For the first season, I loved watching Lost. By midway through the second season, I was lost.

Nothing was making any sense. Could we possibly trust "the others"? Would Ben turn out to be a good guy in the end? Which Locke was the real Locke? And what was up with the smoke monster? There were so many inexplicable details, so many unexpected twists and turns, by the end of season two, I had absolutely no idea of what was going on. It's really kind of hard to articulate why I kept watching for the entire six seasons! Maybe it was because of the beautiful scenery? Maybe because I had a crush on Kate? Maybe because my wife continued to watch? Maybe because I sometimes found myself being mindlessly entertained, even though I followed not a whit of the plot thread? Maybe because I expected some epiphany in the final season, or the series finale? (Didn't happen.)

The episodes I found most ludicrous, out of all this ludicrousness, were the ones involving time travel. For a high-budget show with some fairly sophisticated effects, the portrayal of moving through time couldn't have been more hokey: Shaky visual, loud explosion, and poof! Everyone's wearing bell bottoms, fringed vests -- looking like characters out of Hair. Sure, you had to take everything you saw on Lost with a grain of salt, but the time travel back to the `70's was downright ridiculous.

Now speaking of crazy journies, last week I found myself in L.A. with my wife and our youngest son on the last leg of that Magical Mystery Tour known as college visits. And though the printout of my ticket shows that we arrived at LAX on jetBlue flight 677 from JFK, it might as well have been Oceanic flight 815 from Sydney.

Because what I discovered in L.A. is that time travel is real.

With a gap day in our campus visit schedule, we headed over to Santa Monica, and I treated myself to a run along the Promenade, or Ocean Front Walk, or whatever you want to call that stretch of boardwalk on the beach with separate lanes for pedestrian traffic and for those on wheels -- bikers, trikers, roller bladers, skate boarders, and scooter-ers. It had been almost 30 years since I'd last been on that stretch.

And nothing's changed!

Blissed-out women in long, flowery dresses. Teenagers and twenty-somethings sitting cross-legged, in clusters, with a pungent aroma swirling from their midst. Peace signs on T-shirts. Impromptu concerts. Live radio broadcasts. Sly and the Family Stone Afros. Sun-bleached, scraggly war vets cleaning up in the public lavatories. Dreadlocked mystics playing drums. Surfer dudes. Bare feet. Bandannas. Love beads.

Oh, there was a nod to the present here and there -- your fair share of stunning, toned women in skin-tight, anything-goes, outlandish workout gear, accessorized to the hilt, gracefully power-rollerblading while talking on cell phones.

But for the most part it was Revenge of the Hippies. The commercial strip along Venice Beach said it all. Head shops. Bike and skate rentals. Souvenir and T-shirt stores. Tattoo parlors and health food dispenseries. Cafes, bars, and flea markets. Refreshment stands. Bike racks. Clusters of parked motorcycles. And in the background, surrounded by ocean mist, the surreal outline of the Santa Monica Pier, with its enormous ferris wheel and roller coaster. Far out.

I found myself breaking into a huge grin as I soaked up the scene. And for the whole 50 minutes of my run, I couldn't wipe that dumb smile off my face. Contact high, maybe?

Two days later, we were back on the plane to JFK. And then on to Westport. No shaky visual, no loud explosion -- but definitely back to the future.