The Stapleton family always took pride in planning their annual vacation. Dad would spread a map across the kitchen table, mom would serve the kids their favorite ice cream, and together they’d fantasize about all of the places they could visit. The kids would usually start with far and exotic places, forcing mom to rein them in, narrowing the search to a more manageable radius of a few hundred miles. Eventually dad would make a choice, but still do his best to make it feel like a group decision. The truth was this year he had a specific place in mind. He hadn’t considered anything else since a friend returned from vacation and talked endlessly about the whole thing. Dad very much wanted to feel like that friend. He wanted stories to tell. He wanted to be the one giving advice on where to go and what to do. Mom was mostly indifferent, and the kids were always happy to be away from home for a week, wherever that was.
This year dad decided to “do it right” as he’d say in idle moments to co-workers. He had managed to save a little more money than normal and wanted to splurge on the kinds of extras he wouldn’t usually consider. So he visited the local travel agent in town and was sold a deluxe family package – a resort style vacation with everything included. That night he pulled into the driveway feeling like a conquering hero. When he told the family about it they screamed with joy, agreeing it would be the best vacation they’d ever had. That night, mom and dad stayed awake well past 10:30 talking about everything on the schedule – the different exhibits, the great restaurants, and of course the hotel. Just before turning out the light mom softly asked if “the Philadelphia Zoo is really as great as we’ve heard.” Dad put his thick arm around her, pulled her close, and reassured her that it most certainly was everything and more.
The first exhibit they visited was the one dad was most excited about – Fishtown. After arriving at the hotel, and freshening up from a long car ride, the family wasted no time getting out the door and on with the fun. The deluxe package allowed them access to restricted areas, which meant they could easily move from the standard museum style exhibits to the more immersive experiential stuff like interacting with locals. The exhibit was organized by era and every family member had a different area of interest so they split up as soon as they got inside, agreeing to meet up again at the end of the day. Bobby, the oldest son, went to Penn Treaty Park to the see an artistically rendered plastic replica of the tree under which William Penn signed a peace treaty with the Lenape – the original inhabitants of the area. Marie, the younger daughter, decided to go on the guided virtual reality tour of the industrial era, complete with period accurate factories and worker rooming houses. Mom, very much a student of recent history chose to visit the edges of the exhibit areas where remnants of Reagan-era blight were still visible. This was the first day of a new sub-exhibit where historic re-enactors of the street drug epidemic created an air of excitement. It couldn’t be missed. Dad, having driven all day, decided to relax and bask in the present day. He sat at a coffee shop nursing a latte and eavesdropping on nearby tables, excited to be experiencing the place from within. He then packed up his things and took a long stroll through residential streets, taking pictures of the old and new, watching closely how those particular people in that particular place go about their daily lives – the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the things they talk about. An immersion in their culture.
When it was nearing dark they all met at the exit gate, extremely excited to share everything they’d seen. They went to the hotel immediately and plugged into their devices, uploading the experiences before they were forgotten forever. Afterwards, when they sat down for a fancy dinner, they each had the same passing thought, but didn’t dare talk about it. They didn’t know if they were creating their own memories and experiences or living out the images that brought them there in the first place. Then the drinks and appetizers hit the table and everything was fine again.