July 21, 2013

Day 2: Indianapolis

Today's word was "relaxed." After late-night merriment in Milwaukee, my plan to run along Lake Michigan was sidelined for time with friends, a leisurely breakfast, and a little bit of extra rest. Toll roads and traffic accidents slowed us down, but a low-key evening with our friends washed away any residual stress.

The scenery was pleasant if not especially dramatic: green grass, tall rows of corn, the occasional "Oasis" - a giant food court stretching over the freeway.

Sam remembered eating at one during a childhood vacation to Washington, D.C.. He recalled being fascinated by cars whizzing by below; he remembered a Hardees turkey sandwich and his toddler sister taking a bite of their father's thumb.

While I had never seen an Oasis before, I could relate to the clarity and intensity of old vacation memories.

Riding in a tourist boat in Amsterdam with my dad, making silly faces at the people strolling along the canal. Panning for gold in South Dakota, proudly bringing home my little vial of water and sparkly flakes, thinking them far more precious than they were. Eating bubble gum ice cream on the way home from Lake Itasca and getting blue gum stuck in my hair. Walking through a German grocery store with my mom, admiring the displays of flowers, buying milk in a paper box, and eating a pale bratwurst and a soft pretzel purchased from a street vendor. 

Most of my life has not been a vacation. But if you lined up every clear, specific memory in my brain, I suspect a disproportionate number would be from trips I've taken. I remember things about my school and home life, but those memories are painted with broader strokes and borders that bleed together: my mom stirring a steaming pot on the stove, my dad reading a book on the patio, my brother and me playing Atari games in the basement. They're general impressions, not specific moments.

Perhaps our brain records vacations differently; awash in the novelty of a new place, we categorize our experiences in a way that makes them easier to archive into long-term memory.

If this is true, then I suspect my kids are forming lifelong memories right now. Felix is probably too young, but Evie, at 6, might remember something from this trip forever.

Maybe it will be walking along the rocks to the edge of Lake Michigan.

Maybe it will be putting on a fashion show with her friend Sam in Indianapolis.

Maybe it will be eating lollipops in the back seat and realizing, to her horror, that her little brother is rubbing his lollipop along the bottom of his shoe.

Maybe it will be looking out the window at a field full of windmills in Indiana, or a herd of grazing bison in Wisconsin.

Maybe it will be eating a Happy Meal at a restaurant above the freeway.

After all, it's a memorable place.

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