Thursday, August 10, 2006

Being A Tourist Helps One Appreciate Tourists

OK. I admit to having been a snob. Living in the Tri-Cities created in me a certain feeling of entitlement to the wonderful benefits of our area. I found myself annoyed with the additional traffic, parking hassles, and other inconveniences of tourists in Grand Haven, Spring Lake, and Ferrysburg.

But I recently came to feel a little more sensitive to the feelings of tourists when I was one myself.

I’m writing this in a hotel room in Napa Valley, California—and in several airports and airplanes en route to West Michigan—and reflecting on what it means to be and host tourists.

Several times in California we heard locals comment negatively about tourists. In San Francisco there were several shopkeepers and people on public transportation who complained about the extra crowds getting in the way. Up along the Pacific Coast and in Napa Valley we overheard locals complain as well about long lines at restaurants, crowds at beaches, slow traffic, and scarce parking spaces. The owner of a new coffee shop expressed delight at “tourist season” because her cash register was really ringing, but mostly people were put off by out of towners.

It was interesting to hear this commentary and know that it was about me, even if not directed specifically to me. I have felt the same way in the summer months when stopping somewhere to get coffee, going out for a meal, trying to park at the state park beach, waiting to turn left onto Beacon Boulevard. In California, away from home, I had become the very subject of my frustration.

But I can see things the tourists’ way now. While I was on business, I also was in an area I have not been to often. So, I wanted to go slow, look around, and enjoy myself at a relaxed pace. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I should try to do that more often at home. I’ll try to be more patient with people who drive slow, gawk at the water and otherwise seem “in the way.” I can’t begrudge them a desire to look around. We live in a beautiful place, and they want to see it. They are on vacation and want to relax. I should let tourists serve as a reminder that I should not take our area’s beauty for granted. I should follow their lead and relax more.

Another thing I noticed—or will notice at the end of the next credit card billing cycle—is how much money I spent. The food, transportation and a few other activities and items I consumed will single-handedly support the central Californian economy for the next month, or so it seems.

I now have something else to think about while I wait in line at Tri-Cities restaurants and other establishments. All the people I’m waiting for are unloading their vacation funds from somewhere else into our local economy. They are giving local retailers and vendors and good profit, which enables them to be here in the first place and serve all of us locals year round. I can be more patient in line now.

The following thought also occurred to me--would we really rather live in an area where no one wants to visit? Rather than be bothered by the influx of traffic and activity to our area in the summer, we should be proud of the endorsement of the Tri-Cities as a “destination” for vacationers.

Often when I visit a place I wonder what it would be like to live there. I wondered that along the coast of California at ocean beaches, in sprawling farms of Napa, in small villages like Calistoga in the hills and mountains. And I admit, it could be a beautiful place to live. But I hear that comment about Grand Haven and Ottawa County a lot from tourists I happen to talk to. They often comment that it must be great to live here. I always agree.

Heading home again I look forward to the not only the familiar, but the fabulous. We have a great place to live. And for the remaining weeks of summer when I encounter out of state plates, slow traffic, lines at stores and restaurants and questions about the obvious, I’ll be happy. And I’ll be helpful, answering questions and offering tips about the area whenever I can. I’ll do so because I understand that they are on vacation, and I understand again that I am lucky to live year-round in an area they chose to visit for a week.