Driving through time
A classic car fantasy only time travel could fulfil
Ilove the concept of time travel. The problem is that in every book, story, film or TV series on the subject, the problems seem to outweigh the benefits. You either mess up the time continuum ( The
Butterfly Effect) or get hopelessly trapped in the past, tumbling between historic destinations ( The
Time Tunnel). Or maybe you’ll wind up in a parallel universe where the world as we know it is completely absent.
It’s almost as though stories about time travel are really morality plays about why we shouldn’t tamper with time at all.
I was watching The Premonition, an episode of the old Outer Limits TV series the other day, in which the occupants of a crashed car and a downed jet plane both jump 10 seconds into the future. The past is slowly catching up but taking an hour for each second of real time. Because of some nonsense about the airplane breaking the sound barrier at Mach 6, only the driver and the pilot are caught in the time distortion f ield. The world appears frozen around them. They can walk around until time catches up with them, but they can’t change a blessed thing.
Worse, pilot dad finds his daughter riding a tricycle near a runaway truck, barrelling toward her at microscopic speed. Realizing he can’t stop the truck himself, he cuts the seatbelts out of the crashed car. He then ties one end to the truck’s emergency brake and the other around a big lug nut on the truck’s rear wheel. Voilà! When time catches up, the rear wheel turns, tugging on the harness and activating the brake!
It seems rare that time travel works out, but, clearly, a car would be handy to have when venturing through time.
I’m not interested in going back to the dawn of time with an SUV to see dinosaurs in action or turning the tide of some long-lost battle with a well-equipped military vehicle.
My time travel goals are modest. I’d journey to the fairly recent past, maybe the 1950s or early 1960s, then drive around for a couple of days in a vintage car. I’d drink in the atmosphere, watch vintage television, and buy some jelly doughnuts dusted with crystalline sugar at the nowdefunct Hunt’s Bakery.
Of course, I’d have to do a lot of prep work. I’d need to fashion a fake driver’s licence and counterfeit insurance certificate, and bring plenty of vintage cash. I’d have to find out if they let people make a right turn at a red light back then, learn how to use the car lighter and practise dangling a cigarette from my lower lip so I wouldn’t attract attention.
The idea is so appealing that I’m waiting for someone to tell me it’s impossible. Then along comes Michio Kaku, an American theoretical physicist.
Instead of throwing water on my time travel plans, he says that string theory proves that time travel is at least possible, if not a sure thing.
But, in Kaku’s own words, “The main problem is one of energy. In the same way that a car needs gasoline, a time machine needs to have fabulous amounts of energy.”
So, driving a car in the past presents us not with a huge theoretical difficulty but a simple car-like problem: where do we find enough fuel to get us there?
Even if the age-old fuel quandary could be overcome, the TV shows about the perils of time travel make me wonder: what if I found myself in some parallel universe where cars were never designed with f ins — and Hunt’s never sprinkled jelly doughnuts with sugar?