The 1950s time traveler — call him Sam — was baffled.
The 2021 coffee shop teemed with people mesmerized by smartphones. Sam looked over the shoulder of a guy who had all the information in the world at his fingertips showing off pictures of his sweater-wearing dog and arguing with strangers about climate change.
Befuddled, Sam left the café. He walked down the town's main street, which had food and drink offerings but little else.
No one walking toward him made eye contact. They were all staring at their smartphones and looked as if they would plow into power poles or street signs.
At least no phone booths were around to stop their zombie-like momentum.
When Sam stepped into a restaurant, no wall of cigarette smoke greeted him, a welcome development. The menu prices, however, shocked him no end. Where Pie à la Mode cost 20 cents back then, it now cost $6.
Sam left the restaurant, hungry. A legal pot store was down the street. Sam refused to go in, remembering the 1950s poster about a friendly stranger who might offer you the killer drug marijuana, disguised as a cigarette, the use of which could lead to murder, insanity or even death.
Sam marched on. Many blocks later, on the outskirts of town, after negotiating a parking lot the size of an area code, he reached a big box store. There he found items for sale that used to be offered on Main Street. Tires and batteries. Plants. Pets. Pharmacy. Jewelry. Clothing. Toys. Crafts. Groceries. Gag gifts even.
Sam stopped at the TVs. They were huge. His three-bedroom house, back in the 1950s, was only 1,000 square feet but held a family of six. Each bedroom held a bed and not much more.
Sam had just recently acquired a 13-inch black and white TV that got three channels. Reception was fuzzy most of the time. Here were sets the size of his living room wall. The heads on the picture were actual size; if an actor had warts, Sam could see them in all their glory. "High definition," the salesman, Bob, was saying. "It's the way to go."
He showed Sam a remote. "You speak into this thing to find a show."
"You Bet Your Life," Sam said. "Sky King." Magically, the shows appeared.
The salesman, impressed with Sam's bow tie and friendly manner, said his shift was nearly over and invited Sam to his house for dinner.
"Love to," Sam said. "I'm hungry as a horse."
They drove to the suburbs. Along the way they passed a building that was all glass windows. Fifty people inside, decked out in colorful spandex, were sweating it out on stationary bicycles.
"What's that?" Sam asked.
"A health club," the salesman replied. "It's the after-work rush."
Sam thought of his job delivering milk to people's doorsteps. He got in 20,000 steps a day, not that he had a device for measuring steps, and all he wanted at the end of the workday was to flop down in front of the TV, even if the reception was less than perfect.
The salesman pulled up in front of a large home. "It's just a bungalow," he apologized.
"Looks like an elementary school to me," Sam said of the 2,000 square foot home.
The salesman introduced his wife, Gloria, when she barged in the door, home from her job at the bank. Gloria was not wearing hair-curling rollers and had on a pantsuit as she transferred the dinner she had bought on the way home — "takeout," she called it — to plates on the dining room table.
"Do you guys have any ankle biters?" Sam wanted to know.
"No dogs," Gloria said.
"No, I mean children," Sam said.
"No," Bob said, "we've been too busy paying for this house."
"Righto," Sam said.
After dinner was over, Sam thanked his hosts and said he needed to "split."
"Can I give you a ride?" Bob asked.
Sam thought for a moment. "Only if you can take me back to the 1950s."