For those of you who don’t use Facebook, this will probably seem a little foreign, but bear with me, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Someone, I’m not sure who, created a new Facebook group recently called “You are probably from Gaithersburg/Montgomery Village/Germantown if…” The idea was to get people to talk about their experiences growing up in what used to be a charming little bedroom communities that were once the outer reaches of Washington, DC, which have since outgrown their suburban adolescence and have become nearly-urban areas in their own right. I lived there for nine years in the 70s and 80s, and my mother moved back and lived there another 21 years on top of that, so I have LOTS of memories there, starting from 8th grade on. Apparently so do almost 1,700 other people, most of whom are my age, give or take a few years. And we all ran into each other at almost exactly the same time.
This Facebook group was a cute idea, but boy, did it open the floodgates. All of these people chatting online about people, places and things they remember (or don’t remember): people they knew, teachers at school, stores at the mall (and various other places), where they worked, who they partied with, where they bought beer when they were 16. You name it, it’s there. And it’s like drugs. This is probably one of the most addictive things I have seen that doesn’t involve controlled substances or video games. Imagine being locked in a big room with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, mostly strangers, who all lived and experienced much of the same things you did, at the same time you did, but not with you. Then suddenly, you realize that you all have all of these similar things in common. Decades of memories unloading almost uncontrollably as we all experience that rush of endorphins triggered by (mostly) happy memories. It has been quite a weekend, to say the least.
Now that I’ve come down off of my rush, I am realizing that driving down Memory Lane is not unlike driving on any public street in a real car. There are rules of the road which must be followed, lest you run into a ravine or get upturned flying around a curve too fast:
- Don’t leave home without your license. Everyone must learn to drive, and understand the proper way to operate a vehicle. You aren’t allowed to drive unless you do this and get approval. It works the same way on Memory Lane. You need to prepare yourself for what lies ahead, and understand how to navigate through lots of old information that has been piling up and gathering dust in the corners of your (and lots of other people’s) minds. If you don’t, you won’t make it very far without running into trouble.
- Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do when your parents are watching. You would never drag race or run red lights or burn rubber with your parents in the back seat (at least most of us wouldn’t!). The same applies to your trip down Memory Lane. It becomes easy to start talking about things you did in your earlier years that your parents might not have been proud of. But remember that even when you are driving on the Internet in the privacy of your home and among friends, others are watching. It might not be your parents, but you still need to be careful not to say anything that will get you in trouble – with an employer, a spouse, whomever might happen to notice!
- Don’t get distracted. When operating your car, you can’t multi-task without risking a serious accident. You can’t talk on the cell phone, put on your make-up, discipline your children, etc. while operating heavy equipment! On Memory Lane, you need to have the same discipline. Keep an eye on the road. Listen to the conversations carefully, and proceed with caution. You don’t want to get caught up in a conversation that’s out of your league, or say something that might be offensive or disparaging.
- Take frequent rest breaks. When you are driving on a long trip, you need to stop and rest occasionally. To take a bathroom break, to eat, to catch a nap to refresh yourself. If you don’t, you can easily fall asleep at the wheel. On Memory Lane, the same principle applies. Take frequent breaks. Do something else that will occupy your mind for a while. If you have been up all night on the Internet chatting about the good ol’ days, it’s time to let someone else drive for a while!
- Don’t speed. Just like having lots of cars around you on the road, a trip down Memory Lane has a lot to navigate through. Take your time. Participate in one conversation at a time. Don’t try to keep up with too much at once, or you will get stopped along the way. There is time to enjoy it all. It’s not a race, it’s an experience that’s meant to be enjoyed, even if you are excited about it!
- Make sure your insurance is up-to-date. When you drive, you need insurance, in case something goes wrong. When you travel on Memory Lane, you also need insurance. Not from GEICO or Progressive, but by being prepared for the consequences of anything you (or your friends) might accidentally say or do. Have a plan. Know how that delete button works. Don’t do or say anything that you can’t justify or explain. Make sure you can trust your friends to do the same, otherwise, you may end up battling it out in court!
- Drive defensively. Just like when driving on the real road, you can’t control what other people do on Memory Lane. People (including you) might say things they don’t mean. They might bring up subjects that really should be off limits. They might disparage someone you really liked. Expect obstacles, and learn how to navigate through or around them, so you don’t run off the road into a ditch. Of course, you don’t want to run anyone else off the road, either.
- Keep your tank full. Spending hours talking with old friends and new acquaintances is exciting, but just like a long drive, sooner or later, you need to fill up. Take a break. Eat a good meal. Regroup a little. Then return to your trip, ready to enjoy the new scenery that lies just ahead.
- Don’t drive drunk. With a car, it’s alcohol. On Memory Lane, it’s the excitement as people recall things you haven’t thought of in years that has an addictive quality that can easily get you wrapped around the axle. Don’t overindulge. Reminisce in small doses.
Even though I’m using the Internet as an example, the principle applies to any social situation: high school reunions, family gatherings, sporting events. Like driving on the highway, a trip down Memory Lane can be a lot of fun, and a rewarding experience. Like all things in life, moderation is key. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
So go dig up some old friends, or find some new ones, and share those precious treasures that have been growing dust bunnies in your closet and in your mind. Have fun. And be careful. And remember to call if you’re going to be late!