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A Modern Day Rip Van Winkle
By Parkay

As in a dream, Guy Williamson found himself standing inside a sterile white hospital room with absolutely no recollection as to how he had gotten there. A soft humming sound, punctuated by regular beeps and clicks, permeated the room, sounds of the machines that were attached via rubber, plastic, and metal umbilical cords to the slumbering figure in the lone bed. Guy sensed that he knew where he was, yet he had never seen this place before. As he realized something familiar about the bedridden man’s face the door swung open and two doctors walked into the room. Guy stuttered and searched for some explanation as to why he was there, but the men totally ignored him.

"The S-3 has decided to terminate his life support systems," the doctor with the clipboard said.
"It’s just as well," added the other doctor, "twenty years is a very long time to keep someone alive, especially someone of this one’s reputation."

"Oh, you know this patient’s personal history?" queried Clipboard.

"Yea, he was one of those terroristic biker people who clashed with the government back in the turn of the century. You remember, the people who rode motorcycles who refused to accept the S-3's 9-11 directive."

"Oh yea, I remember when all that came down," said Clipboard. "They actually believed in the old archaic U.S. Constitution and that the people were wise enough to govern themselves." Clipboard made a hmmff sound and then added, "What a scary concept, imagine what kind of shape this world would be in had they had their way."
"No kidding," said the other, "now look at him, a victim of his own risky behavior, laying here frozen in time for the last twenty years."

"Wow," exclaimed clipboard, "all this time we’ve had a terrorist laying up here and we could have been charging admission to the JSMs (Junior Safety Monitors)." Both men laughed at this. The doctor hung the clipboard at the foot of the bed and both men turned to leave, totally ignoring Guy as they exited the room. As the door slowly closed he heard one of them say, "Can you imagine actually wearing real leather." The echoes of their footsteps faded down the hall and with the closure of the door Guy found himself alone again with the machines. By some mysterious dream-state Guy realized that he was outside of his body looking at his final few hours.

Several minutes later the door swung open and Clipboard walked in followed by a man and a woman and a small boy. The small boy, who appeared to be six or seven years old, looked like Guy’s son Rob. Then Guy realized that the man, who appeared to be in his thirties, was Rob and that the young lady was probably Rob’s wife and the boy their son. Clipboard told Rob that he was sorry about the decision and asked Rob if he was going to be OK. Rob slowly nodded his head. The small boy and his mother went over to the comatose body, gave it a hasty kiss on its pale bearded face and then quietly left the room.

"I’d like to have a moment alone with my father before you shut his life support systems down," Rob told the doctor.

"Sure, take all the time you need," the doctor said and then left the room.

After a long silence Rob began, "Dad, I hope you can forgive me for not putting up a fight about this, but even were you to have lived to this point you wouldn’t like it these days. As a matter of fact, because of the 9-11 Directive you would probably be in a federal reformatory." Rob put the lifeless hand of his father’s into both of his hands. "Things are so different today than when you were around. I remember the runs, your friends, the motorcycles, how you and Mom used to go riding." Rob lowered his head towards the floor. "She’s on the other side, waiting for you," he said in a whisper. "She died in the reformatory," he said as he broke down and sobbed. "I miss you Dad, and I wish you guys could have prevailed against ...." Rob broke down again and wept for several minutes. After a while he regained his composure, stood up and said, "I love you Dad." Then he left the room.

A team of doctors and nurses stormed into the room and methodically started unplugging the machines. Behind them came three people dressed in green pushing a gurney that carried a body bag. "So this was it," Guy thought, "this is how I’m going to go." Guy watched as a doctor approached the bed with a stethoscope. The room got darker and darker and Guy’s field of vision got narrower and narrower, until....

Guy weakly sat up in bed and opened his eyes. He gradually beheld a room full of doctors and nurses. One of the nurses screamed and a doctor with a stethoscope in his hand jumped away from the bed so fast that he knocked over a light. Guy looked at the stunned people who were staring at him with wide open mouths and unbelieving eyes, and said in a weak voice, "Where’s my motorcycle?"

As you might imagine, the news of the modern day "Rip Van Winkle" went around the world like a lightning clap. Guy Williamson was an overnight scientific anomaly. After being introduced to his daughter-in-law, Dianne, his grandson, Billy, and being reintroduced to Rob, the doctors decided that it would be in the best interest of the patient and of science if he first went through rigorous physical and "re-adaptation" therapy before being released from the hospital. This was understandable, since after twenty years of nonuse it would take time to rebuild his body. Finally, after what seemed like years in time to Guy, he was allowed to go live with his son.

The first thing that Guy noticed when his son opened the door to his car was that there wasn’t a steering wheel or any other visible controls, such as brake and gas pedals. When he asked about this Rob said, "Several years ago the government said they were ‘freeing the people of the dangerous responsibility of driving on the roads, so the S-3 computers were put in control.

