If your fairy godmother appeared and offered to send you on a trip to any place humans have ever been at any moment that has occurred in your lifetime, what moment would you choose?
I posed this question to several dozen friends, colleagues, family members, and stray acquaintances. Their responses are below, and we’ll start with my own answer.
I guess there are probably several dozen good answers to this one, and as you’ll see from the answers of other contributors here, many of them are of the noble variety. I have a few of these, to be sure, but since it was a selfish moment that gave me the idea for this little project, I’m going to go with it.
If I could go back to one event that occurred in my lifetime, I’d set the dial on the time machine to June 5, 1983, and point it toward Morrison, Colorado, the site of U2’s famous Red Rocks concert. I’ve seen footage from just about all of the legendary concerts ever staged, and while I guess you could never know for sure without being there, I’ve always imagined that U2 at Red Rocks might well have been the greatest rock show in history.
At the time of the show, U2 was touring behind War, the best album the band has ever released, and with the disbanding of The Police they were in the process of laying claim to the title of Greatest Band in the World. I’m guessing you’ve seen some video from the Red Rocks show, so you know that the concert was conducted before a rabid, packed house, and you also know the weather turned on them. Most people don’t realize, when watching the inclement conditions the band was performing in, that it was feckin’ June, but hey, welcome to Colorado.
Red Rocks is a magical venue anyway. It’s one of those places that even if I describe it perfectly, I can’t quite convey the emotional and spiritual ambience that seems to permeate the very rock from which the amphitheater is cut. You just have to go there and feel it for yourself (and if you haven’t been there, you should make the pilgrimage). But you can tell by watching the video that something just happened that evening, some mystical alignment of the spheres, something you could never do on purpose or even hope to recreate. There’s Bono, freezing to death but not caring, marching beneath the white flag of peace and I wonder if he was aware of what was happening, or if he was simply possessed by the moment.
You had the right band in the right venue before the right crowd at the precise second that all the gods of art and earth and sky leaned in and infused the moment with transcendence and immortality. Those who were there – and this number includes one of my former roommates – they were blessed, and I will envy them until I die.
If I could go back, I’d go back to the day my son Jackson was born, February 9, 2000. He was born by C-section, and although I didn’t get to see much because of a big curtain, the slurping noises made me pass out. I’d want to go back so I could stay awake for the whole thing. (I did stay awake long enough to watch the doctor pass him to the nurse and see that he was OK before I collapsed on top of the anesthesiologist, who was about seventy-five pounds lighter than me.)
OR…I’d like to be there to see the moon landing and that first giant leap for mankind. Having oxygen would be good. And a spacesuit.
I can technically say I saw the TV broadcast happen live, but I was less than a month old, so I didn’t fully appreciate what I was watching. A chance to see it again would be good.
I finally have one to add here.
It won’t contain a single dick joke, or any kind of joke for that matter, if you can believe it. If the fairy godmother has a “Rewind” button on that wand, she can use it on me.
A year ago today, Sept. 1, my paternal grandmother died in California.
I would go back to the road trip I took out in March of 2002, the last time I saw her, and find a job in Oakland. I’d rent out the room that was open in the house a friend let me stay at. I’d start anew in my birthplace and spend more time with family that have all but become strangers. I’d even stop in Fremont to visit my (estranged) dad on occasion, believe it or not. I’d force myself out of the rut I happened to be in at the time and know my priorities then instead of now, when it doesn’t do much good.
It seems selfish, yes, but it would be as much for my grandparents as for me; for Oma to go in peace knowing that I loved and cared about her enough to be by her side, like I should have been.
St. Bonaventure, NY
The last time I attempted to respond, our campus servers went down. Let’s see if I have any better luck responding this time.
I’ve comptemplated my response ever since reading your inquiry. Without a doubt, my trip from my fairy godmother would take me back to August 12, 1960 to my family residence in Portville, NY. This specific date would have been the day preceding my parents’ automobile accident (in which my mother died).
Although the offer of a trip to any place, at any moment didn’t offer a chance to change history, by going back to this time and place I would be able to regain my childhood memories. You see, the trauma of the events surrounding my mother’s death on the day following (August 13, 1960) and the events that followed apparently were too much for this (then) seven year-old to handle. Consequently, all my memories of my mother and my childhood (not selective of good or bad) were erased.
I have mulled this over since the first e-mail. Like everyone, the choices are so vast, it is hard to pin down just one. So, I won’t. (And I’m sure as soon as I send this that I’ll think of something else.)
