Terrance Heath

The Ultimate List - Time Travel

Filed By Terrance Heath | June 15, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

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This post at The Best Article Every Day reminded me of a meme I launched years and years ago, on USENET. (I told you it was years ago.)

Let's say you get your hands on a brand new Time Machine. Whether it's the old-school H.G. Wells chair model, or a tricked-out DeLorean, you've now got to decide what you're going to do with your new toy. But before you run off and start messing up your life, sleeping with your grandmother, and investing in Google stock before the Internet was invented, we've got a few ideas for you. Here are 15 moments in time, both past and future, that you may want to just witness before you go and do what you're inevitably going to do, and ruin everyone's universe.

I can’t claim to have invented it, since I got it the idea from a book (and apparently plenty other people have thought of it). But I thought it might be fun to launch again.

It started with “The Book of Lists”. Actually, there were a couple of editions around the house when I was growing up, and I found them fascinating reading. Maybe it was because of my ADD, but I loved the bite-sized bits of history and information. They were usually enough to pique my curiosity and send me off to learn more about a name I’d never heard before or some event I didn’t know about, and the research would begin.

But one of the chapters I found most interesting was the one where various famous people were asked list 10 people from history they’d like to have as dinner guests. I used it to start a meme on Usenet that went something like this.

You are hosting a dinner party. It an be anywhere you want, and you can serve anything you want. That’s not really the point. As with any dinner party food and setting can make for a good time, but the company and conversation make for a great time, or (even better) an interesting time. The focus here is the guest list. You can invite 10 people -- any 10 people, living or dead, fictional or real, and from any time in history. Who would you most like to meet? Who would find most interesting to talk to? Most entertaining?

People actually took it and ran with it. I had fun with it myself, creating theme dinners including a “Jazz Brunch” with all my favorite artists, a “literary lunch” with my favorite authors, and a “Reunited Dinner” featuring couples from history and literature that I’d like to reunite (think Kathy and Heathcliff, Abelard and Heloise, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, Jonathan and David, etc.).

That one was so well received that I started another one, involving a time machine and the chance to visit any 10 moments in history (as an observer, not a participant). So, the post reminded me of those old memes, and I thought I’d do my own list, with 10 items instead of 15. I’d pick some of the same events, but there are a few others I’d add.

The Building of the Pyramids

I’ve always had a fascination with ancient Egypt, for some unknown reason. (And, no, I was not Cleopatra in a past life.) Actually, everything about the period holds some interest for me, and if I had a time machine I’d want to show up on a day that a pyramid was under construction, just to see how it was really done. But then I’d like to hang around for the rest of the day and see all I could about everyday life.

The Dinosaurs

Remember I’m there as an observer. Not a participant. Ideally, I can see them but they can’t see me etc. I’ve also had a longstanding interest in dinosaurs. I guess I’ve always had an interest in history, and particularly of people, places, and periods that are completely alien to me. I saw Jurassic Park several times, and bought Walking with Dinosaurs. Lately, Parker has taken an interest in them, since his pre-school class started learning about dinosaurs. I even watched Walking with Dinosars with him, once I determined it wasn’t too scary.(I’ve also got Walking with Prehistoric Beasts and Walking With Cavemen, which I’m sure we’ll watch as well.)

If I could choose, I’d pick the late Cretaceous, and I’d stay long enough to see the dinosaurs of that era and the impact event that killed them.

Moon Landing/Moon Walk

I had a uncle who swore there was no way we landed on the moon, but that the whole thing was a hoax done on a Hollywood back lot. Or so I’ve been told. I never talked about it with him, or heard him talk about it. But family members who talked about it sounded like they’d spent some time and energy trying to talk him out of it. I wouldn’t have, because I find it impossible to have a rational discussion with someone committed to an irrational belief. But if I had some extra room in the time machine, I’d take him along to see this live and in person.


Roswell/Area 51

This is one from the post mentioned above. I’ve always been a skeptic about UFO sightings and alien abductions. Not that I don’t believe there is other life out there in the universe. There could be. In fact, there almost has to be. The universe is too big and the chances too many for us to be “it.” Even if the combination of conditions required for life to be even possible are extremely rare, we still can’t be the only ones.

However, I’m inclined to think that if there is other life out there, we probably haven’t heard from them, because they’re likely so far away that a message sent a millennia ago would still be on its way here. That’s assuming life elsewhere would have developed the technology to communicate with us, or that we’d be able to recognize the message if it reached us. It wouldn’t be definitive proof, but I’d like to witness the incident at Roswell, just to see what happened for myself.

The Stonewall Riots

I was just a baby at the time of the Stonewall riots, but the movement they sparked are what made it possible for me to have the life I’m living as a gay man. So much has been said and written about who was there and who did what.

1963 March on Washington

Of course. It would be a nice bookend, having witness this.

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Billie Hoiliday at Carnegie Hall

At first, all I knew of Billie Holiday was “Lady Sings the Blues”, and not much else. But I saw the movie and was intrigued by Diana Ross’ performance (she looked and sounded nothing like Holiday, but she absorbed something of Holiday that she was able to transfer to screen effectively. It was enough to make me want to know more, so I found some Holiday albums at the library, took them home and…

I didn’t get it at first. This was early Holiday, from the mid-30s, and I heard this light, musical voice that was almost hornlike in its quality. But I didn’t “get it” until I came across a Holiday recording of “Georgia on My Mind” from this period. Now, I’d only heard Ray Charles’ version, which was recorded much later than this one. So, Holiday’s version blew me away. I didn’t know the song could be sung that way, and it made me listen a lot closer.

By the time I got to the Holiday of the 1940s, I was hooked. This was Billie in her prime, when she made some of her most famous recordings, like “Lover Man,” “My Man,” and “Strange Fuit.” It was also the period of her arrest, imprisonment, and comeback concert at Carnegie Hall, on March 27, 1948.

If I could go back in time, I’d want to take at least one trip to hear Holiday live. If I could only chose one time, I’d chose this one, because it was probably her crowning moment, and because it was never recorded. It would be nice to bring the memory back with me.

The Globe Theater

I’m an English Lit. major, or at least I was when I was in school. So I figure I’d have to make the obligatory trip to see one of Shakespeare’s plays performed at the Globe theater. I don’t know if I’d be down in the pit with the groundlings, or in “the heavens” with the rest. I know I probably wouldn’t be able to hear much, but I’d still like to see it.

Meet the Family

First dinosaurs, now this. Yes, I’m somewhat fascinated by pre-historic times, and curious about what daily life was like for people back then. I’d love to take a trip back in time to drop in on “the folks” at various points in human evolution.

I’d particulary like to drop in on the first meeting between Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens.

So, what are your picks? What’s your time travel itinterary.


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