An Aspen Times writer was recently fired from her snowboard
instructor job for referring to one of her young students
as "whaleboy," among other things, in a column. At issue
was not whether or not the boy was the victim of a glandular
problem, but the fact that the instructor showed a wanton
disregard for the well-manicured, cash-wielding hand that
fed her. And as obvious a faux pas as it was in hindsight,
those of us who have spent any amount of time shlepping
drinks, stuffing butts or teaching snowplows likely know
exactly where she was coming from.
Caught in the tourist trap
Let's face it, life in a
tourist town is not always what it's cracked up to be. Sure, it may
be paradise, but the brochure never said anything about the strings
attached. For starters, you have to share it with others and that
goes for trails as well as parking spaces. The pay is bad, rent is
high and there's never nearly enough time to play as one would
like. To add insult to injury, you are forced to cater to those who
do have enough time and the funds to go with it. Of course, such
conditions can cause fierce resentment, territorial behavior and
superiority complexes which of course lead to the aforementioned
cracks about the size of one's ski pants.
I, myself, spent my formative years living in a ski town
and being a really bad waitress at an all-you-can-eat
rib house that appealed to busloads of Texans who all
wanted separate checks. In this town, residency was worn
like a badge of honor. "How long have you lived here?"
was usually the first question asked of fresh-faced ski
bums, accompanied by a dubious eye roll and look of disdain.
Can't say I blamed the
oldtimers. It wasn't that they were hostile so much as ambivalent.
See, each fall the town's ranks would swell with youthful
exuberance, in search of their own slice of "Hot Dog" heaven, only
to shrivel back down again come the following spring. Add to this
the slow march of McMansions up the hillsides and the constant
stream of tourists, and after a while, it was hard to tell who was
Therefore, in an effort
to distinguish themselves from the vacationing masses, new recruits
quickly learned to manipulate the mountain town space-time
continuum. Two months' residency was equivalent to a year; six
months was five years; and a whole year was bonafide localship. And
with that came the privilege of membership into the secret society
of locals. Sure the tourists had the money and time, but you knew
what back roads to take, where the powder stashes were, when the
buses ran, where the best rides were, which restaurants to go to,
and which ones to stay away from. And if you were lucky enough to
infiltrate the inner circle of restaurant workers, you also had a
friend behind every bar in town. In other words, you were so
connected that, if your life were a mob movie, you'd a been given
the secret handshake and a kiss on each cheek.
Of course, like any mob
movie, sooner or later, you either turn informant and join society
or die. I opted for the former, moving myself to Durango, where I
got a job that didn't involve keeping my earnings in a sock in my
top drawer. Along with that came 9-5 hours and three weeks of
regularly scheduled vacation.
And in that time, I came
to appreciate the tourist.
Perhaps I am overly
sensitive to the tourist plight because I, myself, have been the
victim of tourism discrimination. I once was verbally assaulted by
a short, smarmy French man in a Parisian caf`E9 as I struggled to
pronounce "caf`E9 au lait" while disguising my Minnesota accent.
Later in the same trip, I sat at a bistro while the woman at the
table next to us, unaware that we understood French, complained to
the waiter about how "stupid" we were in between drags off a
cigarette that was exhaled in our faces.
Of course, we expect
such treatment from the French. They are, after all, famous for it.
If you go home without at least a little abuse, it's like going
home without seeing the Eiffel Tower or ogling the Mona Lisa. You
treatment is not confined to the other side of the ocean. Nor is it
reserved for people who don't speak the language and keep their
travelers checks in a secret compartment in their belts. In fact,
one need not even leave Southwest Colorado to experience a generous
helping of degradation.
Just last week, I
ventured with friends and family to a small town north of here,
which shall remain nameless except to say it rhymes with
Smelluride. After blowing our wads on $35 concert tickets that
earned us standing room along a wall in the nosebleeds and a few
extremely overpriced beers served in plastic cups, we were heading
down the street in search of the next place to spend our
hard-earned cash. And that's when we were accosted by a young woman
leaving a bar apparently a few drinks too late.
She turned to face us as
we approached and then slurred "Y'all are tourists!" with the proud
satisfaction of a newly inducted "local."
I'm not sure what was
more annoying: the fact that she was wrong (some of the group had
grown up blocks from where we were standing, and one still lived in
town) or the fact that she was right. See, up until her
proclamation, I had thought I was doing a pretty good job of
blending. It's not as if I had just disembarked from an RV or was
clomping around in my ski boots after dark.
Which of course begged
the question, so what if I was? After all, unless we stay forever
confined to our small, isolated, homogenized corners of the world,
sooner or later we all will have to assume the tourist role. And
something told me, with that sugar-coated drawl, that she had been
local about as long as the snow covering the streets which I was
tempted to rub in her smug little face.
But I took the high
road, complimenting her on her astute observation and preferential
social status. However, she made it clear she had no time to
commune with pariahs such as ourselves she had better things to do,
like rummage through discarded items in the town's free
As we parted ways with
our one-woman welcome wagon, it was apparent that the irony of the
situation was lost on her, as was the fact that people like us made
it possible for her to live her ski town existence. And as she took
off in search of whatever it was she was looking for, I hoped that
she would at least find a clue.