There’s a well known first season episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Walking Distance, price ” where Gig Young plays a middle aged ad man who has car trouble while driving past the outskirts of his childhood hometown. To kill time until the repairs are finished, he decides to check out his old hood and is shocked-slash-overjoyed to find it exists exactly as it did when he was a boy…right up to a younger version of himself running around.
In the 2014 remake of the episode starring yours truly, I played a man who discovered he’d fucked up the time of his appointment right after his wife dropped him off at the dentist’s office. Not having a cell phone but knowing she went to grab lunch down the road in North Woburn Center, I decided to hike on over to find her, my feet retracing a path they hadn’t trod on since 1984.
What I found was not some misremembered nostalgic Eden, but an ugly cluster of new developments thrown up on any and every plot of open space — massive condo complexes done up in contemporary upscale squalid, small shops repurposed as tanning salons and Dunkin Donuts, and a CVS occupying what had formerly been a warren of apartments and single family homes.
I knew most of this already from the few occasions I’ve driven through the old neighborhood. What was new was how small everything felt compared to my memories of growing up there. Distances that felt absolutely epic when I was twelve (and only a few inches shorter than I am now) were now something I could traverse in a few minutes even in the blistering summer heat.
Discovering the relative smallness of one’s childhood universe is hardly a novel revelation, but it’s still one that can hit pretty hard when directly experienced. Mixed with it is a sobering glimpse of one’s mortality, being confronted with the knowledge that things have moved on since your departure…with no trace of your passing save a tree you helped your parents plant and a nearly obliterated set of initials carved into a rotting log.
In “Walking Distance,” the protagonist’s mucking about in the past causes an accident to befall his younger self, causing the modern day incarnation to manifest a permanent limp. In my version of the tale, the protagonist’s decision to walk a mile in a pair of beat-up Docs led to his feet aching like a sonofabitch and developing an unholy stink.