"Guy noticed that the interior of the car was like one big soft cushion, with little "air bag" signs everywhere. As the doors closed and locked everyone was automatically harnessed into their seats and he was surprised when four helmets came out of a compartment over their heads. His son’s family happily put the helmets on without a thought.

"You mean to tell me that you have to wear helmets?" Guy asked in a loud voice.

"You HAVE to wear one or you will pay 600 dollars and go to the reformatory," little Billy’s helmet-muffled voice blurted out matter of factly. There was something about his tone of voice and attitude that made Guy feel uncomfortable.

"It’s an S-3 law Dad, and there’s nothing we can do about it, so please, just put it on," Rob said in an urgent and somewhat nervous helmet-muffled voice.

"I ain’t gonna wear the damn thing," Guy angrily replied. Little Billy pulled out what Guy later learned was called an

"e-pad," and typed in several sentences. Guy noticed Rob and Dianne share a worried expression.

"Dad, the car won’t go anywhere unless you put on the helmet, we have no choice, it’s programmed that way," Rob insisted. Just then a buzzer went off and several red lights in the car started flashing. "Check your seatbelts and fasten your helmets," a very annoying electronic voice kept repeating. Finally, after Guy put on his helmet, the persistent safety reminders stopped. Rob punched a button and the car took off. Electric, Guy thought to himself, noticing that once it entered the IHS (Intelligent Highway System) the car never went over 55 mph’s.

"You still have to drive at 55?" he tried to ask Rob, but Rob couldn’t hear him because of the big full-faced helmet. After learning how to turn on his helmet-phone he repeated the question.

"Yes we do," Rob replied. "The S-3 Commission determined that 55 was the safest speed to travel and every thing has been programmed for that speed."

"And where safety is concerned nobody has the power to choose," little Billy blurted out.

"I’d have thought people would be flying their own shuttle crafts or whatever and zooming around at a couple hundred miles per hour by now," Guy mumbled. He noticed that all of the cars on the IHS looked exactly the same and that they all traveled at the same pace, as if they were hooked together. "Just what is this ‘S-3’ stuff everyone keeps talking about?" Guy asked.

"It stands for a ‘Safe and Secure Society,’" little Billy proclaimed, as if he had just answered a question that any three-year-old should know. Billy then recited, in what sounded to Guy like the voice of a seven-year-old brain-washed robot: "Safety is my choice, safety is my voice, if I am not safe, then I am not free, I will report every violation, that I see."

Billy turned to his parents and, with obvious pride, said, "I got 100 safety points for reporting Mr. Hamilton yesterday." Guy detected an uneasy nervousness in the way Rob and Dianne looked at each other. There was something about the way little Billy took pride in snitching on a neighbor that reminded Guy of the Hitler youth movement. For some reason Guy felt like he needed to change the subject.

"Well son, I sure would like to smoke a cigarette, it’s been over twenty years since I quit, ya know," Guy chuckled, but nobody else caught the joke. "No, seriously," he continued, "can we stop somewhere, or, er, program the car to go to a convenient store and pick up a pack of smokes?" Little Billy typed several more sentences into his pad then returned it to his pocket.

"Dad," Rob shuffled his feet and looked at the passing landscape through the 2 inch thick tempered glass window, "they outlawed tobacco not too long after you went into your comma.

"Hmmm, that really don’t surprise me," Guy said, "I can remember when the tobacco people sold out, right before..." Guy drifted off in thought and then suggested they stop somewhere and get a "good ole greasy chili cheeseburger and some fries." Little Billy sat up as if something had poked him in the back, pulled out the electronic notepad and started typing into it. Again, his parents shared the worried look.

"We studied about those unhealthy and unsafe foods in school," Billy quipped, carefully putting the electronic device back into his pocket.

"Well," Guy exclaimed, "what do people eat these days?"

"We eat veggie yum-yum sticks," volunteered little Billy. "Here, want one?" He produced what looked like a hard green hot dog wrapped in plastic and held it up to his grandpa."

"Ah, no thanks" said Guy, "I’ll wait for some real food."

"That is real food and it’s what we have to eat these days," Dianne said. "What you called ‘fast foods,’ and all unhealthy foods, for that matter, were outlawed about ten years ago," Dianne continued, dreamily remembering cake and ice-cream from her early childhood. "The government determined that obesity was a disease, so the S-3 took over the food processing industry, shut down or converted all of the fast food restaurants, and determined what was best for our diets." Then, as if in apology she added, "You’ll get used to them."

"They’re healthy, nutritious, disease free, and therefore safe," little Billy added.

