The accidental tourist

That silver rental minivan with New Mexico plates – the one packed with five adults and three children zig-zagging erratically through the streets of Durango last weekend – that was me.

See, living in a tourist town is a little like living a double life. There are certain things one would not normally do, unless, of course, she happens to be entertaining out of town guests. I’m not talking about things like riding the train or going to Mesa Verde. Those are practically prerequisites for Durango citizenship. Sure, you’ll get the occasional oddball boasting of how he’s never ridden the train, but for the most part, all of us have done it, whether to satiate a deep-seated love for the Old West or just some latent curiosity.

Rather, I am referring to the things that most of us take for granted, those attractions and establishments that we pass on a daily basis without giving another thought to.

I bring this topic up because for two short days last week, I had the opportunity to be a tourist in my own town. Playing tour guide for several family members, including two young nieces with a penchant for sugar and perpetual motion, I was able to indulge in all those heretofore forbidden or bypassed activities.

And while vacationing at home isn’t as desirable, as say, chartering a yacht through the West Indies, for those of us with a lack of free time and an even bigger lack of funds, there are some advantages.

For starters, when hitting up the local tourist attractions, one can expect to be surrounded by people from elsewhere, thus creating the illusion of being in a foreign destination. However, at the same time, one may be secure in the knowledge that she can still drink the water from the tap and will be sleeping on clean sheets that night.

Another benefit of partaking in a local vacation is the anonymity of it all. For example, if one wishes to, say, down a few whiskey Cokes and wander across the street to pose for a photo wearing a feathered bustier and ’coonskin hat while brandishing a fake six-shooter, he can rest assured his secret will be kept between him, the photographer and the bear-skin rug upon which he’s lying. That is because, as aforementioned, the place will likely be teeming with complete strangers. Sure, there’s always an off chance of running into another local. But, he or she will likely be in a similar state of repose under similar circumstances, in which case there is an unspoken understanding that both parties will forget (provided the whiskey doesn’t facilitate that anyway) ever seeing the other dressed like a cabaret dancer or saloon girl.

In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to act like a Class A fool. Because, although you may have to face some people in line at the bank Monday morning, for the moment, you are officially on vacation, in which case footloose, fancyfree behavior is not only permitted, but encouraged.

But the point of this story is not to promote cross dressing or debauchery of any sort. Rather, it is to reiterate how wonderful it is to reside in a place where one can live, work and vacation all within the town limits. With the exception of a couple thousand questionable folks who parade around in life-sized mouse suits, there aren’t many people who can say that.

Unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of this as we make our way through the congested streets on our way to conduct our daily business. But I am here to say that I went to the other side, and not only did I survive, but dare I say, I enjoyed myself.

Of course, it helps to be accompanied by actual vacationers. There’s just something about being able to share one’s bewilderment and awe over the “Nice Rack” or “Honey, this whole town is high” T-shirts with another person.

So, in true tourist fashion, by day, I did the T-shirt circuit, and by night, we put-put golfed and go-carted to our heart’s content. And along the way, we picked up an obligatory red cowboy hat, a ski-tip picture frame and feasted on beer, ice cream, pizza, nachos and corn dogs.

Which is not to say, in keeping with Durango’s “extreme” reputation, the vacation did not have its share of high adventure. There were dramatic hole-in-ones on the Astro Turf as well as a daring van evacuation from the top of the Alpine Slide amidst a torrential downpour. And, as with every vacation, there were even a few tears when a scoop of mint chocolate chip took an untimely plummet to its death and the shorter members of the group were excluded from the go-cart action.

But perhaps most notable of all was the way, when plans didn’t play out, they weren’t abandoned, simply adjusted. For example, as the thunderclouds rolled in to fill the afternoon skies, and it became apparent any hopes of a rafting adventure were dashed, the two youngest members of the party improvised. Armed with a garden hose, a few beach towels and just enough lack of practical sense, they set out in search of their own water-logged adventure in the pouring rain. When they finally reappeared on the doorstep, shivering like two drowned Chihuahuas, each was wearing the sheepish, worn grin of someone who had just spent the better part of the afternoon laughing herself silly.

And that’s when the whole beauty of vacationing – whether it’s a two-day stint at the local game park or a multi-destination excursion abroad – dawned on me. It’s not what it makes of you, but what you make of it.

Missy Votel




News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index