Twilight Zone Tuesday – Walking Distance
Martin Sloane – Gig Young
Robert Sloan – Frank Overton
Mrs. Sloan – Irene Tedrow
Young Marty – Michael Montgomery
Wilcox Boy – Ron Howard
Charlie – Byron Folger
Mr. Wilson – Pat O’Malley
Wilcox – Bill Erwin
Soda Jerk – Joe Corey
A sporty little coupe comes hauling ass into a gas station so fast he overshoots the pump and throws up a bunch of dust. He’s obviously in a hurry because he’s honking his horn like crazy at the attendant who’s two feet away. I think he noticed you, dude. If it were my gas station I’d let him have it for pulling in so fast.
Crazy Driver is still honking, even though he can see the guy walking toward him. When the attendant arrives Crazy Driver tosses him some money and tells him to fill it up. As a side note, I wonder whatever happened to full-service stations? Too many robberies?
Martin Sloan, age 36. Occupation: Vice President of an ad agency in charge of media. this is not just a Sunday drive for Martin Sloan. He perhaps doesn’t know it at the time, but it’s an exodus. Somewhere up the road, he’s looking for sanity. And somewhere up the road he’ll find something else.
Apparently back then “fill her up” also meant a lube job and oil change”. The attendant says it’ll be about an hour but Martin’s (formerly Crazy Driver) cool with that because he’s in no hurry. Could’ve fooled me the way he came whipping in like that.
Martin sees a sign for his old hometown…called Homewood. Original. The helpful gas station man tells him that it’s a mile and a half up the road. Martin waxes all nostalgic with a perfect stranger, telling the gas station attendant that it’s his home town, that he grew up there but hasn’t been back in 20 or 25 years. The attendant looks like he’s mildly interested. Martin tells the man that yesterday he just got in his car and drove. He wanted to get the hell out of the city because one more board meeting, telephone call, or record problem would have driven him bonkers.
Eyeballing the ‘Homewood’ sign Martin thinks aloud to himself that it’s…Walking Distance. He confirms this with the attendant who reiterates that it’s a mile and a half. Martin concurs that it is indeed walking distance. Without further ado, he sets out. Gas Station Guy looks very relieved that Martin isn’t going to hang around the full hour.
Martin enters an old-fashioned (to me anyway) grocery with an ice cream shoppe and asks if they still make those great sodas with three scoops of ice cream. The elderly man behind the counter seems almost offended by the idea that they wouldn’t. Martin goes on to tell yet another stranger his life story about how he spent half his time in that grocery store as a kid. That he always ordered the chocolate soda with three scoops for a dime. He thinks he recognizes the soda jerk. He’s not sure though because it’s been a long time. Martin waxes nostalgic again, wishing he had a dollar for every time he went there. He also grabs a cookie out of a cookie jar on the counter. I have to admit this confused the bejeebers out of me. For one, did they really just have a cookie jar that people could snag cookies from for free at soda fountains? Because it doesn’t look like Martin pays for them or anything. And this could just be 21st century me but…it seems kind of gross and unsanitary. Then Martin yaks more about the good ol’ days. With his mouth full of cookie. Dude, chew your food first!
He chows down some more cookies and marvels at how everything is so unchanged after twenty years, right down to the soda still being a dime. Hmm, could this be our first inkling that Martin has really crossed over into (dun, dun dunnn!) the Twilight Zone? He says that nobody sells sodas for a dime anymore. The gentleman behind the counter looks very surprised at this. He wonders where Martin is from. Martin says New York all while shoveling ice cream into his face. Didn’t anybody ever teach you any manners, sir?
Martin’s just going on and on about how nothing has changed (we get it) and he still expects to see Mr. Wilson sleeping in the stock room “the way he did before he died”. The soda jerk (I feel really mean just calling him the jerk) oddly has no response to this. Martin tips the soda jerk one whole dollar and leaves his soda half-finished.
After Martin leaves, the ice cream man goes to the stockroom. There, in all of his sleeping glory, is Mr. Wilson, alive and well. Now we know two things for sure: the soda jerk is named Charlie and there is definitely something hinky going on. Which brings me to my earlier query. You would have thought Charlie would have said something along the lines of, “No, Mr. Wilson didn’t pass away, would you like to go see him?” My only two theories are this. Charlie didn’t hear Martin talking to himself, or, thinks Martin’s crazy and it’s best not to argue with crazy people. Most likely it’s some Twilight Zone Plot Magic to keep Martin in the dark but let us know something’s up. I vote the third.
