Free Time Travel

If you ever wish to travel back to simpler times, chances are, you can do it within three miles of your house — and free of charge. I just did it yesterday.

The restaurant was Italian, but as soon as I stepped in, I felt transported back to the tex-mex bar I used to go to when I was 16. The interior design of every “modern” bar in the late 2000s and early 2010s welcomed me with open arms, complete with the fake-everything elements we were so impressed by back then, from “white marble” stones to “oak wood” beams, all stuck to the same white plastered walls that were really holding the place together.

Cheap LED lighting strips ran along every offset edge, every side of the ceiling, and every level of the mirror-backed glass bar. The music playlist was firmly stuck between 2008 and 2012, and between IKEA stock photos on canvas depicting olive oil, tomatoes, and other Italian ingredients, a distorted copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper failed to provide any further sophistication which, oddly enough, only added to the locale’s out-of-time charm.

The waitress was jolly and down-to-earth, well-used to the several men in their late 50s, eating alone, cracking jokes and making slightly inappropriate but good-natured comments before returning home to their wives and kids. There was a free postcard rack sitting on the wall next to the toilet, offering as many fun one-liners on cardboard as you could carry, including the typical “I ❤️ Munich” slogan you see merchandise for as soon as you get off the train in any medium-sized city.

It was the kind of place where you could hold on to a single beer for eight hours, and no one would bat an eye. I read an entire car magazine while I was there — magazine stand, check — and my meal consisting of a salad, a beer, and a pizza still cost less than 20 euros. In other words, it was magical. No fancy jungle-themed interior. No influencers more obsessed with taking selfies and food shots than actually eating what’s right in front of them. No try-hard waiter hoping to sell you another 12-euro-cocktail. Just good food, honest people, and nothing else to do. It was exactly what I needed after a busy week of being fully immersed in modern life, the perfectly sized escape to remind me that each season has its time and that, actually, I’m usually in the right place at the right time.

On Apple computers, the built-in backup system is called “Time Machine.” When you open it, your screen blurs out, and your computer seems to enter a space between different worlds. On the right-hand side, a timeline will let you jump however far back you’d like to go, and a long line of windows will hover in the middle, like an endless row of files in a folder, ready for you to browse at your convenience. Your brain has the same capacity, you know? Except it’s even better. More visceral. Less than half as accurate, perhaps, but at least twice as compelling — and all you have to do to unlock a memory in all its glory is visit a place that’s connected to it.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, and whenever you were born, those places still exist. Not everyone gets to keep their grandma’s house, but the street you grew up on? Chances are, that’s still around. What about the taverns you used to frequent? Or similar-vibed places where you live now? It could be a familiar forest clearing, an institution you once attended, or a landmark you passed on a daily basis. You’ve inhabited this planet for decades — there’s no way you haven’t left your mark. Set your brain on the right scent, and it’ll lead you right back to those moments, in 3D and technicolor.

Perhaps, physical time travel doesn’t exist because we already have the best time machines sitting right between our ears. If we use them in the right doses, they’ll provide us with whatever we need in the moment, ultimately reminding us that, actually, we’re always exactly when and where we should be.