Photo by Slobodan DimitrovWorst-case scenario: on the way home from Starbucks tonight, Dan McIntyre loses control of his car, which spins off the freeway and pinwheels down an embankment into a remote gully, mangling and crushing his body, which isn't found until he has been dead—exposed to the elements, infested with insects, rotting—for three or four days.
"That would be the worst thing in the world," McIntyre agrees, nodding between sips on a grande something-or-other while—no kidding—"Que Sera Sera" floats out of the coffeehouse speakers to underscore the moment. "Either that, or let's say if I fly to Hawaii and the plane catches fire and goes down. What a tragedy that would be."
Best-case scenario: Dan McIntyre finishes his beverage, drives home safely, and kicks back to watch the Discovery Channel. He goes on to live a long and healthy life and then dies in a hospital surrounded by family, friends and—most important—members of the American Cryonics Society, who immediately cut off his head and freeze it in liquid nitrogen for 300 years, after which McIntyre is thawed, reanimated and goes on to live another 80 billion years.
"Well, that's probably as good as I can hope for, anyway," acknowledges McIntyre, whose whaddaya-gonna-do shrug suggests that certain aspects of this scenario—the dying, the decapitation and the 300 years in cold storage—still don't really appeal to him. He's resigned to the prospect that it will take two or three centuries to perfect the process of reanimating frozen heads. "But the best thing would be if I didn't have to die at all."
McIntyre must be feeling extra alive and lucky tonight, otherwise he wouldn't have come out for coffee and conversation without wearing his MedicAlert bracelet or necklace. "I only wear them when I think there's any chance I'm going to go ahead and die," he confides. That's most of the time. The MedicAlert pendants instruct whoever finds McIntyre's dead body to contact the American Cryonics Society—fast. "If it takes any more than 24 hours, I think I'll really be in bad shape," he says. "Things begin rotting immediately. If my body turns into too much mush, there won't be enough left to reanimate it."
Maybe it's his fascination with this strange new science, or maybe it's the caffeine kicking in, but McIntyre has begun to talk faster—fast enough that you silently renew your vow not to see Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man. "The point is," he is saying, "we're just here and everybody thinks of it as being reality. But when you have a context to compare this to—which is between the past and the future—for me, it's a great context. I go to cryonics seminars and meetings, which you don't have anywhere near enough of, and it's just so refreshing to hear other people who think that way and want to talk about it. I was reading this futuristic magazine, and one of the themes was a guy who belongs everywhere but here. Which is kind of true about me, I think."
Eventually it becomes clear that McIntyre is getting a rush from the risk he thinks he's taking, from the sense of adventure he's injected into the simple act of sitting and talking in a shopping-center coffeehouse without a MedicAlert tag.
"Every time I do something dangerous, I'm gambling," he says. "I don't fly anywhere near as often as I used to. I don't usually drive to Vegas at night because I consider it so much more dangerous than driving during the day. When I was just an atheist, all I was really gambling with was that 35 years or so of life I had left. But now, if something goes wrong, I just lost 80 billion years of life, which is the predicted life of the universe. I just lost 80 billion years, all of which I think are going to be fantastic."
Everlasting happiness has been McIntyre's aspiration—first as a born-and-raised Catholic, now as a fervent cryonicist—for most of his 45 years. The exception was the decade he spent as an atheist. "Believe it or not, one night in 1985, I just walked out of Mass, right before communion, and that was it for me," McIntyre recalls. "I'd been reading Carl Sagan's Cosmos, which isn't about atheism, but it got me thinking for the first time in my life. And I just had a revelation—right there in church, which is I guess where lots of people have them: this is all just completely made up! This 2,000-year-old Mediterranean peasant who couldn't even write is not coming back to save us."
McIntyre liked lots of things about being an atheist. "Mostly, it was a relief," he says. "I was just so glad to be done with this responsibility of trying to earn my way into heaven. I am naturally helpful. I try to be a good and sincere person. It's just that I was no longer trying to earn these points by going to church and reading the Bible."
But when McIntyre surrendered religion's scoreboard, he also relinquished its payoff: eternal rapture. "There was," he says, "still an emptiness in my life."