A Visit with Back to the Future

Today, I visited with an old friend and they showed me something wonderful. And while the “thing” could easily be construed as a place or an object, I look at it a bit differently. I was shown trust, given a look into a professed privileged private life that I would not normally see, and an experience that I doubt I could have achieved any other way.

My friend (I’m going to name them “Pat”, and you’ll see why) and I worked together years ago. From early on, we knew Pat was gifted in ways most of us could never be, and had a curiosity to play that actually made me envious. It’s that drive that got Pat hired by Yahoo! (back when Yahoo! was a desireable career), and off they went to California.

I stayed in touch, one of the few times we can say that social media did good things, and exchanged messages over the years. I last saw Pat in 2008 during a visit to San Francisco for a web conference.

That realization hit me as I drove into Vancouver from Ruskin, enduring the typically terrible Saturday mid-day traffic. Although we’d kept in touch, and had even Facetimed once or twice in the recent couple of years, I hadn’t actually seen Pat face-to-face in a decade and a half. And yet, it was trivial to spy them as I walked up the block. Despite the years, Pat still looked exceptionally good, far fitter than I, and a smile a mile wide that never seemed to fade in the entire time that I’d know them.

We went to lunch at a nearby restaurant, where Pat and I tried to catch up for the preceding years. And Pat proceeded to tell me “why”. I already knew some of the story, via the aforementioned Facetimes, but there were many details I wasn’t aware of. Most notably, why had Pat bought a Delorean?

I should also note that Pat had done well living in California. Yahoo! was just the first employer, and each successive one set the stage for the next in spectacular fashion. And as it happened, Pat got in at the right time with a new darling that soon rose in popularity and profit, and as is so common with startups, Pat got some assurance in future profitability. More than that, though, Pat got out at exactly the right time, which lead to a very early retirement.

This, incidentally, is why Pat is “Pat”, and not their actual name. Pat is, in a way, Batman, and I do intend to protect their superhero status.

Pat and I got along well, not just today, but even back in the day. Pat reminded me of many things we had done together, people we knew (and where we knew those people to be now), and even a few stories I hadn’t previously been aware of. Yet again, I was ashamed of my naivete, the number of times in my life when I’m (wilfully) oblivious to the things going on around me, to words said by others that I didn’t immediately pick up on. 51 year-old me is moderately ashamed at what his 30 year-old self had done and not done. Pat is a much more self-aware person and is in so many, many ways far more a mature adult than I think I could ever be.

Pat is also “gloriously single”, no kids to ruin that aura of maturity.

We then went for a drive. As I would later be reminded, this was a return of thanks that Pat had promised me some 20 years ago, when following a late night movie, I had driven Pat home because public transit had stopped for the night, and I hadn’t really wanted Pat to deal with a taxi. For me, it was a minor thing – Pat lived only 20 minutes away, and at that time of night, traffic was nil. But Pat remembered that, and promised that, one day, they would drive me around.

What neither of us had remotely considered that it would be in a time machine.

Pat is a geek, in case that’s not been made obvious. (I mean, if you’re going to hang around with me, you’re going to have to deal with my habits.) But Pat is far more a geek than I, complete with full Ghostbusters outfit and detailed proton pack. And then there’s the garden-gauge trainset (which I mildly fawned over).

But nothing beats Pat’s car. Yes, I mean the Delorean. And if you’ve already put 1+1 together, you’ve already concluded that it’s a perfect replica of the time machine from Back to the Future. Pat told me about it a couple of years ago. It was a big deal to get it arranged and customized. And I wanted to see it. So Pat showed it to me.

Like Batman, the Delorean is kept in a dark, secret garage somewhere under the city. (Heck, like Batman, Pat’s got a couple of garages.) It was a slow reveal; a tease, really; something that would fully flare my geekiness. I took video of it, with my Sony a7 III, complete with binaural microphones. You can literally hear my yelps as the cover slowly drew back over the front bumper, revealing the not-yet-illuminated strips that feature so highly in the movie.

Now, I would love to stand up and say that I know this car intimately. I watched the trilogy many, many times in my younger years; lately, it’s been more Marvel, due to children and their interests, so my memory is a bit grey. Pat, however, not only has it memorized, Pat as their version of the script down … well, pat.

And that script, on repeated watching of the video (nope, not posted, so don’t ask), it’s a thing of beauty. I think I paid about 12% attention as I tried mostly to get the camera to focus on the car (for the record, there’s something about stainless steel that makes autofocus not work properly).

It was interesting to hear a couple of comments, such as the (later noted) “tachyon emitter” (previously known as the “wormhole emitter”), which is part of a grille off a Panasonic speaker that Pat had to source off eBay after the original broke. And it’s a reminder, much as if you watch any of Adam Savage’s build videos, that movie props are made from real, actual things and it’s quite possible that one of your most beloved celluloid artefacts is, in fact, something exceedingly mundane.