In my own life of entertainment, I would like to re-live two nights in particular. One is the afternoon/evening I spent with my dad in NYC, scalping tickets for LES MISERABLES (which had just opened), and sitting still for three hours on the edge of my seat, totally transfixed and changed by the best piece of theatre I have ever seen, period. The joy and the tears of that day will stay with me forever.
The second evening would be a tie between The Shakes performance at Benton Convention Center and The College Pub in W-S, NC. On those nights, the best (and most frustrating) band I ever played with, The Shakes, absolutely tore up the stage. It was magical.
Historically, I would, like others, love to be in an advantageous spot on the knoll in Dallas to know the truth of the assasination of JFK. In my mind, that has been one of, if not the, defining moments of the world that I was born into. (I was two when it happened, and, I think, is the earliest memory I have – my mom crying while I was in a baby seat by the console B&W tv.)
After reading some of the wonderful time travel trips, I realize how selfish I am. Nonetheless, I’m torn between being really selfish…and just being damned selfish. I’d go back about 10 months and a few days, back to a beautiful, crisp Pennsylvania morning when, while slowly driving a rental car with my son and his friend on a deer hunting trip, the veins in my brain got clogged, drained or restrained, and I suffered a massive stroke. I’d go back to the days before it happened and maybe drink a few less beers (oh hell, maybe I’d drink a few more), I’d stay up a little later laughing with my new friends… and I’d call my wife every night at midnight to tell her I loved her. I know I’d hug my son a few more times each day. He wouldn’t have liked it, but I don’t care. I wouldn’t do anything to change things or stop the stroke… well, maybe I would write down a few people’s names so I wouldn’t keep forgetting them. But I’d sure as hell appreciate things and people more.
St. Bonaventure, NY
I recognize the literal reality among those who have responded, and I truly don’t wish to denigrate their wishes in any way. So bear with me… I wish that I would have been there when Carl Reiner began the 2000-Year-Old man schtick with Mel Brooks at a party.
This moment has more validity about the world I have lived in for 66 years than any other.
I’ve been slow to respond to this, not because I haven’t been interested, but because I haven’t had time and wanted to really think about where I might go. So, a few options, in no particular order:
1) The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This fair brought the world a number of firsts – Cracker Jack, the Ferris Wheel, a landscape so magical it inspired L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City, to name a few – and it would be fascinating to see these things as the people of 1893 did, with wonder and awe. (Yet another book for you to read: Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City,” a true account of the Columbian Exposition juxtaposed with the equally true story of America’s first serial killer, who chose the Exposition for his hunting grounds.)
2) The last few days of Kurt Cobain’s life, to see whether Courtney was really responsible.
3) The explosion of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert, to see the power (and the horror) of something like this for myself, and perhaps to talk with J. Robert Oppenheimer about his regrets in building the bomb. Also, as a geek at heart, I confess part of me is interested in this purely because I’d love to have met these scientists, even if they created a weapon so terrible it should probably have never been built.
St. Bonaventure, NY
I guess it would be in Dallas for JFK’s assassination … provided I had some sort of view of the whole scene that would allow me to see just how many shooters there were. It seems to me that much of the contemporary public’s attitude/cynicism toward government/politics/etc. can be traced back to the notion that vast, sinister forces had Kennedy, and his brother, and Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, killed. The answer to the number of shooters in Dallas would answer many of those other questions today and would tell us a lot about the country we live in and who we collectively are.
I had an instant answer the moment I read your question – and then I spent more time thinking about a “better, more world-event like” answer until I realized that I couldn’t get away from my first thought. I would ask to go back to the last hug I received from my best friend (and person I thought I’d eventually marry) before he died. At the time (1993), we had just graduated from college and spent three months traveling through Europe together. The night he died, he debated going home and watching a movie or going to play basketball at the CU rec center with a few friends. He loved basketball, so I suggested he do that. He hugged me, and then I never saw him again. He collapsed on the basketball court at age 23 – no cause was ever determined. In the years since, my mind has often returned to that last hug, and I’ve always thought he knowingly squeezed me harder and longer – or was that was my imagination? I would go back to that moment so that I could soak him in one more time – his eyes, his face, his smell, his hands, his voice. I wouldn’t change his death, because it was the defining moment in my life. As others have mentioned, it has made me who I am today and taught me how to find the man I’m married to now.
It took some thinking, and I got it down to one of two different times.
