“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never…”

Don’t say it.

That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. I know what they are about to say, having heard it so many times before, and hearing it again is just long, sharp fingernails on an old blackboard to me.

“…I’ve never come in here.”

In one form or another, someone says this to me almost every day. Spend some time at the front admissions desk, and you’ll hear it multiple times a day. And it’s not just from the folks that have lived here. We get the message from an equal number of far traveling tourists and day tripping visitors.

“We’ve been coming here for years…”
“I’ve been visiting Virginia Beach since I was a child…”
“We’ve been walking past here for over a decade…”
The first part of the proclamation comes in many forms, the ending always the same.

Nor am I spared the expression in normal social situations. At a recent birthday celebration for a friend, we gathered with a nice crowd at a local craft brewery. At our very first encounter to new faces, I am introduced as the guy that runs the Surf & Rescue Museum on the boardwalk. The woman responds in a bright, excited tone.

“That’s that little white building next to the park, right?. That’s a really cool place.” There’s a painful pause before she hits me with it.

“You know, I’ve never gone in there.”

The first thing I still cannot quite imagine is why someone, well, everyone, is so quick to admit that they’ve lived a life’s entirety lacking the basic curiosity to explore a low cost, cultural institution positioned smack in the middle of everyday travels. I would hold too much embarrassment at having never visited to blurt the fact aloud. It seems, to me at least, a very odd thing to admit.

The second, and clearly most salient point the statement reveals, is why the lack of curiosity is the norm.

I first visited Virginia Beach as a tourist in the summer of 2007. On my maiden walk along the oceanfront’s beautiful concrete walkway, I was delighted to discover this historic gem right next to a large hotel. I walked north to south, and at first sight, it was clear the building was something special, something obviously preserved. The unique architecture didn’t resemble anything near it, and the eye catching tower structure cast a unique shadow across the boardwalk and beach. At that point, I guess I did something pretty strange for a first time visitor.

I went in.

But I’m like that. I’m different. I love history, and always have, and I can never get enough of small museums. As I stepped in the front door of the 1903 structure, I had already been working in the museum field for over a decade. At this stage, I had worked for a little museum, and very big one. The experience and comparison gave me a driving passion for the smaller ones.

My attraction to discover the roots of the past have been bringing me into these kind of places since I was a kid. My folks never had to drag me into museums, I wanted to go.

I took a tour that day to discover I was standing inside one of the places that defined the beginning of the oceanfront’s economy. I spent about an hour exploring a quite remarkable story and then bought a mug and magnet from the little gift shop. Little did I know, that as I walked down the rest of the boardwalk, carrying my little museum bag, that I had done something so very unusual.

As did so many others in the Hampton Roads area, I moved here from another place. My migration brought me from the state of Delaware in 2008. In the early Fall of that year, I was delighted to walk the Virginia Beach boardwalk for the first time as a resident. I spent the majority of my time that first month visiting the various museums and cultural institutions of the area.

The museums have the history. The museums have the answers. The museums have the foundation that show how an area was imagined, built, developed and evolved. I would have no perspective without them. It’s terrifying to me to think of going though life without this perspective. Without a knowledge of the whens and the whys of how the community I share was formed.

On a dreary, drizzly morning, a couple enters the museum’s front door right at our 10am opening. Middle aged, well dressed, dropping the hoods from their color coordinated brand name rain coats. I greet them good morning and begin a pleasant conversation about where they have traveled from. They are mid Westerners, celebrating their anniversary week in Virginia Beach.

“We’ve been coming to Virginia Beach for years, since our honeymoon.”

The woman’s sun burned face was telling they’ve already had some beach time this week. She wipes a bit of drizzle still on her brow and glances at her husband.

“You know, in all those years, we’ve never…”

Don’t say it, Ma’am. Please.

Don’t say it.