Then came the real tour: “The first thing Doc Brown says to do,” as Pat climbs into the car, “is turn on the time circuits.” And Pat twisted the Y-shaped handle that sits in the middle of the two seats, and the car seems to leap to life, complete with the sounds that – while dim in my not-having watched Back to the Future in far too long – are absolutely perfectly accurate.

I about wept.

Pat went through the script, quickly but not impossibly fast, of “where you’re going, where you are, and where you were”, and of course, the awesome power of the flux capacitor. Pat then went to Marty McFly’s experience of trying to get the car to back to 1985, only to find out that the car was out of plutonium … and then remarked that they had some, producing a movie-accurate container of plutonium, and noted that it looks a bit different than the movie version, because Pat doesn’t want liquids in the car. Can’t say I blame him, especially after remarking on how much the last maintenance fee put him back.

I know what you’re thinking. How frivolous is this? Pat’s not going to change the world with this, sadly the time circuits don’t actually work, or I’d be begging him to fix one or two moments for me. That said, Pat does something with this car that very few others do.

Pat drives it.

And that’s what we did.

Now we gotta dial the clock back a couple decades. Back then, I lived in an apartment on 8th Ave in Calgary, overlooking the CP main line, a 5 minute walk from my first job in Calgary (and then a 25 minute walk after the office moved). Chris and I had people over all the time for movies and video games, and one night, Pat attended.

Pat’s memory of this night is far better than mine, I think in part because we had so many people over that I literally forgot the specific instance. Pat did not. We watched The Great Escape (a great movie, if you’ve never seen it). By the time it ended, however, Calgary Transit had shut down for the night, and Pat was without a simple way home. Because I am who I was raised to be, I wasn’t about to force Pat to get a taxi while I settled in for sleep. I drove Pat home, a minor inconvenience at worst, a 25 minute round-trip at that time of the night.

But Pat remembered that act, their “manager” (which they repeated called me today) taking him home. I never saw it that way – I rarely look at anyone else as their “manager” (this is a different topic, so I’ll cease it with this) – I saw it only as driving a friend home. Pat saw it as something much more important and vowed, one day, to drive me.

And, ye gods, did Pat deliver.

Yes, Pat fired up the Delorean. And, believe me, it rumbles. I climbed into the passenger seat, and we took to Vancouver’s roads. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, I came to understand why Pat has the car and why Pat drives it around.

There is another Delorean in the Lower Mainland, out in Chilliwack. That group does “movie cars” and has several of them. But they’re static, only coming out for shows. Pat drives the Delorean around Vancouver on a semi-regular basis. Yes, you could call it “showing off”, I suppose, but that’s not his point, and it would be as far from his point as you could get.

My first experience was going through Gastown. This part of old Vancouver, so named for “Gassy” Jack (whose statue was ripped down about two years ago during the colonialism reset and will never be replaced), is full of tourists. And as we passed by the very same patio we’d eaten lunch at an hour earlier, you could hear the heads whipping around. Cameras came out. People lit up. “Holy [insert expletive of choice]! It’s the car from Back to the Future!”

Pat had warned me about that, people shouting, calling out, rushing forward. Pat has mastered gliding, not rushing through red lights, going slowly. And were it any other car, Pat would be hauled out and beaten to death for going so slowly. But behind a time machine?? Pat’s only been honked at once.

Pat’s got cameras on the car to see what’s going on. That’s partly for security and insurance, but it’s also for interest. There’s nothing like seeing someone laughing and pointing in a “rear view mirror” scene (you can’t see out the back of the Delorean, so there’s a camera that does, projected in a rear view mirror screen). In a city where supercars are a dime a dozen, if presented with the most insane Lambo or the Delorean, most will pay attention to the time machine.

The only thing Pat can’t do with the car when driving is turn on the lights. And I don’t mean headlights, I mean the effects – the lighting strips and the rear vents. Pat had the car set up once at a movie theatre and a pair of cops stopped to gawk; Pat asked a few questions to make sure they stayed out of trouble with the law, which is why the lights aren’t on when driving. Stopped? Everything comes on. One must play it safe when you have a near-museum piece.

And the smiles it produces? In my short, hour-long stint through Vancouver (far longer than the trip I’d given Pat), I lost count. Not everyone recognized it – not everyone knows it – but it’s a pretty impressive thing to see, regardless.

We had to return to the garage before 5pm, when it closes for the night. Batman or not, Pat has no wish to offend those who watch over the car. From there, we returned to his place to chat further.

That Pat felt I was owed for my generosity far too many years ago gives you sense of what Pat is like as a person. And at no time have I ever been given reason to think otherwise. I am immeasurably jealous of his opportunity and the luck Pat had to get into the right place at the right time, I wish I could retire and work on nothing but my own projects and bring happiness to others. I’ll just have to find ways to do it with what time (and funds) I have.

Still, it was an amazing experience. It is as close to fame as I think I’ll ever come, for however little it lasted.

Thanks, Pat. Truly. You are an officer and a gentleperson.