Option 1: November 13, 1982, at the dedication of The Wall. I first visited the Wall on a school trip to D.C. in December, 1990. I was a junior in High School and I was profoundly moved by this polished black granite wall rising from (or, depending on your perspective, descending into) the earth. The stark simplicity of names and the dreary, cold day had a profound impact on me that has informed my opinions about war ever since. It’s one of the few places in D.C. that I feel every visitor should visit at least once.
Option 2: April 26, 1993, opening day at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could have experienced it sooner than I did. One of the best classes I took at Penn State was a History of Fascism and Nazism, and we took a field trip to D.C. to visit the museum. One of the few truly horrifying experiences I’ve ever had was walking through one of the box cars, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept for the dead. The scariest part of the museum was a basement photography exhibit that looked like it had been taken in 1945, but was actually shots of Bosnian “detention” camps in the former Yugoslavia. I came out of my visit vowing to never be party to such horrors, and to oppose them wherever they may happen, and my experiences at the Museum inform my politics on genocide and ethnic cleansing as well as on the demonization of Arabs, Sikhs, and Muslims here in the United States.
Dr. Jim Booth
Lots of personal stuff I could go back to, but if I’m not going back as an agent of change, well, nevermind, then…as a spectator….
February 9, 1964, the Ed Sullivan theater in NYC, center seat four rows back, listening to the great one himself introduce the lads….
Doubtful I would join in the deafening screaming, I’d be too rapt, too with them in that first green moment when they captured America…
And I could feel all the joy and none of the sadness I feel when I think of them now….
Maybe John or George would wave….
Only if I could change or make a difference.
First, 9-10, the day before 9-11, knowing ahead of time what would happen. Have the police at the airport to arrest those terrorists.
Just to go back and witness a time I would have liked to have been at Woodstock. What a trip. And been the first person (woman) on the moon. Or go back and visit my granddaddy when I’m sure he had baseball cards, maybe even a Honus Wagoner or a Babe Ruth.
N. Canton, OH
As I have probably told you in the past, I have trouble with superlatives & this falls into that category to me…but I will attempt an answer…
I would go back to MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA on March 25, 1965 as DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING walked the last few miles to the state capitol building…his positive message of non-violent civil disobedience is, to my mind, the bravest position any American politician or statesman has ever taken…I would’ve liked to feel the atmosphere surrounding that kind of bravery…
I’d like to have been in Berlin when the Wall fell.
Having grown up with the omnipresent specter of nuclear annihilation, I always sort of assumed I’d never live to see 30, much less 40.I thought that we would live with the fear of The Bomb until we disappeared in a mushroom cloud because some power-hungry idiot with a short temper and itchy finger would say “enough is enough” and then POOF. . . .
I was in my second year of teaching high school social studies full-time during the Ronnie, Gorby, and Perestroika show. I watched the hope and then horror of Tiananmen Square and thought that the world was not ready for the people to rise up that way. As movements emerged in Eastern Europe, I expected the worst a la Prague or Hungary.What I didn’t expect — what caught me completely off-guard — was the signal from Moscow that no reprisal was forthcoming.Don’t get me wrong — I was no red-baiting, knee-jerk, better-dead-than-red ‘Merican. I had been to Nicaragua and had studied enough Latin American history to understand lengths a superpower would go to in order to maintain hegemony.
To this day, I get goosebumps when I see video of the crowds of HUNDREDS of thousands who poured into the streets of Poland, Romania, and Hungary. I still get choked up when I see the footage of the middle-aged German man exclaiming “I’m happy, happy, happy” as he smiled, cried, and raised his arms. And to see the hammers bite into the concrete and graffiti of the Great Divide still raises in me a bubble of joy because it makes me realize that humans are capable of great things.
You see, I was celebrating not just the freedom of the Europeans, but MY freedom as well. I realized that when the wall came down, so did the threat level.
Now, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Iraq War, I appreciate more deeply the courage of the people and the profound depth of the changes that they brought about. For twelve years, we all breathed a bit more easily and were able to concentrate our energy and resources on something besides superiority and survival. It’s now argued that regime change was necessary to free the Iraqi people. I guess I don’t buy that because I saw people free themselves from regimes every bit as oppressive and brutal as Saddam Hussein’s.
Imagine how much different the world would be if it happened again….
Depends on whether I was able to change things that happened or not.
November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas. I’d set up recording gear so as to be able to say for sure whether Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
Why? I just want to know WTF really happened.
If I could change the past:
I’d go to the Motel Lorraine in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968, and prevent the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Why? I think most of the things we’ve seen in civil rights since then have been harmful to both blacks and whites.
