Pacing through the Pines

Ben Franklin drops in on the Scarecrow Festival

Special to The CambrianJuly 3, 2013 

Imagine seeing Ben Franklin arrive on the walking path west of the intersection of Highway 1 and Cambria Drive. Yes, that Franklin, the 18th century scientist, writer, editor, printer, political theorist, statesman, inventor, postmaster, diplomat, political theorist and satirist.

A spherical hole had opened up in the thick late morning overcast and, with a soft “boom,” a human figure was eased down to terra firma in the same fashion as the lunar landing craft brought the astronauts from their orbiting spacecraft to the surface of the moon.

This reporter drives by and sees the redoubtable Franklin, stops, and walks back to the visibly shaken man with those familiar spectacles and that editor’s vest.

I introduce myself as autos whoosh by at 65 mph. He is confused, but his virtuoso mind is fascinated with the traffic lights that turn red, yellow and green.

Noting that the changing color of lights stop cars coming one way and allows other cars to move forward brings a grin to his face.  I explain that sensors in the road adjust the timing of the lights.

“What are sensors?” Ben asks. He pulls out a well-worn note pad from his breast pocket and jots down notes. You would expect a time traveler to freak out, but Ben accepts that either he is having a vivid dream, or he is somewhere extraordinary — and he can’t wait to learn more!

Ben looks across Highway 1 and sees a scarecrow gripping the street sign, parallel to the ground as though a violent wind is blowing him away. “But there’s no wind,” the time-traveler shouts over the roar of an approaching motorcycle club. “Oh my, what are those appalling machines?” he asks, lurching backwards. I urge him to hang in there.

We hit the pedestrian “cross” button. He is stunned that pushing a button on a pole allows us to cross. We walk briskly over to Rabobank. I need cash so I slide my debit card into the ATM and seven 20s are ejected.

“Who is Andrew Jackson?” Ben asks, after I hand him one of the bills.

“Jackson served eight years in the White House, beginning in 1829,” I let him know.

He waits outside while I go in to the bank and exchange the 20s for a $100 bill.

His expression transitions from incredulity to astonishment when he sees his own face on the $100 bill. But the smile turns to a puckered brow. “Did my descendants authorize this use of my image?” he demands.

“Ben, I’m not sure, but people remember you were a founder of our country.”

He smiles. “Yes, a founder, but never did I flounder,” he quipped.

We walk towards the East Village. Drivers slow down to gawk at this man who looks for all the world like Ben Franklin. Ben is totally taken by the singing nuns and clergy scarecrows in front of the Catholic Church.

He whipped out his little note pad and started sketching the scarecrows. “Hey Ben, let’s use my phone,” I say, as I photograph the scarecrows with my iPhone, showing him the picture in three seconds. “Oh my! Oh my! Please explain this to me,” he says with urgency.

I demonstrate to him that a phone — “What is a phone?” — allows users to talk to people from a distance (I called a friend in Wisconsin and let Ben him talk to him). I also point out its computer technologies, but the fog has cleared and Ben is awestruck with the white contrail of a jetliner high above so it’s impossible to keep him focused on Google, Yahoo, the Green Bay Packers website and YouTube.

Two boys roll by on skateboards. “That’s a brilliant use of the wheel!” Ben says.

We make it to the Cambria Historical Museum at the Guthrie-Bianchini House and — once I drag him away from the diverse scarecrow community adorning the grounds — I explain that the museum was built in 1870 and sold in 1882 to a man named Benjamin H. Franklin, adding that, “He claimed to be a descendent of yours but offered no proof.

“This is a typical American home built 80 years after your passing,” I continue as we walk up the steps. The docent at the museum believes this is a man in a Ben Franklin costume, and says, “Welcome to 2013, Ben!”

“Twenty thirteen? Really? You didn’t say what year this was! Am I in a dream?” he asks. “No, Ben, you’re here, in Cambria, in 2013; this is the fourth annual scarecrow festival.”

After I take him to the Cambria Post Office (he was, after all, America’s first postmaster), he is tired; we return to a bench in front of the museum.

He takes a deep breath. “OK then, what about the American government? How is Congress doing these days?”

“You don’t want to know, Ben,” I replied.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john

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