This is my entry for the Time Traveler Challenge:
At least I work in the infant room", I thought, "so if I lose my job, the babies won't exactly be wondering where I've gone. Or will they? What about that Charles? He seems to be an extraordinarily bright little guy. Maybe they'll let me visit them after I'm fired. Or what if I disappear before they can fire me?"
I would just have to take that chance, I thought as I stood in the crazy long line at the Smithsonian. For a museum, the walls were certainly boring to look at--just a lot of signs, like:
"PLEASE HAVE YOUR EVENT TICKET AND PHOTO ID READY TO SHOW YOUR GUIDE," and also, "NO EVENT TRADING ALLOWED."
I took one more look at the ticket crushed into my hand with my driver's license. It had a photo so it could not be confused with other event tickets. There they were, those smiling mop tops in a black and white photo, superimposed in front of New York City's Plaza Hotel. That's where The Beatles stayed when they were doing their first performances on TV's Ed Sullivan Show back in February 1964.
Yep, I was in the BEATLES AT THE PLAZA HOTEL line. I kept checking the signs pointing to the EXPERIENCE ENTRANCE to make sure I hadn't taken a wrong turn. When I first arrived, I almost went to the APOLLO ELEVEN LAUNCH line, until I noticed far too many old men and far too few women to be the line for The Beatles.
I didn't see the MLK AT THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON DC line. It must have been on another floor. Of course, in terms of history, the civil rights march and the moon launch were more important events in the 1960s Time Travel Expo than The Beatles starting "The British Invasion" of American pop music, but I had to be in the line for The Beatles at The Plaza Hotel because I had a personal connection to the event that I guessed no one else in the entire museum had.
My dad had worked at the Plaza Hotel when the Beatles stayed there that cold February week so many decades ago. He was an actor, performing several evenings a week at a nightclub in the hotel basement.
He was in a group that did comedy reviews with, as Dad put it, "singing, dancing, and general silliness". My parents had met when they both performed in an earlier review there, but by 1964, they were married and my mother was pregnant with me. This was good, because nothing I could do during my time travel could jeopardize my existence. I didn't have to make sure my parents meet, like Marty in Back to the Future.
My mother told me she stayed with her parents in New Jersey for the last few months of her pregnancy, which means there was no danger of her going to the Plaza during the time window I was going through. But the reason I was going at all was something she always used to say when talking about this time in her and Dad's lives together.
"Your father had to brave the crowds of screaming girls outside The Plaza Hotel when The Beatles were staying there," she would say. "If his hair had been longer, they would have thought he was George Harrison!"
My internet research informed me that George, "the quiet one" of the group, had a terrible cold for a few days before the Ed Sullivan appearance, and stayed in the hotel while the other three did radio interviews and a photo shoot in Central Park. Maybe George could have gotten his hair cut at the Plaza Hotel barber shop, if there was one.
But how was I going to change the trajectory of Dad's career in just two minutes? Maybe this whole plan was stupid.
There's a reason the Time Travel Expos only give you a two minute look at an event. It's the same reason they don't let you wear any signs or take any phones or other tech with you. They don't want anyone changing history by doing anything to disrupt the event or draw attention to themselves.
Of course these rules make sense. No one knows how any tiny change in how a historic event unfolds can effect the future of all of us. But how would I my shouting during a two minute window change history that much? I wasn't out to change world history or even rock music history, just the history of my dad's theatrical career.
As the 1960s moved on from sophisticated comedy reviews to rock musicals with naked hippies, my dad retreated to his comfort zone of teaching in a high school like his parents before him. He taught English and directed the high school shows until he retired and tried to write the next great play.
That would have all been great, had my mother stayed by his side, but she ran off with one of those naked hippies when I was five years old. My dad didn't have any more wives or even girlfriends after that. I'm sure his students suspected he was gay, but I don't think I'll ever know. I think he gave up on romance with anyone.
I never heard him sing or saw him dance the entire time I was growing up. He was a caring dad, but not a fun one.
And now he wasn't taking very good care of himself. He wasn't eating well and his house was falling apart. He refused to live with me or let me move in with him. I couldn't think of any other way to help him now except to completely change his life, starting with a cold day in February 1964.
I knew I could get arrested, either in 1964 or today, for acting out during an event window. But why not use the technology to improve someone's life?
