The Time Tunnel

But for the grace of God, Trekkies, there go I.  In the mid-1960s, Star Trek wasn’t the only implausible, sci-fi haven for hack actors.  For one, glorious 30-episode season (1966-67) ABC aired The Time Tunnel.

With a premise as cardboard as its sets, Time Tunnel hurtled time-traveling techie protagonists Tony (James Darren) and Doug (Robert Colbert) – two of the whitest guys of 60s tee vee – from one historic event to another and then plucked them away before they could be killed at Little Bighorn, go down on the Titanic or get blasted to bits by the Krakatoa eruption.  Somehow, they never wound up in the middle of the beet harvest in 15th-century France.

The battle of New Orleans, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the Alamo, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima –  somehow a device that manipulates time and space had an affinity for combat, particularly American combat.  From four and a half billion years of Earth history, the boys just kept landing in North America during one 190-period.  Is science hard or what?

There were tie-in comic books and soundtrack album.  Remakes were attempted in 2002 and 2006, but none of these ever caught on, which is why you don’t see James Darren making Priceline commercials today and why I avoided the fate of the Trekkies.  (Would I have been known as a “Tunneler”?)

I loved the show (I was five).  The other thing the “scientists” in the show either wouldn’t or couldn’t do was alter the course of history (although one guy showed up in the middle of the battle of Troy with a bag of grenades and a machine gun).  When they tried to prevent tragic events, their warnings were disregarded.  They were able to deliver their warnings throughout history, because as we all know, everyone on every continent in every era – including Troy and the battle of Jericho – spoke modern American English, just as Jesus Christ did.

I used to imagine myself in the Time Tunnel.  I’d think that if I could run real fast, I’d get farther into the tunnel and thus further back in the past by the time the smoke bombs went off.  It’s striking to me now that a five-year-old’s daydream had more logical coherence than an hour-long network drama.

Digging deep in my email inbox, looking for something I thought I remembered, I began thinking about the Time Tunnel.  The recent screens are full of oil and coal, before them are emails about drought and food shortages, before that a hurricane, more drought, nukes and oil spills and hurricanes and overfishing as far as the eye can see.

Like Tony and Doug, I bounce down the tunnel of time (in a more linear fashion) from one crisis to the next.  My little slice of history.

I first used email when I arrived at Greenpeace in 1989, several years before such a tool became common.  The system was called Greenlink II.  (Already the second generation; Greenlink I had message boards and instant messaging which were deleted from the second version). Americans referred to individual mails as “greenlinks.”  (Europeans called them “comets.”)  Through all the deletions and computer crashes and system upgrades I wonder how much of that survives – how much of my tunnel is still intact – but I have a few boxes of old floppy disks around; I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I think about that because sometimes I feel like Tony or Doug. (At five, I saw myself as more of a Tony than a Doug.  Now I’m not so sure.)  I read some of those old Greenpeace emails from twenty years ago and we were predicting what is now coming to pass, but our predictions were, if anything, too mild.  We couldn’t change the course of history, even when we were sure we knew how it was unrolling.

If we ever invent a time machine, I hope we’re not foolish enough to use it.  Whether it’s Cassandra or Tony and Doug, it sometimes doesn’t matter where the information comes from or how good it eventually turns out to be, people are just going to bring that wooden horse into the heart of the citadel – or worse.

© Mark Floegel, 2013

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