Martin wanders his old street a little, recalling names from his past. A Dr. Bradbury used to live on his street (tee hee). It’s a good thing people in 1959 talked to themselves a lot or we wouldn’t know what was going on. In his ramblings he runs across a small boy who turns out to be a tiny little Opie! Seriously, it is actually Ron Howard, a year before he started on The Andy Griffith show. Quite the little cutie he is, too.
He waves Martin over for a chat. They chat about marbles a bit. Martin also talks about a game that sounds weird as hell to me. Something to do with hide & seek and “draw a circle around the old man’s back and who’s to punch it”. If anyone has the faintest idea of what he’s talking about please drop me a line.
Martin points out his old house to the boy and the boy calls it the Sloan House. Martin’s surprised it’s still called that. He says his name is Martin Sloan ad the kid (pretty much) calls him a liar because “he knows Marty Sloan and you ain’t him!” I don’t suppose it would occur to a little boy that there could possibly be two different Martin Sloans with the same name. Martin tries to show him his license but Opie takes off. Martin shrugs it off and goes on his way.
His next stop takes him to the park where there are kids, an ice cream vendor and a kid climbing a tree and not listening to his mother to get down. So, of course, our intrepid hero has to go check it out. And a darn good thing too because Bobby listens to the Man, the Man he’s never even met before, over his mother.
After they get the kid out of the tree, Martin and Bobby’s Mom (who looks like she’s maybe five years older than Bobby) take a stroll through the park and talk about how wonderful summer in the park is. Summer in the park means the merry-go-round (carousel, whenever I think of a merry-go-round I think of the terrifying playground equipment that spins and flings you off, but that’s just me), music from the calliope, cotton candy, ice cream and band concerts. I feel like I’m stuck in one of those “What To Do on a Date’ films that MST3K makes fun of.
Martin (again) is all nostalgic about being a kid in the summer. He really has an issue with telling strangers his life story. He remarks that he carved his initials on the bandstand and, lo and behold, there’s a kid carving his name into the bandstand. He reads the name…it’s Martin Sloan!
Older Martin confronts him and Younger Martin freaks out, thinking he’s in trouble. Older Martin realizes that the kid looks just like him. Which scares the kid and he jets, Older Martin chasing after him.
Older Martin goes to his house and his father and mother answer the door. They, of course, don’t recognize him. He freaks out about that. Really though, who would? If my son was ten and a different man in his thirties came to me, claiming to be my son, I probably would not recognize him. They think he’s a lunatic and he doesn’t help matters much by getting all growly and freaky sounding.
As he’s walking away (with accompanying sad violin strings) a teenager waves him down to show off his new sportster. With a rumble seat. I have heard that phrase before but what the hell is a rumble seat exactly? Older Martin says that he hasn’t seen one in a long time. The kid, (well, teen, looks like a kid to me) says the car is fresh out of Detroit. Older Martin is starting to get clued in that something weird is going on. Maybe the ‘something weird is happening‘ music helped.
A man can think a lot of thoughts and walk a lot of pavement between afternoon and night. To a man like Martin Sloan, to whom memory has suddenly become a reality, a resolve can come just as clearly and inexorably as stars in a summer night. Martin Sloan is now back in town, and his resolve is to put in a claim to the past.
Martin wanders back to Younger Martin’s house and checks out his toys in the yard. He is confronted by his father who does not look pleased to see the Crazy Man back again. Older Martin tries to convince his dad that it’s him by saying these are his toys and the baseball signed by Lou Gehrig (which, if Older Martin still has it would be worth a small fortune).
Dad wants to know why Older Martin came back and Older Martin says he just wants to rest and stop running. Dad thinks Older Martin is mentally ill. Mom comes out and Older Martin runs to her, grabs her and starts listing a bunch of stuff about Young Martin which, if it were me, would make me think ‘stalker‘, not ‘this is my son‘.
Martin pulls out the biggest wallet I’ve ever seen and tries to show her his ID, but since he’s raving and practically yelling in her face all he gets for his trouble is a slap across the face.
He goes running off in search of Younger Martin and ends up at the merry-go-round where he sees his younger self eating popcorn and riding the merry-go-round. Older Martin jumps on and chases Younger Martin through the horses, yelling that he just wants to tell him something. Ok, crazy man. Younger Martin falls off the merry-go-round and breaks his leg, which causes Older Martin to scream in pain as well. Way to go, dude.