"You sound like a broken record," Guy said jokingly to Billy. This drew blank expressions from everyone, and Guy realized the irony of what he had just said and let it pass.

Dianne added, "Haven’t you noticed that there are no over-weight people?"

"If you get over-weight you have to pay a bunch of money and go to the fat-farm, that’s why I reported Mr. Hamilton," little Billy interrupted. Once again Guy noticed Rob and Dianne share the nervous look.

"What do the bikes look like these days son?" Guy eagerly asked. "Any old knuckles, pans, or shovels still putting around?"

Rob looked down at his steel toed shoes—the kind Guy would later find out everyone was required to wear—and softly said, "They don’t allow people to ride motorcycles anymore Dad. The S-3 determined they were too dangerous, unsafe, and costly to society, plus they could be used in terrorist attacks. They were outlawed a few years after 'September Eleven.'" Rob told Guy about the World Trade Center bombings and how the government had used that as an excuse to pass a multitude of new laws called The 'S-11 Directives' designed to protect the public against terrorism. Rob went on, "They also did away with snowmobiling, snow and water skiing, scuba diving, parachuting, mountain climbing,..... all because people were getting injured and killed and becoming burdens on society—so they said."

Guy felt like he’d just been hit with a ton of bricks. Surly his son was just kidding him. How could things change so much in a mere twenty years?

"Because of the 9-11 Directive they confiscated most of your friends’ motorcycles," Rob went on, "along with all guns and weapons of every kind."

Dianne interjected, "They even outlawed most amateur sports because of injuries. No more school dances, or swing sets, swimming pools, bicycles....."

Little Billy loudly interrupted, "My teacher says that it doesn’t make a bit of sense to play something if it’s unsafe!"
"People aren’t allowed to work on their own vehicles, or even mow their own grass, or change a burned out light bulb in their house, which I think is really stupid," Rob said, trying to ignore the baleful look Billy gave him for saying something that might be worth reporting.

Finally, after what turned out to be a five hour drive and five battery charge-stops, they arrived at Rob’s house. Dianne tried to get Billy to race her to the front door, but he set her straight about the no running safety rule.
Rob grabbed Guy by the arm and directed him towards the garage. "Dad, now that Billy isn’t around I can talk to you."

"What is it with that boy," Guy said, "if you’d have carried on like that when you were his age I’d have given you ole hickory. Remember him?" "That’s just it Dad," Rob replied, "we aren’t allowed to discipline our own children these days. If we try to reprimand them or interfere with their ‘required’ JSM training they are conditioned to push a button on their satellite-linked e-pad, which stays with them night and day. If the children feel threatened they push a button and a SSM (Senior Safety Monitor) is sent to the home. If the SSM deems it necessary, one or both of the parents are sent to a reformatory."

"My God," Guy said, "they’re using the children, and safety, to control...." "Shhhh," Rob put his finger to his lips, "don't even let them hear you mention the word 'God.'"

"I gotta show you something," Rob said. He grabbed Guy’s arm and pulled him inside the garage where the car was parked. Rob looked out the garage door towards the house to make sure that the two men were alone, then he went to the back of the building and pulled a panel off of the wall revealing a secret compartment. A glint of metal reflected back out of the hidden room and gradually the shape of a motorcycle took form. Guy felt tears welling up in his eyes. It was his old bike, covered in twenty years of dust. He turned and hugged his son.
Out of the corner of his eye Guy detected movement and saw little Billy standing just inside of the door, e-pad in hand. "I’ve notified my SSM," the little boy said with an accomplished gleam in his eyes. "You know that motorcycles are against the law, and that I had to report you both." Then, in the proudest JSM trained voice that the little boy could muster he chanted, "Safety is my choice, safety is my voice, if I am not safe, then I am not free, I will report every violation that I see." The little JSM stood there with his hands on his hips, as if he’d caught the world’s two worst criminal terrorists.

Off in the distance Guy could hear sirens coming closer and closer. He realized that he could not live in this world where everything was "safe." He wanted to run, he wanted to scream, he wanted to get on his bike and ride.... The sirens got closer and closer, until they were upon him.

Guy opened his eyes and realized that he was soaked with sweat, and that he was laying in bed next to his wife Linda. He got up and went across the hall and looked into Rob’s room. His little boy was sleeping soundly. He then looked out the window and saw his motorcycle waiting for him in the driveway, right where he had left it the night before. It had all been a bad dream. He went into the kitchen, picked up the phone and dialed one of his friends. "Hey Jess," he said in an enthusiastic tone, "yea, I know what time it is, but this is important. I wanted to talk to you about starting a new ABATE chapter down here. Yea, I know you’ve been trying to get me involved for a long time, and, well, let’s just say I’ve finally come to my senses. Let’s get everybody together today, you know, family thing. See you over at Mike's around two, OK?"

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