Monday, May 26, 2008

we're letting the annoying tourists win

I visited DC for the third time in my life in August 2004 with a friend of mine from Dagestan, Russia, a rugged little oblast' next to war-torn Chechnya. My friend, who came to be known as Salty due to his ornery yet endearing personality (and not due to anything unmentionable, sickos), had come here to take the cushy position of "Russian Language Assistant" at my alma mater in Grinnell, Iowa, a town of 10,000 that rests on a methy little section of Interstate-80 equidistant from Iowa City and Des Moines. But before jetting off to Iowa, where Salty would eventually ruin my reputation (not angry, not angry, not angry...), we decided to travel up the East Coast on an epic little road trip adventure (you know, before gas was $100 per gallon).

Our first stop was Virginia Beach, where I was temporarily living with my mom (ahem, and before you judge, I'll let you know that I had just gotten back from three years in hell Moscow and was readying myself to move to Boston the next month). Salty loved it. Compared to Dagestan, which is, um, kinda ridiculously gnarly (no offense, D-friends!), and compared to Moscow, which is, um, kinda ridiculously gnarly (albeit in a much different way than Dagestan, where my paleface friends and I actually had to fear being kidnapped by Wahhabists and held for ransom), southern Virginia was the cleanest, sunniest, safest, most heavenly place on Earth. It also helped that we frolicked around in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the Caspian Sea where all things go to die.

Our next stop was DC. We spent the day walking around downtown before grabbing a meal of food and a couple of libations at some place in Dupont, where my friend revealed his true feelings about the Capital of the Free World. "I don't like it here," I distinctly remember him, the guy from the Kidnap Capital of the Unfree World, telling me. "Everyone's labeled with their nametags and they all dress the same and they all seem really unfriendly." We were going to spend the night there, but after a full day of government, douches and tools (oh my!), we left. We ended up in Philadelphia and then New York for the rest of the week, where my friend got a much better impression of this quaint little nation of ours.

As I look back at the past year I've spent in DC, Salty's first impressions of this city as a total outsider (both figuratively and literally speaking) continue to haunt me. It's impossible to walk down the street on a weekday and not see at least a dozen people in the course of a few minutes with their names and titles on display. (Why people can't simply wait until they get to their offices to don their nametags, I will never understand.) There are a few more dozen wearing DC's fashion pièce de résistance, the unavoidable pleated khaki, and even a few dozen more who can't walk a block without checking their Blackberrys (I admit, I've even been guilty of that last one a couple of times, but unlike most DCers, I am ashamed...). To put it bluntly, the District is hard to crack as an individual visitor.

Perhaps because of that, as well as the overall closed nature of this city, tourists travel in such large, obnoxious packs with their matching T-shirts and umbrella-wielding guides. Perhaps it is our fault that these schools of oblivious out-of-towners stand on the left side of the escalators or take 15 minutes to buy a Metro card at the one machine that can be used to fill your SmartTrip card. Perhaps it is us and our rabid self-absorbtion that allows these gaggles of hapless assholes to walk five-across, arms-linked on the sidewalk when you're running 10 minutes late to an appointment. Perhaps it is because of us that these ginormous groups of tourists take over our city in the summer. Perhaps there's no other way to visit this city.

The good news is that, while there is no proverbial silver bullet quick fix available, the problem of annoying groups of tourists can be ameliorated if we, DC's less douchey residents, take a moment to stop being so mean to those few visitors who come here solo. To be clear, I'm not advocating not being rude to the large groups of tourists that objectively need to be admonished for their collective stupidity -- hell, punch them all in their faces if necessary. (And, yes, like no panties with jeans,* it's so necessary.) No, what I'm talking about is being nicer to those few individual visitors, even the hippies, who might have stumbled upon our fair city by whim or chance.

If you see a guy holding a map and staring up and down the street, go up to him and help. Tell him you've got his back like the Jansport he's undoubtedly carrying. Even whip out the Blackberry and Google-map something for him if you want to give him a true DC experience. But whatever you do, don't scoff, roll your eyes or otherwise grumble at him for being lost, even if he is wearing a hemp necklace. He was nice enough to travel without 100 of his closest friends, so the least we can do is thank him for that by treating him like a real person. Let's start giving these individual practioners of wanderlust some good memories, instead of bad, and for the love of Charles L'Enfant, can we please stop letting the annoying tourists win. Especially on Memorial Day.

*Get your minds out of the gutters, e-friends, it's just a link to Jay-Z!

**Also, the photo posted above is of a sculpture (!) by an artist named Duane Hanson. Apparently, he specializes in "
making startlingly lifelike sculptures of middle America accomplished through a complex process of casting from live models, recreated in bronze or fiberglass resin," according to a write-up by the Saatchi Gallery.

7 comments:

Righteous (re)Style said...

Hey. Hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day. I thought of you when I saw this:http://www.worldpressphoto.org/images/stories/videos/Interviews/index.php?
Go to 2008 interviews and click on Putin's lovely mug. It's an interview with the photographer.

I think you'll get a kick out of it due to your little crush on the "former" president.

I-66 said...

What the crap were you doing up at 8:14am on a holiday, if that's indeed when you posted this? Unless you had to work, in which case you can forget I asked.

Also, good thing that's a sculpture up there. For a moment I was going to call you to the carpet for hating on a tourist that was wearing tight pants. Then again, I'm sure on everyone else the same style pant is not tight, but since it's a sculpture that's a moot point...

Righteous (re)Style said...

Crap. Link got cut off. Try starting here.

Righteous (re)Style said...

one more time:
Strobist Link

Marissa said...

righteous--

Third time's a charm! Thanks for the link. I like how Platon keeps referring to Putin's entourage as KGB. And also how he's like "Putin really showed his humanity," which means the icy photo (which is awesome, btw) is Putin's soft side. Bitch is crazy!

i-66--

What can I say? I'm an early riser! And actually, although I'm technically required to work, I've already done so this morning and will probably churn out some more serious work this afternoon. The report accompanying the Defense Authorization bill is like 1,200 pages. Of nonsense.

Mike Licht said...

When you encounter a swarm of tourists walking four across on the sidewalk, gently remind them that all DC sidewalks are two-way. The poor benighted things probably come from some tiny burg without any sidewalks at all.

If it's a school group, be sure to kick the adult chaperones in the butt, hard, before moving on.

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