The Souvenirs We Collect
One morning, instead of knocking on my motel door, Michael stood outside of it, puffing out a tune on a harmonica he had just bought in Helena, Ark. I opened the door to find him throwing his body into the music, kicking his legs along with the rhythm.
Another time, I opened my door to find him wearing a wrestling mask he had bought the night before in a West Virginia school gym. It hugged his entire face and so I didn’t immediately recognize him. I swallowed a small scream.
Like any tourists, Michael and I have bought our share of souvenirs, mementos that will remind us of the places we’ve been long after we’ve left them. In West Virginia, he bought a cake topper of a woman bowling--it set him back $2. He liked the 1950s look of it. And in Alligator, Miss., I scanned the shelves of a shop that sold everything from old Coke bottles to one hundred types of forks (none that matched). Digging through a pile of license plates, I found one that captured the entire reason we were there with a single word: Roads.
On this road trip, as Michael and I try our best to understand the cities and towns we are visiting, we stop at souvenir shops because they are one of the quickest ways to gauge what’s important to the people who live there – what animals are on their key chains, what sayings are on their mugs? But we also do it, because like anyone who passes through a place, you want to take a piece with you. You want to be able to look at a turtle magnet on the refrigerator and remember the cheesy Florida shop where you found it or drink from a mug that reminds you about an historic event. You want to be able to glance at a crumpled mask on the table and laugh about the time you scared your colleague nearly out of her skin.
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