As part of our social studies curriculum, school systems throughout central Indiana used to send all their fourth-graders on a field trip to Conner Prairie as part of their mandatory Indiana history lessons. This well-known living history park up on the north side of the city recreates 19th-century Hoosier living with knowledgeable cosplayers in a recreated olde-tyme town filled with replica props and other learning opportunities about the Way Things Were.
I’m not sure if all our present school systems can still afford field trips nowadays, but back in our time, sooner or later everyone went to Conner Prairie. It was a local universal experience. The only memories I carry with me from my own field trip are of the fresh mud everywhere and of the re-enactor’s Q&A at which I found I was the only kid in my class who knew that horses’ feet were called “hooves”. True if depressing story.
It’s extremely rare for anyone to pay a second visit to Conner Prairie. Sometimes adults will when it’s their turn to chaperon their own kids’ field trips. Living history museums are consequently not an activity we look for in our annual road-trip itineraries. Anne and I get the gist of the interactive playacting learning experience. We pass. Except this one time.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
Our 2007 drive down to Orlando had one personal milestone for me: my first contact with the Atlantic Ocean. My moment lasted about ten minutes before thunderstorms chased us away from the coast. As Atlantic beach experiences go, Florida gave me a lousy first impression. For 2008 we decided a second try was in order. Rather than take back-to-back trips to the same state, we researched other east-coast beach options, judged them by their nearby attractions, adjusted for our modest budget that couldn’t possibly afford upper-class oceanfront accommodations, and settled on what we hoped would be a suitable sequel.
Thus in this year of our Lord did we declare: the Goldens are going to Virginia Beach!
After speeding away from Norfolk and the USS Wisconsin, our next site was due northwest at the Jamestown Settlement. The actual historical remains and archaeological wonders from that 1607 pioneering event are in one location. The Jamestown Settlement, on the other hand, is like a daily Ren Faire reenacting the lives of the very first white Americans and their indigenous new neighbors. Our Indiana upbringing prepared us grown-ups for the novelty. We hoped my son would get something out of it.
[SPECIAL NOTE: And now, over to Anne herself to narrate further details live on the scene from ten years ago…]
One can purchase combo tickets to the “Historic Triangle” that consists of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. However…while I would have much preferred the “hard history” of the Historic Jamestowne which boasts the above-mentioned archaeological remains, I had to be realistic about my husband’s and stepson’s lack of interest and settle oft-times for “soft history”. Hence, one site. And boy, was this soft.
We stopped first in the Jamestown Settlement’s cafeteria where Randy bought an overpriced crab-cake Burger, his son an over-priced hot dog, and I settled for an overpriced standard burger. Lesson for all travelers: never eat in the restaurant of a museum, zoo, or other family attraction. The food is horrible. You’re better off with a Quarter Pounder with Cheese from McDonald’s. It’s cheaper and tastes better.
We jumped into the gift shop as well, where I found someone that said they’d mail my long overdue postcards home…the next day when the postman stopped by. I smashed a few pennies while my husband and his son ogled faux Indian and Pilgrim paraphernalia. We walked through various displays interpreting the time period in general from living conditions in European cities to guesses as to what Pocahontas actually looked like.
Then, we headed out. The inside is an air-conditioned and fairly reverent museum. We headed outside to where the historical interpreters were milling and knitting and feeding chickens. Down the path were replica Indian domiciles . Further down, we found what we were looking for — the ships. Three replica ships from that era are there for a visitor’s perusal, with several employees on hand to relate the realities of shipboard life from the passengers’ below-deck life that was pathetic enough to make them look at steerage class aboard the Titanic with green eyes. Compare that to the private captain’s quarters that was big enough to house a Jefferson-sized bed. There were original ship manifests and period crockery/utensils/weapons…or maybe they were weapons/utensils/crockery…honestly, don’t they all look the same? And they were so tiny in those days.
We walked back to the settlement portion, which was a standard walled village with a lookout tower. Inside the wall were households with varying numbers of rooms, a butcher shop, a church that settlers had to attend multiple times daily or lose their dinner privileges, and a cannon demonstration.
It was actually interesting to me and almost made up for not seeing the remains of the church tower in the actual Jamestowne. Almost. We left around 4 PM, which is early for our standards, and debated going down the road to Yorktown. But, to be honest, I did not want my husband overextending himself and didn’t think my stepson should be forced to endure any more history and risk losing his video game privileges for a week.
[SPECIAL NOTE: …And now, back over to me at the MCC home office for the wrap-up.]
About that buried lede: my son had been patient for the past few days’ worth of sightseeing attempts — the taping of a TV show he’d never heard of, the hot and boring beach, the even hotter battleship, the bad meals, and so on. History was not his thing. He was far from enthusiastic about this trip in the first place, long before my medical problems kept interfering. At a certain point in the middle of sweltering, not-exactly-mind-blowing Jamestown, he decided he’d had it with this entire week and he was done. Period. He benched himself (on a literal bench, not just sports-metaphorically), refused to look or learn any further, and waited for us adults to finish our tour of the exhibits. Under the circumstances, it was hard to argue. We left him to his self-time-out and wrapped up our browsing not long after.
We left Jamestown not in the best of moods and just in time for rush hour, made even trickier by nearby construction on I-64. I tried to be clever by whipping out my trusty road maps and navigating us back to Hampton without benefit of interstate. I took one wrong turn, but otherwise worked it out.
We returned to the hotel so I could catch my breath after another rounds of physical pains, and so we could try to extract a dinner idea from the Hampton Roads phone book, which covered all of the Virginia cities mentioned so far in this thread, along with several we never got around to visiting such as Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Newport News. I cross-referenced the addresses of a few Hampton-based eateries with my road maps and figured out where the heaviest commercial areas were. Then we set out cruising those areas to see what we could find and gave Hampton one last chance to impress us.
One hour and one full circle later, we concluded Hampton sucks. Most of the dinner options we saw were either franchised or ramshackle. At one point we stopped at Subway and grabbed a five-buck footlong just so the boy wouldn’t have to starve, then kept going. We drove past a few sites like the local aquarium and the Hampton Air Power Park, either of which might have warranted sightseeing if we’d had an extra day, and any patience left for this place, and smaller appetites.
We wound up at a Texas steakhouse chain called Texas Steakhouse, which is no relation to the Texas steakhouse chain we have here in Indiana called Texas Roadhouse. We decided to pretend this house of steak a la Texas would be totally different and unique. I even pretended my main dish of Coffee-Rubbed Steak Tips was exotic and authentic Virginian cuisine, not unlike the crab cake burger from the Jamestown Settlement café or the burger-with-crab-cake-on-it from the Purple Cow.
At the end of the night, I’d finally recuperated to a level of confidence high enough to try visiting the hotel pool. Once I adapted to the cryogenic temperature, my muscles appreciated the relaxation, and my mind appreciated the meditative mini-vacation away from our family vacation for a while.
To be continued!
1. To this day my son claims to have no memory of this entire vacation. He did, however, express greater interest in history as he got into high school and beyond…as long as it was authentic history. Preferably other countries’ histories, unless it involved anyone of George Washington’s stature or greater.
2. Keep in mind these were ancient times before our family owned any smartphones, and before Google Maps simplified the act of impromptu restaurant research on location. Errors can still happen, but it’s been ages since we’ve opened a phone book in another state. Or had a genuine, full-sized, heavyweight phone book in any of our hotel rooms, come to think of it.]
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