Friday, July 8, 2011


I went to college in Williamsburg, VA, which is home (or reasonably adjacent) to multiple tourist attractions. That creates an interesting dynamic in the town between the locals who happen to live there, the students who reside on campus for eight months out of every year, and the families who visit for a few random days on vacation. One oft-repeated joke was that there were few things more annoying than blearily making your way from your dorm to an academic building, probably around mid-morning but feeling like a crueler earlier hour due to the previous night’s festivities, running late as usual, and being flagged down by a dweeb wearing a fanny pack wondering how to find the butter-churning re-enactments. We generally referred to these more obnoxious tourist types as “tourons” which of course is just a portmanteau of “tourist” and “morons”, but I always liked the fact that it sounded like a rare type of subatomic particle, just another aspectof the nature of the universe, omnipresent and unavoidable. (I’m sure the locals had their own disparaging names for the college kids, but I remained blissfully unaware of those.)

Stereotypes sure are a real timesaver
I’ve had that old made-up word on the tip of my tongue lately because we are heading into the heart of summer and the capital area is approaching high tide in terms of visitors and sightseers and whatnot. The odd thing is that I barely work in what’s generally considered the capital area. Yes there’s a stop on the Metro lines hereabouts but there aren’t any monuments or large parks or anything noteworthy outside of massive office buildings, a few business-traveler hotels, and an extravagant number of restaurants. Yet every day lately while I’m walking from the train station to my office or back again, I see families in summer casual attire looking vaguely lost. And yes, I have been stopped once or twice and asked where that Metro station is. I try not to think much about these far-afield tourists one way or the other, because if I do let my mind wander that way it ends up grumbling about how I just need everyone to stay out of my way so I can get to work (or home as the case may be).

(This attitude was not helped in the slightest by an incident a couple of weeks ago when I got on the VRE in the morning and then watched a family get on at the next stop, equipped with a metric ton of luggage. I assume they were taking the train all the way to Union Station to switch to an Amtrak line, though they could have been going to Crystal City to get the Metro to National Airport. Anyway. The family took up four seats themselves, but also piled up their suitcases in front of a bench of five folding seats, essentially taking them out of use. I felt like screaming at them that it was a weekday morning and they had boarded a commuter train during rush hour when it’s always full and good for them for being on vacation but the rest of the world isn’t and what the hell is WRONG with you? Felt like it, but didn’t, of course.)

My parents and Little Bro and I went on a lot of traveling vacations in the summertime when I was a kid. In point of fact, we went to Williamsburg once, though I don’t remember us expecting any of the college students to serve as impromptu tour guides. (Not that there were many students on campus that time of year anyway.) But in addition to the ‘Burg, most of the places we went were more recreationally inclined, from Lake George up in New York to Myrtle Beach down in South Carolina. (We almost never went anywhere we couldn’t drive, in the summer; sometimes in the winter we’d jet down to visit the grandparents in Florida.) So I don’t remember ever feeling like I was intruding on the non-vacationing, working world on any of those trips. We never had a family vacation to, say, Chicago or Dallas or Los Angeles. Maybe that was because my dad commuted into Manhattan every day for over a decade, and when he got his vacation in the summer the last thing he wanted was to go someplace with skyscrapers and a mass transit system. Or alternatively, maybe the fact that we lived so close to New York City and enjoyed its various offerings as no big deal meant that any other U.S. city would have suffered by comparison and didn’t merit becoming a getaway destination.

I look forward to traveling with my own family as the kids get a little older, and I tend to think we’ll probably gravitate towards mountain lakes and laid back beaches as well. But if we do broaden our horizons to include urban adventures, I am positive I won’t take for granted that rush hours and office work and so on are just as common in July and August as any other time of year.

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