the world is my museum

As someone who is highly prone to motion sickness, I am very concerned.

In three days, my father-in-law, husband, and I are going to be leaving for a ten-day trip to the Galapagos; seven of those days we will be on a boat, and a relatively small boat, at that. Judging from the website, it’s going to be a very nice boat, but it’s no Carnival cruise ship. I will feel the waves.

More important than the fear of spending my time on board hanging over the side, though, is the excitement of what we’re going to see. Since the time in elementary school when I did a report on the Galapagos (way back when kids did reports using things like “encyclopedias” and “library books”), I have been intrigued by this tiny chain of islands 600 miles off Ecuador’s west coast.

For most people, the Galapagos aound familiar for three reasons: finches, giant tortoises, and Charles Darwin. I’m sure I’d be able to expound on all three of these things in a much more intelligent and fact-filled way after the trip, but you know that theory of evolution? That happened there. A lot.

Museums like to present timelines of stuff. As humans, we connect to the past by relating it to our present, and imagining our future. It’s fun to look back and see how things have changed, even if it’s a little scary to see how quickly this can sometimes happen. As it is, I had to explain a clothesline to my son yesterday. He did know what I was talking about, but referred to it as “old-timey”. And did you know that phones used to have cords? Like, attached to them? Weird.

We’ve all seen those little drawings depicting man ascending from apes (sorry, Rick Santorum). We’ve also been to museums and have seen rows of objects, be they dinosaur and chicken skeletons or Barbie dolls, aircraft or artworks. Humans, I think, understand change when you can see it.

What has already amazed me through the scant research and preparation I have done (the extent of my packing currently includes Keen sandals and SPF 50) is being able to see, in present condition, how organisms have changed. Distinct populations of animals live on each island, and have adapted certain characteristics to ensure their survival in that particular niche. Beak shape, hunting tactics, shell form, ability to swim and feed in salt water…the birds and reptiles of the Galapagos are remarkable survivalists, succeeding where few humans before them have.

While we may not be able to see the entire timeline before our eyes, knowing the history of the islands and understanding why something appears the way it does is fascinating. Seeing the plants and the vegetation and knowing how intimately connected they are…we can see it anywhere we look, as all organisms are masters of adaptation, but the backdrop for this lesson is a bit more exotic (though no less dangerous) than watching the house finches at our backyard bird feeder.

Bookending our cruise will be days spent in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. We’ve been trying to decide what sights we’ll see in the city, and since we’ll gt a lot of nature out on the boat, we’ve been focusing our research, of course, on museums.

I’m kind of ashamed to admit it (and hopefully this doesn’t diminish my credibility) but we’re going here. And while I could blame the quest to get (as the website calls it) “that photo” of ourselves straddling the Equator on my GPS-obsessed male travelling companions, I’m pretty sure I’m the one who brought it up first. Can I help it that, in addition to being a well-educated, culturally-aware citizen, I’m still a tourist?

It’s been a while since I’ve travelled internationally, and each time has been an adventure. My first trip out of the country was to the Dominican Republic, where we spent a week on a desert island. Our accommodations were slightly less luxurious but offered more scorpions, cactus, and mosquitoes. We explored Santo Domingo as well, visiting churches, ZooDOM, the national botanical gardens, the Acquario Nacional, and several historical sites. OK, I admit. We did also go here. It wasn’t all completely cultural.

Our 2005 trip to Italy was equally stunning, though being seven months pregnant (and as big as a car) made for an interesting experience, and with far less wine than originally planned for. The time we spent in Venice was surreal; I don’t normally find myself in places so postcard-worthy. It’s exhausting, spending so many hours stumbling around in discovery mode, amazed and enchanted by everything.

And so while I am blessed to live a life that allows me to travel every so often, to see the world as my museum, I am also thankful that each of those experiences has changed me. I’d like to think they’ve made me wiser, they’ve shaped my own timeline and my own evolution, but at the very least, they have opened my eyes to see something new.

Super.

I thought maybe I’d give it a week or two (or a month, as it turns out) to post about my experience with Superbowl XLVI. I could tell that by the end of the celebration, people (myself included) were starting to twitch whenever they heard the word “super”. We get it. Indy is awesome. We wanted to make this the Best. Superbowl. Ever. And by many accounts, it was. Score.

I am a football fan. Not a fanatic, mind you, but I like the game. I have more than one Colts t-shirt, we fly a Colts flag every Sunday during regular season, and I have been known to paint my nails bright blue. But there is a such thing as a football fan who also goes to museums. These two cultural arenas are not mutually exclusive.

However, the museum community around town seems to have a bit of a chip on its shoulder when it comes to football in this town, and rightly so. Taxes went up 1% to support the building of Lucas Oil Stadium, so we’ll be supporting that venue for years to come, whether we want to or not. How many of your tax dollars went to support museums? Zero. On the flip side, how much do the arts contribute in tax revenue back to the state of Indiana? Around $52 million. You’re welcome.