I would not be reckless. I'd gone over the plan in my mind over and over since I saw the online ad for The 1960s Time Travel Expo. I found a wool coat at a thrift shop along with a knit cap, gray woolen knee socks and white canvas sneakers. I had dyed my hair blonde and put it back in a ponytail. I was ready to blend in with the screaming 1964 New York City crowd.
Finally, I could see the entrance with the table where they took our phones, purses, anything that we weren't allowed to take with us. I put all my things in a plastic bin which a worker took and put on a shelf behind the table.
"Go down that hall," she said pointing, "and stand on a sticker." Each sticker was one of The Beatles' heads. I couldn't see a George sticker, so I stood on Ringo.
Our host, a young woman dressed in a knee-length skirt and a white tee shirt with "I Love Paul" printed on it, addressed us all, about thirty middle-aged to older women and about five men of similar ages. She looked us all over and made the following speech:
"Okay, everyone! You all are a bit older than most of the crowd you'll be a part of, so it's very important that you remain silent and still. Just become one with the crowd and enjoy being part of Beatlemania!"
"Will The Beatles be waving out a window, or coming out of the front door, or what?" asked a woman older than me.
"No, I'm sorry", said our host. "As it says in the brochure and the description on the website, we will not actually see The Beatles, but they will definitely be in the Plaza Hotel when we are in front of it."
Five or six people left, including the woman who asked the question. I didn't care. As much as I'd like to see the young Beatles in person, I was here to improve my dad's life.
The room became dark. I heard doors slamming shut. There was a sound like an antique TV set on a channel with nothing but static. The static got louder and louder until suddenly, a cold breeze hit me. I looked down to pull my hat out of my coat pocket, and when I looked back up, my eyes squinted shut in the sunlight.
The noise was thunderous and piercing. It was teenage girls screaming in front of, beside, and behind me. There was the Plaza Hotel. I could see steam come out of my mouth and nose. I had less than two minutes. Could I shout it?
I don't know why, but I stood on tiptoe, and yelled, pointing at The Plaza, "GEORGE HARRISON'S IN THE BASEMENT! HE'S HIDING IN THE BASEMENT! I SAW HIM GO DOWN THERE!!!"
"What?" said a girl to my right. "How do you know?"
"I just said I saw him go down there!"
"Yeah! He's sick so he's resting down there!"
The girl and others near her took off running toward the building as our event host came into view, quickly walking toward me, looking angry and reaching for my arm.
Then it was dark and silent. We were back in the room. Like a class full of second graders, all were dismissed except me. Host Girl told me to stay after.
When everyone else was gone and two security guards came into the room, she told me I was never allowed to attend any Time Travel Expo at the Smithsonian or any other venue, ever again, and to leave immediately, which I did.
As I walked to my hotel, I wondered if anything I had just done in 1964 had made a difference. Would those girls have found my dad and pulled his hair? Would they have tried to rip his shirt off? Would the police have gotten involved and the event end up on the news? Would my dad become famous just long enough to get some more work in shows and keep my mom home with us?
The museum wouldn't let me have my phone back until they checked it and I could pick it up tomorrow, so I used the hotel room phone to call my dad. I wondered if my mom would be there and answer the phone. That would be wild!
"Hello?" my dad answered.
"Hi, dad. How are you?"
"I should ask you. I've been trying to call you all day."
"Sorry. I'm on my trip to Washington, remember?"
"Oh, yes. I just wanted to tell you I finally got a new wheelchair. It's really snazzy, with wheels that just glide along even outside and take the corners really well. Thank you for all those lectures about how my life would improve if I just changed that one thing. It sounded ridiculous, but it's really true!"
"Dad, what are you talking about? Why do you need a wheelchair?"
"What? I told you how my old one was getting to be such a bother...."
"No, Dad! What old wheelchair? Did you have an accident?"
"No, no accident, Dear. I just wanted a better chair. I've been really lucky in all these decades since The British Invasion".
"The British Invasion?"
"Yeah, you know--what I call the day those Beatle fans chased me down those steps and I fell. You know, the Plaza Hotel basement. Don't tell me to sue the Plaza again, OK? It's not the hotel's fault I'm paralyzed. Do you think I could sue The Beatles?"
About the Creator
An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm