My buddy Alner was really steaming.
“Forty-five minutes it took me to get home,” he fumed. “And all the way I had to fight road construction, potholes and semis. All that just to get some gas at $3.72 a gallon. I’m about ready to tear up my license and buy a horse.”
“Alner, Alner,” I said in my most soothing tones. “We all feel your pain. I know this won’t make things any better for you, but let’s take a little trip and look at a different way of doing things.”
“Normally I’d flee in terror from your time tripping,” he said. “But if you’ve got a road with no potholes, for once I’m ready.”
Within a few moments, thanks to my power of metaphysical travel, we were in downtown Wilkes-Barre in the spring of 1939.
“Wooeeeee! Busy, busy place,” said Alner, surveying the jam-packed scene around Public Square. “Hey, what are those things – those big buses hooked up to overhead wires?”.
“They, my friend, are one of the greatest transportation devices ever created – trackless trolleys. I brought you here, exactly 75 years back from our time, because that’s when these marvels were introduced in Wyoming Valley.”
“I thought only streetcars had trolleys.”
“Well the old streetcars with their noisy iron rails and jarring rides will linger on some routes for years yet, but the buses are starting to take over. Here, let’s get on board. Doesn’t matter where we’re going.”
“Wow,” said Alner as the bus pulled away from the square. My car isn’t this smooth and quiet.”
“Stands to reason,” I replied, “that with no internal combustion engine banging and chugging there’s going to be a world-class ride. Let’s just enjoy the scenery for a while.”
“Look at the size of those railroad stations,” said Alner as the bus rolled smoothly over a couple of sets of tracks.
“Years ago people took the train for pretty much any trip out of town. That certainly kept the roads free and clear. It also kept the air a lot cleaner.”
“What’s that ‘Laurel Line’ business over there?”
“The Laurel Line was – get this – an electric railway linking Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. You could get on it in Wilkes-Barre and go to Scranton, Pittston, Hazleton, almost anywhere you wanted to work or visit. It was a godsend to commuters especially.”
“What’s this ride costing us?” he asked.
“Got a dime on you? Doesn’t matter where we get off, because the bus and streetcar network is all over. Just hop off and hop on.”
“I guess you’re going to tell me we should just chuck it all and go back to the trackless trolleys and trains and …”
“Sad to say, we can’t,” I replied. “In our day, all the businesses and homes and stores are so spread out that we can barely function without our cars. In this time, most people can live, work and buy all within a small area, and now they’ve got these neat trackless trolleys for nearly everything else.”
“Gain something, lose something, I guess. Ah, I don’t seem to have a dime on me. All that gasoline I bought…”
“Alner, I’d leave you here except that you might run into your grandparents and ask for their cellphone number to take home.”
“Very funny,” he said. “There’s something else I’d rather bring back.”
“And that is?”
“I think I could fit one of these trackless trolley buses in my yard.
“Alner, on second thought …”