Tourist Tuesday by Linda Sonrisa Jones

For Kate, on tourists, 10/2018 – just a little something in response to your request for concerned journalism on the topic. xoxox Linda

(I will consider publishing any stories we might want to share with our tourists. Just email it to me at the email in the first post in purple.)

I drive down the road after a day of work, much of it spent talking to visitors. It’s always a kind of fan dance, what to share with guests, what not to share. Do I tell them about the cove, with all the details of the homesteaders who dynamited the tunnel through the mountain? Or suggest they stick to the overlook above the dramatic waterfall?

The road is good for contemplation, even with the traffic. I remember when I encountered my very first rattlesnake. It was a hot summer night and I was home alone. As I stood on my doorsill, sipping a glass of wine, contemplating life while listening to a chorus of pond frogs, I look down and to my left. There I spy the snaky beast, slithering past my rose bush, a mere foot from my bare feet.

I scream like I’m in a horror movie, and it buzzes, twisting its long body in the porch light. For the first time I understand the cliché, I can’t believe my eyes, because I definitely don’t want to.

I call my neighbor, who announces to her husband that they must come up right away to rescue me. When they arrive, her brave husband takes a rake and thumps it in the landscaping all around the house, until he hears the rattle. Then he expertly scoops the thing up onto the rake and into a cooler. Pop, the lid is on the cooler and the cooler is in the back of his pickup.

“Where will you take it?” I ask. “Well, down to the trailhead where the tourists go, of course,” he says with a sly smile. Then we all have a few shots of tequila, for the snakebite we dodged.

Down to the trailhead, ha ha. We love the tourists but not too much. They need to know, after all, what Big Sur is really about. It’s not a safe place, it’s not a pretend place.

My other favorite is all the folks posing for photos on the edges of cliffs. Particularly they like to climb over a certain dramatic rock, and perch on the crumbling stones that fall down to the sea, 500’ below. “Hey kids,” I want to say, “Guess what? That’s not a screensaver!”

It was Henry Miller who first realized the “plague of locusts” he had wrought by living here on the ridge. Lost bohemians wandering up to his house for wine and stories. Still happens today, despite a locked gate and a tricky road.

Over the years I have challenged visitors when I’ve seen them toss out cigarettes from their moving cars, when they’ve made absurd campfires in pullouts, when they’ve walked right up to oblivious and friendly condors for selfies.

In-your-face, diplomatically or not, wolverine-woman, that was me. Now, not so much. It would be too exhausting to confront them all.  So I pray instead.

That day after work last week was comical, really.

I stop to get my mail, observing a van full of tourists spilling out onto the asphalt. One slender man smokes a skinny cigarette, flicking his ash here and there. Another lady, super-tiny, wearing a Hello Kitty T-shirt, go-go boots and enormous sunglasses, takes photos with her phone of her friends, the view, the mailboxes.

In an attempt at friendly conversation (something I’ve been doing all day) I begin to tell the story of how, I, too, was once a tourist, and took photos of these very same mailboxes. I get blank looks as the language barrier materializes. No matter, they seem to comprehend what I’m saying. At least, they laugh in high-pitched voices.

I open the door of my spray-painted baby-blue mailbox. Hello Kitty exclaims in perfect English,  “Oh, those are real?” “Yeah!” I almost yell at her.

What on earth did she think? That the mailboxes were just some cutesy rural decor?  Put there for their amusement? Too old-fashioned to actually be of real use?

I repeat what I’d said earlier. Once I photographed this, now I live here. “Oh, lucky you!” she replies.  Then they climb back into their van and drive away.

4 thoughts on “Tourist Tuesday by Linda Sonrisa Jones

  1. This is why I feel more sympathy for many of the tourists than others here. The author of this article had the luck and the privilege of making the transition from tourist to resident in Big Sur. This is something that is no longer possible except for those with significant wealth.

    I have been to Big Sur six times in eight years. The instant sense of wonder and spirituality that it inspired in me – an intensely non-spiritual person – is what inspired me to move from Pennsylvania to California in the first place. But as a person in my 30s, with a good job but little wealth, becoming a Big Sur resident is unlikely to be a possibility for me at any point in my life.

    I never engage in the irresponsible behaviors described in this blog (lighting fires, flicking cigarettes, trespassing, or climbing into dangerous positions to take selfies). I always spend money at the local businesses. Yet I recognize that my visits contribute to the crowds. I do spend time at some of the popular lookouts – and some of the less popular ones – taking photographs. But as a hobby photographer, the vast majority of pictures remain my own, shared only with family and close friends, not for thousands of Instagram followers to try to replicate.

    I just say all this because I’m saddened by the (understandable) hostility by some on this blog toward tourists in general. There are many who are inconsiderate and do not contribute to the local economy, but there are also many of us that respect this place as much as any local. But the vast majority of us cannot reasonably expect to ever become residents, who will never enjoy the privilege that those of you who came while it was a reasonable proposition – or the privilege of those who came with millions of dollars – we implore you to remember that your being there IS a form of privilege. Please have some understanding for those of us who can never and will never have that privilege. Many of us treat this place with a sense of awe and wonder, and are tremendously grateful for your willingness to share the most beautiful (in my opinion) place on Earth with the rest of humanity.

  2. Joe, thank you for your thoughtful response. It’s important for those of us who live here to hear.

  3. Thank you Joe. Some people are short term visitors, others are long term visitors and all of us share in the responsibility to care for this amazing and fragile coastline. Thank you for recognizing that.

  4. Yes she was, just like so many others before and after. Now I ask you and others to look around, and when you do, you’ll find its not just Big Sur that’s un-attainable to the vast majority, its pretty much any area that is desirable or the “in” place of the moment! And thank you Joe for being one of the many Good people that travel through here …

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