Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tourism in [the District of] Columbia - WEbring Assignment #1

In working downtown and walking to and from work each day, I once again have the opportunity to be exposed to a large number of tourists in our nation's capital. As I'm not encountering them on the subway, and thus they are not gawking on the wrong side of the elevator and impeding my commute, I can observe them from a place of neutrality.

First, the are easy to spot: T-shirts, sneakers, shorts, fanny pack, Caucasian, and usually in a pack that includes two parental figures and several children in various stages of disrepair, staring at a map on the back of a bus kiosk. Some of these elements are always going to be present, and I don't begrudge them these, such as their familial status. Others, for the love of Christ, could be helped if not for their general ignorance of how fashion need not be sacrificed for utility. In case your reading, dear traveler, I can assure you: many of us here in Washington find a way to walk about this city EVERY DAY without need for a little pouch of Kleenex in a fanny pack. Yes, this is possible the least fashionable way of carrying extra items with you. May I suggest a backpack, purse, or even use of a pocket or two. Please understand that this is not some Amazon rainforest -- you don't need to take it all with you. If you need a BandAid, we have a helpful CVS or RiteAid on every corner. More importantly, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO NEED A FREAKIN BANDAID. I would advise on the clothing choices, but something tells me that you wear oversized t-shirts that say "East Yaphank Cherry Pickin Festival, Summer 1992" everyday, so I really can't help you out on that one. When you discover polos, we'll talk. I remember with fondness the week I spent in Italy in college where we packed all our black dress clothes, and bought leather jackets there, and were mistaken by several of your East Yaphank neighbors time and time again as Italians. "You're English is so good!" they'd say. Granted, they were chowing down on a Family Pack from McDonald's, so clearly assimilation was not their forte, but still, it made me smile.

Despite all these opinions of our tourists, mostly I just feel bad for them (and not in a patronizing way). I watch them walking up L Street from their hotel, and I think: Wow, this must suck for you. To begin with, its L Street. Downtown, business-district DC does suck. Its utilitarian in that it employs us, but its not interesting. Most of these hotels they are staying in are right on the line between this business-district and the slowly-gentrifying-but-still-rundown Logan Circle area (Massachusetts Ave. being the line of demarcation). While gentrification and urban grit can make living here interesting, again its not interesting for a tourist. Leaving your hotel for BandAids at CVS and passing a hooker on Scott Circle certainly isn't what I would want for my family vacation. That's on the order of a family vacation to Baltimore, or Buffalo, or Cincinnati. I'd pass on those too.

I'm sure the artificial Mall and museum area is nice enough (and free), but I wouldn't travel far to visit it. And to be honest, a lot of the museums and cultural events sponsored by the Federal government suck too. Some of the most innovative things the Smithsonian does aren't in their dated museums, but are the programs they put on for, guess who -- locals. And most of what makes DC unique (the politics, the power) are things that it takes a local to learn how to explore, and they're going to miss out on it.

So, dear tourist, I will smile and look approachable so you can ask me directions. I just can't promise not to look disappointed for you when you tell me your destination...

Now now about the rest of those St. Thomas updates?
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