One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is “A Stop at Willoughby.” In case you haven’t seen it, or don’t remember, this episode features a New York City white collar worker who steps out of the train into a late 19th century town. In typically Twilight Zone fashion, his visit to this lost place is both real and a dream, and in the end, the man dies by jumping from the train, muttering something about Willoughby.
Willoughby represents the nostalgia of the 1950s and 1960s, when mid-century Americans looked back to a simpler time. Twilight Zone episodes play on these memories and they often are set in upstate New York, where the show’s director Rod Serling was from. If you travel between Syracuse and Albany, you might recognize scenes from the show.
The nostalgic past moves ahead and changes. In recent decades, the 1950s has been our new nostalgic past. The fifties, of course, are the childhood years of the baby boomers. Marty McFly goes back to a naive 1955. The fifties are spoken of as a golden age of conservatism and little league baseball.
Today, however, I believe our new nostalgia is for the 1980s. Partly this is because my generation, those in their 30s, have now settled down a bit and are growing weary of the busy life. So we think about the days of Atari and Nintendo, and about the era before the internet, when kids still played outside and built forts out of sticks or snow.
Every once in a while, when I’m driving across the country, and I’m on a back road, I see kids playing outside, and I get a glimpse of that lost era. The 1980s is still around in small town Appalachia.
When I moved to Hampshire County, West Virginia, over a year ago, I found something of the 1980s is still alive here. In many ways, it is the good parts of the 1980s that remain. Here, in my county, there are no security guards and cameras at public offices. Schools are welcoming of strangers, so long as you have local references who can vouch for you. People know each other. Business is done by phone calls; if you ask someone to send you a text message, you might as well have asked them to send future communications in Spanish. Football and cheerleading practice occurs in the park. Prices are closer to what you’d pay for things in 1985 than in 2017 Washington, D.C.
When I lived in the mountains near Broadway, Virginia, four years ago, the town still had a video rental store. The store closed while I was there, and it felt like the end of an era.
The train of time is chugging along, and sometimes I just want to get out.
In a way, Hampshire is my Willoughby.