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Time travel always gives me a headache

There's a moment in "Apollo 13" when Tom Hanks asks Kevin Bacon about a note Bacon's character has taped to a switch in their troubled capsule. The message is simple: "NO."

Bacon explains that as the astronauts were feeling the effects of their stressful mission, he didn't want to flip the switch that would jettison the lunar module ... with Hanks and Bill Paxton (or was it Bill Pullman) still inside.

"That's good thinking," Hanks says.

It doesn't take six degrees of separation to go from Bacon's reminder to the error by the Jackson County Assessor's Office that led to 19,552 incorrect property tax statements and $543,000 in uncollected revenue, which was announced with appropriate chagrin last week.

"In our software program, there is a button that shouldn't be touched," assessor Josh Gibson said, explaining how the mistake was caught.

If we've learned nothing else over time, it's that when any button tells you not to press it, you should listen. (Even this one: www.85qm.de/up/BigRedButton.swf). That leads to many serious questions, of course; primarily, why do such buttons exist?

There's likely a technical answer as to why, but that's probably gibberish meant to obfuscate the truth. Which is ... buttons that should not be touched exist so that those who will be able to discover and rectify the situation will have job security.

It's the same reason rebooting the computer doesn't always solve your problems and why lightbulbs, even the ones that look like fusilli, burn out. What good is an ever-lasting lightbulb to the people whose job it is to make more of them?

The assessor's office snafu wasn't fubar because there was — albeit costly and embarrassing — a way out of the darkness. But it does serve as a reminder that those who don't learn the lessons of touching a hot stove are doomed to get burned repeatedly.

There's something comforting in making the same types of mistakes we made as children, and it's perhaps that nostalgic twinge that leads to our desire to hold onto the past ... even when that past is imperfect.

Take, for instance, what remains of the former Greyhound station in downtown Medford. We're told it would cost $50,000 to make the portal stable enough to remain on the grounds of The Commons, where it would serve as a remind that before the area was home to a car company, it was the site of a bus terminal.

The bus station was erected in 1949, the same year that slot machines were banned in Jackson County and a bond measure was passed to build a swimming pool at Hawthorne Park. So you can see how much progress we've made.

According to the archives of the Muddy Tributary, the opening of the Greyhound station in March of '49 drew 5,000 people and included on display a bus tire that had been in service for 71,652 miles ... roughly the distance of a round-trip drive from Lakeview to John Day.

The terminal also included a restaurant, which over the years changed hands and eventually became home to Bonsai Teriyaki. These folks eventually escaped the bus station to their site near the old MT itself, which they will be forced to vacate once the negotiated portion of the Cherry Creek residential complex begins construction.

What price history, indeed.

Every action creates an equal and opposite over-reaction, thus the need some feel to save one wall of a bus station that's as old — and as current — as the Polaroid camera. Of course, folks could dig a little deeper in the Muddy Tributary and, if they did, they would discover that before the bus station was on the corner of Fifth and Bartlett, the site had been home since 1901 to the Butler family.

Greyhound purchased the lot in 1946 from daughter Gertrude Butler, who by that time had become the wife of Angus Bowmer — which, as it plays out, seems more historically interesting than making a tempest over a bus stop.

The past is re-assuring, until it's awkward. We've all had the experience of seeing someone for the first time in years, and sharing a few memories — until that terrifying moment you realize that, yes, this re-acquaintance is still living in 1984 (released in 1949, by the way) and doesn't accept that you're a few decades ahead.

We're comfortable with the past because most of us have spent more time there than we've spent in the future. But there are lessons to be learned in our remembrances of things yet to come.

Consider Capt. Jean-Luc Picard musing on the possibility of losing Starfleet's tennis match with the Borg: "I wonder if the Emperor Honorius watching the Visigoths coming over the seventh hill truly realized that the Roman Empire was about to fall. This is just another page in history, isn't it?"

History, like the "Star Trek" franchise, is continually rewritten and rebooted. Gasburg becomes Phoenix; a car dealership becomes the Medford post office while the old post office becomes the site of a health center; the Craterian Theater becomes the Ginger Rogers Craterian Theater and then the Ginger Rogers Stage off the Carpenter & Frohnmayer Lobbies next to the Berryman Lounge inside the Craterian Theatre at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts.

We tend to be selective about those remnants of the past we choose to preserve, for it's impossible to save or remember everything. For, as the philosopher Homer told us, "every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

Meanwhile, others prefer to sit before the sacred monolith like a group of chimpanzees clinging to the past while banging bones on assorted rocks.

Time may be slipping, slipping, slipping into the future — but more likely, as with the case of Homer's brain, it leaks. Like the swimming pool at Hawthorne Park.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com. Go ahead, push the big red button (www.85qm.de/up/BigRedButton.swf). You know you want to.