This isn’t about griping about the preferential treatment that sports get in our city, though. Between January 27 and February 5, I was glad sports got preferential treatment. It gave our city something to be super excited about. It gave thousands of people a chance to do something good and volunteer their time. And I know museums got a boost from the influx of visitors as well.

Where am I going with all of this? I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the Superbowl and a museum visit. Being a part of the activity and excitement downtown gave me a chance to see how one event can be crafted into a complete and all-encompassing experience, and I saw just how much hard work was put into making a trip to a city for a football game into something so much more for thousands of people.

When you visit a cultural institution, it’s not just about the stuff you see. It’s about the parking, the staff, the exhibits, the lines, the other visitors, the food…everything. All of those factors were taken into account for this huge city-wide event, and I think the city deserves all the back pats it’s received. There has been a tremendous amount of gratitude shown to the volunteer corps for the event…all 10,000+ of us. So allow me to share a part of my experience, and then maybe later, when we’re feeling all nostalgic for the post-season, I’ll write more about the event as a whole.

I signed up months and months ago to be a volunteer. I was scheduled to be a part of the Green Team (just one of several big initiatives unique to our role as host city). I was stoked because not only would I get to drive a golf cart and do something good for the Earth, but I was going to get a SuperScarf. Forget all the other cool free stuff they gave to volunteers. You had me at “scarf”.

So, right off the bat, the Host Committee knew how to make its volunteers feel appreciated. Once they hooked us, we had to sit through an online tutorial called SuperService. While this was perhaps not the most riveting part of my experience, I was impressed by the program itself. Designed for everyone from hotel staff to street recyclers like me, the tutorial provided us with thorough information not only about Indianapolis, but general customer service as well.

I won’t go into details about the 20-12 Rule (greet everyone within 20 feet with a smile, and verbally greet everyone within 12 feet…OK, I went into details); it’s a great idea, but here’s what made implementation tricky: Try smiling at over a million people.

There were over 265,000 people who attended the NFLExperience at the Convention Center throughout the ten days of celebration. Considering how long the lines we waited in were, I think most of those people came the same night that we did. Some of those lines moved more quickly than others. It seems that, as a family, we have lost our ability to wait in lines of any kind. On more than one occasion, we’ve been known to forgo cultural experiences simply because we were too impatient to stand there for a while. We did, however, humor our son and wait in several lines for a total of about 90 minutes so he could run the 40 yard dash. You know…something new and exciting.

We waited a very long time so David could run. RUN.

Regardless, the volunteers and staff working the NFL Experience were just as enthusiastic the first time they said “Ready, Set, Go!” as they were the 905th time they said it (right about the time we made it through the line). These were people who were happy to be there, happy to be doing something to help out, regardless of what it was.

That’s how I felt when I got switched from my Green Team duties to help out in the XBox Kinect Dome. I didn’t even know what Kinect was until I got in there. And while I was disappointed that my role was slightly less noble and I had to stand inside a revolving door (which frighteningly few people know how to maneuver, by the way) for three hours at a time, I still embraced my very important job of saying, “You’ll see we have Just Dance 3 over to the right, and there are two consoles with FruitNinja in front of you there. Have fun!”

Inside the XBox Kinect 360 Dome. Meaningful work, let me tell you.

I’m not sure how many people clumsily stumbled through my revolving door during my shifts (oh, yeah…I was so good at monitoring the door the first time, they asked me to do it again) but I smiled at every single one of them. From the nine-year-olds whose jaws dropped as they walked in and looked up at the laser show being projected onto the ceiling to the senior citizens who instantly regretted letting their curiosity get the best of them, to the Patriots fans…I smiled at them all, greeted them all; hopefully they could tell that I really was having a good time.

On one of the mornings when I arrived before the official start of my shift, I wandered over to do my best to snap a quick picture of Ann Curry for my son. As I walked through the Village, I couldn’t help but smile. Once or twice I had to remind myself to tone it down a little, since I probably looked like a goober, with my ear-to-ear grin and my SuperScarf swinging along with my step.

So, to wind this all up, the experience was all-encompassing, whether I was on the visitor side of things or the volunteer side of things. The experience of seeing what all the fuss was about and the experience of helping other people see what all the fuss was about were equally enjoyable, equally rewarding.

Just like visiting a museum, so many factors influenced our time spent downtown. Crowd control, parking, authentic objects (like the Lombardi trophy, which was so impressive I decided not to stand in yet another line to see), and smiling volunteers all added to the experience. Even the weather was beautiful!

So what makes a museum visit different from the NFL Experience? What did my trips down to the Village have that a museum doesn’t have? One compound word for you, baby: SuperScarf.

Have a super day.