For the average Charlottesville adult, the free trolley is a functional vehicle that provides those of us without transportation a method of going around town. However, for a child, the trolley is a fantastical device from another time that provides an exciting thrill of sensory information. In my first year at UVA, I remember how every Monday morning I was greeted by a blonde-haired, three-year old boy and his father as I boarded the trolley to go to my drawing class. The boy was ecstatic, looking out the window and listening to the trolley ding its bell, and his father was encouraging, pointing out nearby sights and sounds for the boy to experience.
I’m not sure why they boarded the trolley every Monday. Was it functional or fantastical? However, the little boy’s experience brings back memories from my own childhood in Charlottesville. My family used to park our car in a free spot near a bus stop. Then, we’d ride the free trolley in a full loop back to our car. Sometimes we’d sit in the back and other times in the front, but we’d always have our faces pressed up against the windows or twirling from one side of the trolley to the other in order to take in all the excitement. We’d get a large belly laugh when the trolley driver dinged the bell and would smile back at the other passengers.
It was fun. It was free.
My parents were masters of creating inexpensive fun. We’d build forts in the living room, stretching blankets between the couches. My father would set up outdoor games with us and the other neighborhood children. I would play with soap bubbles in the sink. We used a box of rice as our sandbox. My mom and I would have tea parties with colored water. At Christmas time, we’d get a free sleigh ride at Boar’s Head Inn. We made snow ice cream. We painted in the snow with food coloring.
My childhood was fun! My childhood was inexpensive.
Fun has no price tag and cannot simply be ordered online plus $3.99 shipping and handling. It’s true that money can enable experience but it cannot replace it. There is an art to having fun and it needs to be taught.
My parents successfully taught me to enjoy life. I’m “easily amused” as some may say, which really just seems like a expression for “able to have fun without cost.” But it’s because my parents taught me that fun is what you do, not what you buy.
Fun is an experience not a commodity.