-school kid to enter any temperature of water without making that “Eeeeee!” squeal). And right in the center of it all sat the grumpy lifeguard on his high chair, trying fruitlessly to convince a hundred kids to, “Quit horsing around!”

There are more stories to be told inside the buildings, of course, but to me, the best spot on campus is the one I just described: on the edge of the football grounds and the playground, exactly one toe out-of-bounds for the grade-school kids, but traveled every single day by the teens.

And if I stand there and squint, waaaay off into the distance, along the back border where it seemed even the guy who mowed the lawn would forget it was still a part of school grounds, I can still make out a tiny hole beneath the fence, like a rabbit warren. Back in the 70s, a couple of industrious – and apparently very skinny – young girls widened that just enough to shimmy through. The entire school compound is only .05 square miles, but I scrambled through that shortcut every chance I could, so eager to get to the excitement ahead.