The recent visit with my in-laws reminded me of the importance of being a tourist in one’s own town.
Back in my 20s and early 30s, we lived a gypsy life. I pursued a highly volatile career at the time. I did well in a field that is notorious for short jobs, lasting a year or two at each position, when the average was more like 6 months or less. Still, we moved a lot—14 times in 11 years. Early on, we noticed that we tended to discover some of the nicer features of a town in which we lived in the weeks before we left it for some other place. We resolved to stop this, to actively research and seek out what each new home had to offer as soon as possible, to ensure that we didn’t miss anything we might regret later.
In those ancient days before the Internet I wrote or called the visitors bureau of the town we planned to move to, and always got a packet of information. We would spread these out on the floor or bed and study them, learning a lot about the new area, and what we might do there. It became a challenge and pastime to compare these initial impressions to reality once we arrived—the juxtaposition taught us a lot about the world of marketing.
As we perfected the practice, a funny thing happened. As we made friends in each new town, they would often be surprised to hear us talk about features of their town that they had not been aware of. They were like we had been, drifting through a place without learning what it had to offer. Or, perhaps they knew what we were talking about, but had never taken the time to explore it themselves.
Sometimes this would be taken to shameful extremes. We lived for a while “near” Yosemite National Park, a place of intense natural beauty that we considered well worth driving some 50 miles to visit at every opportunity. We met a couple who lived in a house within walking distance of the part entrance we used. They had lived there for 40 years, but had never once visited the park! Had I been King of the World, I would have banished them from the house and given it to someone who would have appreciated its fortunate location.
Having cultivated this attitude of actively enjoying whatever a region offers, you can imagine we went into overdrive when I finally moved back to my native state, bringing my wife, who had never been to Alaska before, with me. I’ll talk more about being a local tourist here in Alaska in my next post.