Within Walking Distance–Living A Twilight Zone Episode

Last summer, I moved from Southern California back to the place where I grew up, which is called Homewood, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago. Recently, I have been starting to watch a series of classic science fiction programs that appeared in the 1950s and 1960s on television and in the movies.     No such collection would be complete without The Twilight Zone, and our local library just happened to have The Definitive Edition, which was released in 2004, and which contains not only the original episodes of the series, but also some additional material such as commentaries by some of the actors who played the roles and occasionally even a discussion by Rod Serling himself.

I took out the first volume that covers Season 1 of the Twilight Zone and sat down to watch it on Thursday night. Coincidental to this, a classmate from the high school I went to, Homewood-Flossmoor High School, announced that he was going to be in the Chicago area this weekend, and wanted to know if those in the class of 1975 who lived in the area wanted to meet at a famous local pizzeria called Aurelio’s Saturday night.    So my mind started reaching back into the past, recalling those high school days which are approaching four decades ago, when I decided to watch the Twilight Zone episodes.

One of those episodes was “Within Walking Distance”, starring Gig Young who  played Martin Sloan, a harried New York executive who decides that he needs a break from the stress of corporate life and returns to his hometown.   He has his car serviced at a gas station outside of town, and decides that, since it is only walking distance to town, he will take a walk to see what the old town is like.    He doesn’t realize that he is walking not just in space, but in time, because by the time he gets to the town, he has returned 30 years into the past.    What struck me was, when he got to the outskirts of the town itself, the sign read, get this, “Welcome to Homewood“!

He met his parents, and then he walked to a merry-go-round in the town park where there is some sort of fairground set up.   There he sees his younger self on that merry-go-round and he tries to run up and talk to him.    The boy is frightened and tries to run away, only to slip and fall off and hurt his leg, which instantly causes Martin Sloan as an adult to have the same injury!

In the end scene with his father, Martin Sloan decides that his quixotic campaign to revisit his youth is not necessary to recapture the vividness of life, which can be found in any age and in any location, if you are just willing to look with the right attitude.

In the commentary to the episode, Rod Serling was speaking at a lecture in 1975 in Sherwood Oaks College after a showing of the episode, and he pointed out the ways in which the script was, from a writer’s standpoint, flawed and how he would have improved it if he were writing the same story idea then.     So Rod Serling was in an odd way echoing the experience of Martin Sloan by revisiting his own past as a writer, and seeing the ways in which the 1959 self had matured as a writer and as a human being.    He said he would not have been able to review his own early work with such as a detached point of view as he was able to at that moment if he had been asked to do it even, say, 10 years earlier.    But now, enough time and, more importantly, enough growth had occurred that this was now possible.

And in watching the episode and then the commentary, I was echoing the experience of both Martin Sloan AND Rod Serling.   I had lived in this town from the 1960s when I was a child, until the 1970s when I went off to the University of Illinois.   Since then, I have lived in Germany, Japan, and in the United States on both coasts.   Only after being requested by my father to come back to Homewood to help him deal with some health challenges did I come back to the town I had not lived in for close to 40 years.    I did so because I was in transition, looking to change my career, and therefore was not tied down to staying where I was in Southern California.

When I came back it was strange to live in the same town I grew up in, but with all the neighbors but one having passed away or moved away.    But some things were the same:   there were children playing in the neighborhood, going to local events such as parades, and enjoying the holidays of the year, just like when I was a child.   But these were the next generation of children, and I got to experience their joy of being vicariously as I watched them living in the moment.   Since my father’s health recovered, I also got to experience his living in the moment as well, as he enjoys whatever time he has left.    So as Martin Sloan discovered, the joy of life can be found in adulthood just as in childhood, if you have the ability to look at it with a sense of gratitude.   And like Rod Serling, I have discovered that time and the phenomenon of personal growth allow you the distance you need to embrace the past–so that you can then let it go and move on.


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