Or, maybe I’d stop myself from taking a trip on Thanksgiving 1981 that made the song “Alice’s Restaurant” ring really true for me… And prevent the death of the best friend I ever had until I met my wife.
Or if I could go back to the 1950s and change things, I might prevent the suicide of H. Beam Piper who is one of my favorite Science Fiction Writers.
When I first thought about this, the first things that came to mind were saving John Lennon and walking on the moon. I delayed my answer, and now those are already taken …
If I couldn’t change anything, just go watch, I think like to have seen Mt. St. Helens erupt. Or sit in on a Pink Floyd concert during the Wall tour (whatever it was called). It would also be cool to go opening night of the first Star Wars movie, just to watch the kids freak out about it the way I did when I saw it at that age.
Finally, call me crazy, but I’d love to be watching the outside of Nicole Brown Simpson’s house the night she and RG were killed (assuming I couldn’t stop it) to see for sure whether OJ did it.
San Diego, CA
Santa Fe, NM – 1976 (The Santa Fe Opera). I’d like to be present when Tom Stockham made the first digital audio recording. It interests me on a couple of levels. Sure, it was the beginning of the digital age – that which led to CDs, to samplers (which led to lawsuits asking “what is music?”), mp3s, and the ultimate end of the music industry as we know it. But it was also recorded in a church which made it all the more perfect.
New Mexico is such a holy, earthy place. It’s hard not to be swept up by its timelessness. It’s hard not to feel grounded – better connected to the real world – far away from the European need to dissect time into illusory, granular segments (which is what digital audio recorders do). How perfect for it to be in a European church in such a non-European environment – a building created for the purpose of separating faith from spirituality in much the same way clocks and recorders separate moments from their contextual whole. It must have been an all-at-once clumsy and graceful moment, beautiful and harsh, triumphant and pathetic, sacred and sacrilegious.
I’m torn. I’d personally like to go back to age 11 and not find my original birth certificate by accident. My dad ended up having to tell me that he wasn’t my biological father and it broke all of our hearts. It screwed things up for me in my head, given the times, my parents’ Catholicism, and our tight-knit families that didn’t all know the truth. If I had just been dumb about it till age 18, I would have had a closer relationship with my step-dad through adolescence, I would have contacted my biological father sooner and more often (I only got to speak with him once before he died), and I would have been able to handle the reality of it better. I’m at peace with it all now, but it caused me a lot of mental drifting and antisocialism through my formative years.
Other than that, two other things I can think of.
I would hang out by the Dakota in 1980 and tip off the cops about Mark Chapman’s weird behavior and vague threats. Lennon would have gotten the hint and stayed out of the public eye or gotten bodyguards until Chapman did some other stupid thing and gotten himself killed. Then Lennon would have gone on to more imaginative albums through the 80’s and 90’s, perhaps leading to a Beatles reunion, and he would have been a vocal advocate for peace to this day. And he’d also embrace the Internet and condemn the RIAA.
I would also like to have been on the shore of the Mississippi the day Jeff Buckley decided to go for a drunken dip. I would have (helped) rescue him. Then again he had a date with early death and he knew it.
Those are the first things that come to mind.
Wait a minute; you didn’t say anything about changing the past or interacting with it… I’d just be a witness. Never mind.
This is an interesting question. My fairy godmother would have to let me have more than one visit somehow.
My first impulse was to go back in time before my grandmothers got sick and spend another afternoon with them. Not because they didn’t know how much I loved them and not that we didn’t have many wonderful times – it is simply because I miss them so much.
Then I started thinking about now. If only we had known Patrick had celiac disease, he may have never developed his autism. I’d love another chance to start over with him, knowing what I know now, to see if there is any way I could make life easier for him. Maybe if he never had wheat, or cow’s milk, or vaccines. I would go back to the day before he was born. If I had to pick only one, I’d definitely pick this one.
Although I’m tempted to go back and correct some of my poor judgments as a teenager, I realize that those experiences make me the person I am today. I don’t think mine is probably interesting enough for your page, but you can use it if you want.
That’s easy. I’d go back to the moment before Patrick received his first immunization. I’d pick him up and walk out of the doctor’s office. I’ve had dreams ever since he was diagnosed with autism that the instant that needle pierced his skin, the problems started. And I feel utterly responsible but powerless to change what has already happened. It eats a little chunk of my soul every day.
Paul Somerville (aka “Brother Paul,” aka “Frater Paulus,” aka “How the Hell Did HE Get in Here,” etc.)
Oklahoma City, OK
For reasons both gustatory and conversational, I would choose to be a regular participant in Dr. Samuel Johnson’s drawing-room get-togethers in the late Eighteenth Century.
