Episode 38 — Chapter 44
“It’s okay to be nervous, Ty. Everyone feels that way their first time up.”
Cobb took a deep breath. “I can’t imagine how this ocean liner’s going to get off the ground.”
“Me neither,” Calvin agreed. “Doesn’t make any sense at all, but there are thousands of planes up in the air, around the world, every day.”
The plane gradually lifted off the ground.
“See, they did it again,” Calvin joked. “We’re in the air.”
Cobb’s hands were tensely holding the arm rest. “How far up do we go?”
“I dunno. Twenty-five or thirty thousand feet or so.”
The plane’s head was pitched upward and the sound of engines reverberated loudly inside the cabin. Cobb felt the pressure in his ears change. His eyes were riveted to the view from the cabin window, as he observed trees, cars and buildings rapidly shrink below him. It was a mind-bending experience passing through clouds. Once the plane reached its normal flying altitude, it seemed as if the plane was floating in the sky and Cobb was surprised that he felt relatively calm.
Cobb and Cain had been busy as March came to an end. Cain could sense that his guest was getting increasingly restless and he knew that Cobb would not be content to be a farmhand forever. One step toward Cobb’s independence had been acquiring a driver’s license and social security number. Without that, he wouldn’t get far. With Calvin the local celebrity and Savannah’s power of gentle persuasion, the local DMV clerk had been only too happy to help a dear family friend who had recently moved in, but lost his credentials. Cobb’s birth month and day remained the same, but the year was advanced more than a hundred years to reflect his present age of twenty-five. Once he had obtained his driver’s license, Savannah helped Cobb open a bank account, obtain a debit card and ultimately receive a social security card.
Calvin had suggested that Cobb use his middle name in introductions to local dwellers, but Cobb would have nothing of it. He was proud of his first name and insisted that he be introduced accordingly. Armed with identification and a new found feeling of independence, Cobb finally got the courage to confront his benefactor.
“Cal, I need to go home… to Detroit. I need to see if I can find my wife and children. Who knows, maybe they’ve been thrust into this crazy world, too, just like me. Maybe they’ve been waiting every day for me to walk through the door. I won’t have peace until I know for sure.”
Calvin understood. It might be best for him to return to the city he called home. Perhaps he would meet someone there who remembered him, who knew his true identity. “Fine, Ty. Let’s take a trip.”
“I can go myself, if you could help arrange for the tickets. I’ll see that you’re repaid when I’m able to start earning a wage.”
“Ty, you’ve earned plenty working for us, though you won’t accept a dime. Plus, I’ve been gettin’ antsy around here myself… I should be in Florida now, getting ready for the coming season. Taking a road trip will help get my mind off spring training.”
The massive flying contraption began descending into Detroit’s air space; Cobb was aghast at the spectacle of man-made monuments scraping the sky in the growing darkness; the city bore little resemblance to 1911 Detroit. Man-made structures seemed to have sprouted in all directions, like a fast-spreading virus.
By the time the two men disembarked the plane and reached the taxi line, the sky had darkened considerably and the first pellets of hail began to fall from the sky. A few, tired travelers waited ahead of Cobb and Cain, but cabs were scarce and it took twenty minutes for them to find shelter in a vehicle. Cobb barked out the Commonwealth Street address to the driver.
Cobb was breathless with anticipation as they entered metropolitan Detroit. He had expected to feel at home upon arriving, but the city was anything but familiar. There was only a vague familiarity with the landscape and river that ran between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, but none of the bridges that straddled the waterway were recognizable. The height of buildings downtown seemed to have pierced the heavens, far higher than anything Cobb could have imagined—and they too, were new structures which he had never seen before.
For several minutes, they passed through areas that were foreign and uncharted, but gradually Cobb sensed a vague familiarity with random structures and streets. Mingled within glimpses of recognition was a dark foreboding that invaded Cobb’s psyche as he took note of the disrepair and deterioration. Ungroomed lawns and shrubs littered the landscape, while strange symbols and lettering adorned random walls. Many dwellings looked abandoned with broken or boarded windows.
Hail continued to bombard the vehicle, masking Cobb’s pounding heart as the cab finally turned onto Commonwealth. Here, the neighborhood appeared more alive than the squalor they had traversed. As the cab drove past large ash and elm trees lining the street, Cobb felt a distant kinship to the weathered Victorian structures and their gabled terraces.
