At any rate, in the dream, I headed down to the hotel with several coworkers. Exploration was our goal, Dark Passage-style. Urban archeology. We broke in—it wasn’t hard—and began poking around. To our astonishment, one of the elevators was in working order. It arrived with a tremendous groaning sound just seconds after LB pressed the call button.
We got in. The buttons for the highest floors did not seem to work, but we were able to get up to the thirty-second floor. The hallway was filled with detritus and kipple, but there was a window at the far end. Sunlight streamed in. The view from that window—looking eastward across the bay, toward the Oakland cranes—was staggeringly beautiful.
As others began to kick open long-rotted doors into the various rooms, I was pondering the control panel back in the elevator. Aside the two tall columns of numbered buttons, there was a separate, shorter column, surrounded by an intricate border. Here is a rough sketch:
The scribble at the top of that shorter column read “Elsewhere.” The labels next to the buttons in the Elsewhere column were all faded beyond legibility save for the top one, which was still partially visible. It read: 3rd &
When my friends had grown tired of exploring the empty rooms, we piled back into the elevator, and I said I wanted to try the “3rd &” button. No one objected, so I pressed it. The elevator descended thirty-two floors, landed with a hollow clunk, and then began to move sideways. I remember turning to ED and saying, “I guess it’s like the elevator in Willy Wonka’s factory.”
At any rate, we were moving sideways, and suddenly, the wooden paneling that had covered the walls of the elevator car slid downward, revealing windows all around. Looking out the window on the left-hand side, I saw that we were moving toward a set of double doors. They opened just as we reached them, and the elevator car left the building. We were out in the open now, and could see that we were slowly traveling west through the China Basin district. Looking out and down, I realized that the car was moving along an old railroad track.
After a couple hundred yards, the track curved south and our car picked up speed. I felt very worried that this ancient track would at some point peter out, covered up by asphalt as so many of them are, and that our car would derail. We’d all be mangled. But the track remained unbroken and uncovered, and the car continued to accelerate. The racket made by the car’s wheels scraping along was extraordinary. MP remarked that she was beginning to feel sick.
The track began to curve westward again, and I realized that up ahead there was a newspaper stand only a few feet off the track that clearly had not been there decades ago when our strange ride had made its last run. We would not clear it. I screamed at everybody to brace for impact, and just as the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard tracknoise became deafening, we struck the stand, which shattered—exploded, really—into a million pieces, as if it had been made of nothing more substantial than popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. Our car barely shuddered; it kept speeding up, and then it turned sharply northward for a few blocks before coming to an abrupt stop.
The sunlight had grown dim. In fact, the sun was no longer where it had been before the collision. When we left the hotel, it was high in the sky—I’m guessing the time was around two in the afternoon. But now it was dusk, the sun was barely visible over the hills to the west, which seemed more bare than they should have been.
Our car had come to rest in the middle of an intersection in some sort of abandoned district. A ghost town, really. ED pressed the Door Open button, and the doors, which now faced east, slid open. We stepped down onto a street of badly-deteriorated brick. All around us stood one- and two-story buildings, wooden, dilapidated, windows missing, signs faded into nothingness. There was a slight breeze. Warm. There was a distinct odor of old books in the air.
Where was Rod Serling? I kept waiting for him to appear from behind one of the structures, grey suit clean as a whistle, cigarette in hand, eyebrows twitching. “Submitted for your approval,” he would say to an invisible audience as we looked on, “ten young people out for an afternoon of exploration in the ruins of an abandoned hotel. But what these citizens of the twenty-first century did not know, what they are just now beginning to discern, is that the hotel held within it a means of transport previously unknown to them, or to anyone else from their time. And the excursion they have just completed has taken them straight into a forgotten era. For the endpoint of their travels lies in the heart … of the Twilight Zone.”
LB, always the voice of reason, ordered us back into the elevator. Her reasoning was entirely sound: “We don’t even know if this thing can take us back! We need to know!” I took a last look around. There was a street sign at the corner of the intersection. I could make out “3rd” on the piece that pointed north and south; the lettering on the east-west portion was, of course, faded away. I also noticed a streetlight, trying to flicker itself to life. “Matthew!” screamed LB, and I hopped back up into the elevator as MP pressed the “Lobby” button. The doors closed and we began moving northward again. I rushed to the back of the car (the right-hand side, actually, if you want to call the doors the “front”), looking back at this ancient vision of 3rd Street, and at that moment, the streetlight I’d noticed before finally shook off its years of grime and wear and flashed into its full intensity. It was then, as the car ground onward at greater and greater speed, that a grey-suited figure finally emerged from one of the buildings and stood in the middle of the intersection of 3rd & something, watching us go. We were already several blocks away, and soon all I could make out in the increasing dimness was the orange dot of his lit cigarette-end, flaring up as he took a puff.
Someone shouted “Hold on!” and I didn’t even have to turn around to know what was about to happen. We hit a newspaper stand and continued on, faster and faster, rounding a corner, turning back eastward, but I just kept staring out the back of the car, trying to make sense of it all. And then my window was gone: The wood paneling crept back out of its hiding-place, covering up the glass panes, and a few seconds later, the elevator came to a halt. There was ding. On the display above the doors, a single word lit up: LOBBY. The doors opened. And there we were, back in the hotel.