Everything’s stopped and Older Martin makes his way slowly and creepily through the merry-go-round horses. The other kids are staring at him like he’s an ogre. Deservedly so. He finds his younger self in the arms of the merry-go-round attendant and says that he just wanted to tell Younger Martin that this is the best time of life and to enjoy every minute of it. Well, kudos to you, Older Martin. I’m sure he’ll always remember the summer that the crazy man chased him and he broke his leg. I’ll bet that was a summer he enjoyed a lot.
The kids all file past Older Martin leaving him standing there, feeling sorry for himself. No more merry-go-round, no more cotton candy, no more band concerts. Ok, what is so great about band concerts?! I do believe you can do all of those things as an adult. Maybe you weren’t allowed to in the fifties.
He goes on to say that he just wanted to tell Younger Martin that this, here, now is a wonderful time for him. It looked to me like Younger Martin was having a pretty grand summer until the scary man chased him and made him fall and break his leg.
Dad comes wandering through the merry-go-round to find Martin sitting dejectedly on the edge of the ride. What is it about carousel horses that is so creepy? Or is it just me? Ok, moving on.
Dad tells Older Martin that ‘the boy’ will be all right. He’ll limp a bit but he’ll be ok. Martin is truly grateful for that. Probably because, you know, it’s him. Dad shows Martin the giganto-wallet that he dropped when Mom slapped him. Dad looked inside and realized that the drivers license says he is Martin Sloan but it expires in 1960, 25 years from when they are now. So now Dad believes him but neither he nor Martin understands how it happened. Dad tells him he has to leave, that this isn’t his time, it’s not his place. It’s Younger Martin’s time and summer, he shouldn’t have to share it.
Dad wants to know if it’s all that bad where Martin’s from. Martin says he was tired and just wanted to come back. Come back and ride the merry-go-round, eat cotton candy and listen to a freakin’ band concert. Somebody get this guy to a concert, please! Basically he just wanted to slow down and smell the roses. Dad tells him to look around where Martin’s from. The future probably has fun stuff to do too. Quit looking to the past. They say their goodbyes. Not a hug or even a handshake. Which to me is a little weird. Even if I were a fifties manly man I’d still give my grown son a hug. At the least I’d ask how he’s doing, what he’s doing. Something at least. Martin hops on the now-moving merry-go-round and rides it forward, back into the future.
He goes back into the same soda shoppe and things are different now. There’s some crazy kids dancing to that new-fangled Generic Dance Music. Instead of Charlie behind the counter, it’s a younger man. Martin orders another ice cream soda with three scoops and this time it’s a whole 35 cents extra. Martin, realizing he’s back in the present, decides he doesn’t want one and goes to leave. His leg gives him a bit of trouble and looks stiff. The soda jerk asks if he’s ok and Martin tells him that he fell off a merry-go-round when he was a kid. A kind of freak accident. It’s not really clear whether or not Martin remembers his time in the past. He looks weird talking about the fall, like he can’t quite remember how it happened. The soda jerk tells Martin that the merry-go-round was condemned and torn down years ago. Further beating us over the head that Martin is among the present again. Sometimes subtlety is not the Twilight Zone’s forte.
Martin Sloan, age 36, vice president in charge of media. Successful in most things, but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives. Trying to go home again. And also, like all men, perhaps, there’ll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope and hear the voices and laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps it crosses his mind and there’ll flit a little errant wish. That a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then too, because he’ll know it is just an errant wish. Some wisp of memory, not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind.That are a part of the Twilight Zone.
Escaping from the daily grind of worry, toil and weariness of being an adult is quite a popular theme in the Twilight Zone. I can think of a few other episodes in which the main characters try to escape into the past, with varying degrees of success. Rod Serling is also quite chatty in this episode. Usually he keeps his comments generally confined to the intros and outros. He typically keeps his mid-episode comments to a minimum. Since it’s pretty well documented that Mr. Serling became rather disillusioned later in life I feel safe in theorizing that this episode was a bit of his own wish fulfillment.
This seems like a really long one for not too much going on within the episode itself. From here on in they become far more interesting. I can’t wait to get to some of the later episodes. It’s amazing (and, in some cases, slightly depressing) how apropos episodes written nearly 60 years ago are to our modern times.
As a side note I’d also like to mention that from here on in I will be linking the title picture with that particular episode’s imdb page.
Join me again for next week’s episode: Escape Clause