Not only could I have profited from and luxuriated in the good talk there, but I might have met my denomination’s founder, John Wesley (concerning whose pastoral duties Dr. Johnson groused that “…he will never put his feet up and have his talk out. He’s always rushing off to visit some sick old woman”), who dropped in occasionally; or perhaps Patty Wesley (Mrs. Westley Hall), John’s sister, who was one of the few female participants (and of whom Dr. Johnson said, “This one will do”); or – would it be too much to hope? – even run into Hetty Wesley, the willful and talented, red-haired black sheep of the Wesleys, and saved her from her ill-suited marriage to the plumber, William Wright.
Either that or being there to see one of Bob Feller’s no-hitters – my father witnessed two – or seeing Ken Venturi’s triumphant but nearly fatal (he had the flu and was on oxygen with temperatures over 100 degrees) 36-hole U.S. Open death march in 1964 in the swamps of Congressional Country Club.
Or maybe any one of Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio’s middleweight matches – all of which I watched on TV with my father, who was aware of the respect each of these champions had for the other and held the fights up to me as the highest example of sportsmanship.
Do I really have to choose just one?
PS – I realize the Dr. Johnson one wasn’t in my lifetime.
Editor’s Note – You just saved yourself a nasty potshot.
Dr. Michael Pecaut
Loma Linda, CA
If I’m 35, know what I know now, and can go absolutely anywhere humans have been, I’d go back to a couple of months after I was born and step out onto the moon with Neil Armstrong (you said anywhere). The “why” is easy. I have been and always will be an explorer. Space represents, for me at least, the ultimate exploration. Everything I’ve done since high school has been related to spaceflight. All of my degrees are in aerospace engineering. My research has focused on the psycho-neuro-immunological consequences of launch and landing loads, microgravity, and low-dose/low-dose rate radiation. I’ve flown several experiments on the Space Shuttle and on MIR. I’ve even been on the KC-135 “Vomet Comet.” With all of this research comes the knowledge of just how bad the spaceflight environment really is and what I’d be giving up once I left the protective arms of mother earth. But I’d still be the first on the damned rocket ship the moment they ask for volunteers. Not only are there a whole lotta places to go filled with a whole lotta stuff, but exploring it will require a whole lotta time alone. And in that time, I’d probably do a whole lotta exploring in my head. Armstrong stepping out onto the moon represents the first step.
If I revert back to my original age, and I’m completely ignorant of what I know now, things get complicated. Despite all of my major faults, I kinda sorta like the dorky kid I turned out to be. Changing anything in my past would screw all that up. But if I were to just relive an event in my past, without changing anything, it would have to be a two-week period in college while I was still getting my masters degree. And, as sappy and cliché as it sounds, it involves a cheerleader. Her name was/is Stephanie and I’d been hopelessly in love with her since I first saw her do a cartwheel in a junior high PE class. She was my perfect fantasy girl, literally the first girl I ever asked out. And, consequently, she was the first girl in a long series of girls to turn me down (hell, she didn’t even know who I was at the time). Despite that rocky start, we somehow ended up in an uneasy friendship that waxed and waned repeatedly over the years. I’ve kept in touch with her longer than anyone else I’ve ever met. As you might have guessed, in the summer in question, she was having some serious relationship issues (here’s where the complete ignorance of what I know now becomes important) and our friendship grew steadily more…friendly. Ultimately, it ended up with her coming out to visit me. As sad as it might sound, out of an entire lifetime of experiences, those two weeks were the absolute peak in terms of intellectual and emotional happiness. We connected on every level I could have ever imagined. It was pretty damned high up there for sheer physical pleasure as well. Absolute heaven. Of course, once she went back home, things went downhill in a warp drive-propelled dump truck. But those two weeks were the happiest days of my life.
Wow, what a good question! The first two things I came up with were the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Jimm reminded me that lunch last Thursday wasn’t very good and what a great opportunity this would be to order something different… No, actually he voted for going back to New York City, 1963, when the first Beatles single was released in the States (pre-Capitol Records) and buying up as many as he could before getting beamed back to 2004. My husband is a brilliant man.
I’d like to be on the Apollo 11 moonwalk for these reasons.
1) At least two astronauts have come back from their celestial travels profoundly spiritually changed/deepened and I’d really love to get that unique perspective;
2) Zero gravity looks like too much fun;
3) bouncing/walking on the moon – woohoo!!;
4) cool space food — when I was a kid I loved Space Food Sticks and Tang.