“This is my neighborhood, Cal,” Cobb spoke hopefully. “It’s changed… changed a good deal, but I remember it.”
The driver soon pulled to a stop. Before them stood a three-story redbrick house, with a large swing hanging from the front-porch ceiling.
“There it is,” Cobb spoke with renewed optimism, pointing to the brick duplex as the hail began to relent. The front lawn was struggling to grow in the early spring warmth, but the lone elm tree had yet to sprout any buds.
Cobb stepped out of the cab and walked up the sidewalk, his right arm over his head to shield him from ice pellets falling from the sky. His face down, he noticed the concrete walkway filled with fissures and cracks.
“Keep it running,” Calvin told the driver, as he exited the vehicle. “We’ll only be here a couple of minutes.”
“Make it quick!”
Calvin followed Cobb, walking up the wooden steps to the porch front where they had temporary shelter from the hail. The window curtains were drawn. Cobb pushed the door bell without any response. He knocked loudly on the door.
Still no answer.
Moments later, a light flickered on and the curtains moved back and forth. There was the sound of a barking dog coming from inside the dwelling.
“Who’s there?” called a baritone female voice.
“Hello. Please open the door. I used to live here. Please.”
The door opened a crack revealing a metal chain and outline of a slender, older woman with short gray hair; she was holding a Bassett hound.
“Go away, or I’ll call the police!” the lady commanded.
“Nobody’s going to hurt you,” Calvin interrupted in a friendly tone. “My friend is simply looking for his wife and children. They’ve gone missing. They used to live here.”
“You must have the wrong address,” the woman responded, in a slightly inebriated tone. “I’ve owned this place for more than ten years.”
“You ever hear of a lady named Charlie?” Cobb inquired plaintively.
“I don’t know any woman named Charlie.”
Cobb continued in a mournful tone, “Excuse me, ma’am, my name’s Cobb. Ty Cobb. I used to live here. I’m just trying to find my wife and kids.”
“What did you say your name was?”
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
The lady turned on the porch light, but kept the chain latched. “My God. You look just like him.”
“Like who, ma’am?”
“Like Ty Cobb. People come around from time to time, asking to see where the great Ty Cobb used to live.”
Calvin stepped forward, “I’m trying to help my friend. I know this will sound totally insane, but through some bizarre twist of fate, my friend walked out of 1911 Detroit into the present. This is where he lived… in this house with his wife and kids.”
“I’ve watched some programs about people who claimed to travel in time,” the lady responded. “Never really believed it, but your friend sure looks like the man in those photographs… I’ve got a couple of pictures of Mr. Cobb hanging in the dining room… left over from when I bought the place.”
The lady looked back at Cobb. His head was hanging and his eyes had misted over.
“Really sorry I can’t help you, mister,” the lady spoke tenderly.
“Thanks for your time, ma’am,” Calvin said. “Ty, we need to go.”
“Maybe it’s his ghost, “ the lady gave a shiver, whispering to herself as she closed the door.
Calvin led his friend back to the car.
“I don’t understand…” Cobb muttered.
Calvin put his arm around his friend, but couldn’t find any words of comfort. He opened the back door to the taxi and gave the driver the name of their hotel.
“When the door opened, I expected to see Charlie and my young‘uns. But, I can’t picture them anymore. I can’t remember Ty Jr.’s face or the look in baby Shirley’s eyes.”
“You’ve been away a long time,” Calvin tried to soothe his friend.
“What’s happening to me?”
There was silence inside the car during the ride to the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit. They had dinner at the ground floor restaurant. Cobb showed scant interest in his food and Calvin found an unresponsive listener to the Motor City escapades from his playing days. Several drinks later, they took the elevator up to their respective rooms.
Little was spoken over breakfast the following morning in the hotel café. Calvin knew his friend was suffering and an idea had come to him in the middle of the night. He just wasn’t sure if the time was right to share it.
Finishing off his second cup of coffee, Calvin watched Cobb carving off a piece of French toast on his plate, with a faraway look in his eyes. There was no use putting it off.
“Ty, I think we should make another stop here before getting on the plane.”
Cobb glanced up at Cain expressionless, before stabbing a piece of sausage with his fork.
“I still carry a little weight in baseball circles. I’ve met the Tigers’ owner, Jake Drummond, a time or two. Let’s pay him a visit.”
The words seemed to awaken Cobb from his melancholy funk. Clearing his throat, he nodded, “I reckon I’m still in the Tigers’ employ.”