I entered the uncharted waters of 2002 at a party outside of Nashville surrounded by amazing friends and family who sang and laughed and shared stories about their lives and times. In the warm glow of fellowship I told youngsters there about how I once viewed the future--now the present--in my dewy-eyed youth.
Growing up, I never looked much past the year 2001, although I did look at that year quite a lot through the lenses of futuristic TV shows and movies and comic books.
One reason I never looked much past 2001 was because I knew I would be an old guy by then. I had done the math. Hmmmm, yes, let's see, subtract 1963 from 2001, and you get 38. Add it to my age--10 at the time--and I would turn... 48(!) in September of 2001. Yes, it was just possible, I decided, that I would live long enough to make it to the next century. After all, Granny was older than 48 at the time. I was pretty sure of it.
Of course, I would be too old to have any real fun by then, unless you counted singing "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly," which was the sort of thing Granny did for fun.
Yes, I would be old like my grandparents, I realized. Way too old to have any really nifty adventures. Unless scientists came up with an anti-aging pill, which wasn't out of the question. By the year 2001, I told myself, the world would be a pretty advanced place to live in.
I had it on good authority at age 9 or 10 that we'd mostly be living in bubble-topped cities by the 21st century, mostly for weather control--not for any environmental crisis--although possibly those domes would be there to protect us against Martians or mutants. We were always seeing Martians and mutants on "The Early Show" and "Movie Matinee," two local programs that re-ran a lot of old films from the 1950s.
Those bubbles domes would be transparent of course, so that passersby would see the green lawns and cattle and a few saucer-shaped buildings and monorails--there had to be monorails--inside. And we'd all have personal flying machines, most likely mounted on our backs, with propellers that extended above our heads, although you couldn't rule out the possibility they would consist of jetpacks, with tanks and nozzles strapped to our backs and hand-controlled accelerators and steering apparatus extending out front, which we would operate wearing nifty white gloves with cone-shaped wrist protectors, possibly equipped with wrist-radios and lasers.
I saw movie footage once of a man leaping over a huge building wearing such a costume. It was quite cool. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure this was actual footage of some prototypical flying machine and not a gimmick and not science-fiction and not in any way achieved through special effects. I was certain of it then. Just as I was certain I might one day wear one of those gizmos and go flying off to work each day when I got old.
I wasn't sure what I would be doing by 2001 but it would be pretty neat, you could betcha. Maybe I would be the first man on Mars. Or possibly a secret agent, I decided later, on assignment against an international network of bad guys like you saw on "The Man from Uncle." Something like that. I would have a radio strapped to my wrist and a secret survival kit that could fit into one of those little aspirin tins. I'm not sure what all would be inside, but it would be nifty. You could count on it.
By the time I was 14 or 15, such visions of the future had begun to evaporate. Vietnam and the counter culture and political assassinations and the Beatles and other forces bigger, and in some ways more powerful than sci-fi technology, kept wrecking the future. A future which kept washing in to become the present and then the past....
I look in my mirror now and I see a man with gray hair verging on white who, at 48, still feels like a wide-eyed kid most days. I sure don't look it, but in some ways I feel younger than that boy--that father to the man--who peered into the future and imagined some version of himself there.
He would, perhaps, feel disappointed by what his future--the future generally--have become. But I--the man he became--feel fortunate to live in fantastic times. I've seen people walk on the moon and talked to 10 of them. I've witnessed a time when daring souls lived in trees to save them from extinction. I've interviewed fantastic writers and artists and scientists, such as Dr. James Watson, discoverer of the DNA spiral. I've flown in an assortment of flying machines, experienced transcendent states of consciousness, and sent writings--like this column--zipping through telephone wires across town and around the globe. I've witnessed the end of the Cold War, the discovery of new planets and the world of the tiny, where stem cells and nano-technology--despite fears they raise--punctuate the wonder of being alive here and now.
Mostly, though, I've been blessed to experience something that hasn't changed much over the years, and that's the amazing variety of whimsy and verve that make up the human soul. I looked around me Tuesday at the beautiful human beings who surrounded me as we sang silly songs and felt blessed to enter uncharted waters of a year some of us never much thought about before--can you believe it--2002.