When I was a kid I used to love a segment on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show featuring a dog named Peabody and his pet human, Sherman. They would take trips in the Wayback Machine and go to various points in history. This always intrigued me.
If I had a Wayback Machine, where and when would I go? Would I watch Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address? Witness the crucifixion? Walk with Gandhi to gather salt?
I’ve had many years to think about this, and have decided that being part of a large crowd is not the way to go. If I really want to learn amazing things and truly get to know an historical figure, the best way to do it would be during a long, isolated, leisurely, yet historically significant event.
So if I could only take one trip in the Wayback Machine, I would set it to March 21, 1775. Location: London, on the ship setting sail for Philadelphia. One of my fellow passengers would be Benjamin Franklin. Since he liked the ladies, I’d like to flatter myself that I could draw his attention away from his grandson Temple long enough to have some really interesting conversations during the journey. The trip would take 46 days, so there’d be plenty of time.
Mr. Franklin could often be found up on deck despite the chill in the air. During this trip, his 6th across the Atlantic, he decided to occupy his time by measuring the temperature of the Gulf Stream, so he would have been quite easy to approach.
I’d break the ice by asking him what he was doing. He could tell me about his fascination with the Gulf Stream ever since he’d noticed that westbound mail packets that fought their way across it took two weeks longer to arrive in America than those that skirted its edges. With the help of his cousin Timothy Folger, the captain of a Nantucket merchant vessel, he produced the first chart of the Gulf Stream, which was then promptly ignored by the general populous, and that’s ironic because this chart is still extremely accurate to this day, and can and does save vessels millions of dollars in their travels.
From there we could chat about some of the things he had invented to date that had changed people’s lives, such as the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, the flexible urinary catheter, the odometer, and swim fins.
And since I’d be coming from the future, I might give him some suggestions regarding his future inventions, such as the bifocal and the pole and claw for reaching things on high shelves.
We could also discuss his many services to humanity, such as the volunteer fire department, the public library, and his refusal to patent his inventions so that everyone could benefit from them.
And as a fellow writer, I’d love to learn about his many inspirations for Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Naturally we’d discuss politics, because on the eve of the American Revolution in which he would play a very decisive role, I’m quite sure he would have a great deal to say.
Upon taking my leave of this amazing man, I’d ask him if he might play me a tune on the Glass Armonica someday, and since we’d have become fast friends at that point and could therefore say anything to each other, I might suggest to him that he consider being a little kinder and more considerate of his wife and family, as that would be the only flaw in him that I would be able to detect.
Now that would be one heck of a way to take advantage of that Wayback Machine!