On a recent Friday night, Risto Pakarinen was sitting on a half-empty 3 train going uptown, his legs stretched out and his black-and-yellow hoodie unzipped. He was on his way back to Harlem where he and his friend, Ari Lepisto, a fellow Finn, were spending the night.
They were in town to check a few items off Lepisto’s bucket list, heavily slanted towards sports events. It wasn’t the first time the duo had done it. A few years ago, when Lepisto wanted to cross out “watching a Premier League football game” off the list, Pakarinen joined him on the trip to Craven Cottage in London to see Fulham take on West Bromwich.
This time, the mission was to see a National Hockey League game, a somewhat surprising item on Lepisto’s list, considering the two became friends when they played Division III hockey in Finland two decades ago.
By the time they were on that 3 train, though, they had already successfully completed the mission having witnessed the New York Rangers rally from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks at the Madison Square Garden the night before.
Now they were returning home from a Knicks game, a first for both.
As the subway train’s doors opened on the 72nd street, in walked a young man in his 20s. He was wearing blue jeans and T-shirt (because it was unseasonably warm in New York) and he sat down across the aisle from Pakarinen and Lepisto.
Pakarinen glanced at the man and smiled. He poked Lepisto with his elbow and pointed at his chest.
“What?” Lepisto said.
“I’m wearing a similar Back to the Future T-shirt,” Pakarinen said. “I’m going to tell him that.”
The young man kept looking down, while Pakarinen opened up his hoodie a little more, to reveal the blue T-shirt with “Back to the Future” printed over an image of the DeLorean that “Doc” Brown turned into a time machine in the 80s classic film.
He coughed, but the sound got buried under New York subway’s loud clonking. Only Lepisto heard it. He looked at his friend amused.
The young man finally looked up from his phone when the train pulled up at the 96th St. station. He glanced up to see where the train was and saw Pakarinen point at himself with a huge grin on his face.
“Oh my God,” the young man exclaimed. “Oh my God, that is hilarious. That’s so funny.”
“I know!” Pakarinen said, channeling “Monica”, a character played by Courtney Cox in the 1990s hit show Friends.
“Did you get that at the Universal Studios?” the young man asked Pakarinen.
“I did, years ago. They used to have these at the NBC store at the Rockefeller Center but I didn’t find any today,” Pakarinen said and made a sad face.
“They have a bunch of these at Old Navy. The 80s are in again.”
“Really? I’ll have to go there,” Pakarinen said, and poked Lepisto again.
“That’s so hilarious, though,” the young man went on. “I love that movie, it’s my favorite movie.”
“Mine, too. I’ve seen it, like, fifty times,” Pakarinen said. “I mean, not a day goes buy that I don’t quote some line from the movie.”
“That’s just awesome. My sister had a friend in college, well, she loved in the same dorm with my sister. Anyway, she turned out to be Biff’s daughter.”
The young man’s jaw dropped at his own announcement.
“No way,” said Pakarinen.
“Yeah, apparently he didn’t want to talk about being Biff that much. I think he even wrote about book about it, called I Want My Future Back.”
“Oh,” Pakarinen said, and added, apparently having processed the new information, “I can understand that. Although, I think he’s doing the conventions, I just saw a video with him and Lea Thompson.”
“It’s an amazing movie. An amazing movie.”
“A friend of mine told me that somebody arranges events where you dress up as characters in the movie and then follow instructions that get you from one place to another until the event ends with a screening of the movie. In London. England,” Pakarinen said.
The young man’s jaw dropped again.
“That’s amazing. A-mazing.”
“I know!” Pakarinen said again. “Listen, I just found this new podcast called “The Soundtrack Show” that explains movie soundtracks and they just did Back to the Future. It was a two-parter! The first part covered the Alan Silvestri score and Part II the pop songs that were on the soundtrack.”
“What was the name of the podcast? That sounds amazing. I’ve been looking for a podcast like that,” the young man said just as the train left the 116th Street station.
Pakarinen repeated the name of the show, and got up. “This is our stop.”
“Nice talking to you. So funny about the T-shirt.”
The next day, Pakarinen and Lepisto were back on the 125th Street station, and back on the 3 train, only this time, they were traveling downtown in a crowded morning rush hour train.
A middle aged lady dressed in all pink got on the train at the 116th street and pressed herself against Lepisto. She then stared at Pakarinen, and asked him, “who’s that?”
Pakarinen was dumbfounded for a second before he realized the woman meant the person on his T-shirt.
“Want to guess?” he said, humoring the lady.
“Is it … Pink Floyd?”
“No, it’s Christopher Lloyd,” Pakarinen said, visibly happy with his rhyming answer.
“I don’t know him.”
“He played “Doc” Brown in Back to the Future.”
“Oh, I don’t watch TV. Or movies. But I’m on Facebook,” the lady said, and stepped out of the train.
After a day on the town, another hockey game – the Oilers at New York Rangers – and yet another question about Pakarinen’s Doc Brown T-shirt at a Western shop – “Is that … don’t tell me … Back to the Future?” – Lepistö and Pakarinen were back on the 3 train, once again going uptown.
“Let’s get off at the 116th Street this time and walk up instead,” Pakarinen said to Lepisto as they took their places on the train.
In front of Pakarinen, who was standing, there was a family of four, and their grandmother who was chatting with her granddaughters, while her daughter sat silently between her husband and their eldest daughter.
She looked exactly like Lea Thompson, the actress who plays the female lead, “Lorraine”, in Back to the Future. Pakarinen unzipped his hoodie on the off chance that the woman would jump up and say, “hey, that’s Christopher Lloyd as “Doc” Brown, and I know him because I played “Lorraine.”
But she just looked down, at her hands, until the train was about to stop at the 116th Street. She whispered to her daughter, “the next stop is ours.”
Then she looked up at Pakarinen, and smiled.
“It couldn’t have been her,” Pakarinen said to Lepisto as they walked towards the 116th Exit, the echo of the train leaving the platform making it almost impossible for Lepisto to hear a word Pakarinen was saying. “Right?”
“I guess you’ll never know,” Lepisto said, and added, “Meeting her should be on your bucket list.”