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Build a better tourist trap and the world…

I have come to terms, yes, even embraced living in a tourist town.

I have come to terms, yes, even embraced living in a tourist town. I enjoy living where people come to play and after almost a decade still take some private satisfaction in a stranger’s exclamation of "Lucky you" when I tell them I live here after finding out they suffer through life in Mobile, Alabama.

I do not, however, in any way consider myself a tourist attraction. In fact, I’m not at all sure I’d feel as comfortable living in other tourist towns where there is a less clear demarcation between locals and outlanders. At least in Whistler we’ve built the vacationing hordes a cute little town. True, we failed to take the Resort Municipality concept to its next logical step and fence them in once they’re here – except on New Year’s Eve – but what the heck, we’re still a young town. Maybe someday. A boy has to have something to look forward to.

When I am in the village, I go out of my way to be helpful to tourists. Sometimes it’s my job to be nice, mostly though I’m just that kind of guy. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. A regular Boy Scout. Unless they’re driving, in which case I often find myself challenging my long-held stand against capital punishment and missing my American-born right to bear arms.

Strangers ask me directions; I tell them where to go. They ask questions on the gondola, I answer patiently, point out landmarks of interest. I always boost the local taxi business by telling them to be sure and take a ride out to Emerald to see the Igloo Village where, working hand in hand with our Eskimo elders, hundreds of Whistlerites volunteer each winter to build temporary shelter for the underhoused, fresh-faced seekers who come out to serve them lattès each season. They marvel at our ingenuity, using as we do naturally occurring building materials and having a whole village recycle itself once the weather turns warm and we no longer need this year’s crop of worker bees.

But I am uncomfortable – and if I really gave it much thought, probably appalled – at Glacier Coach Lines’ plans to turn me into a tourist attraction. They’re going to run a neo-retro rubber-tired trolley this summer for tourists who haven’t bought into the whole X-Treme lifestyle and prefer to see the world roll past their windows. This sightseeing venture will take people to, well, the sights: Lost Lake where they can titter at the knowledge they are only this far – thumb and finger held close together – from nekkid, heathen sun-worshipers; Nick North where they can marvel at rich folks living cheek to jowl; Base II where bears have squirt-gun fights with abandoned snowmaking equipment. Whatever.

A planned highlight of the tour will be a stop at Nesters so the curious can "see where the locals hang out and live." This is the part I think might cross the fine line between living in a tourist town and being a tourist attraction.

The question that comes immediately to mind is this: WHAT IN THE WORLD DO THEY THINK THEY’RE GOING TO SEE? Furtive glimpses of Ross Rebagliati toking a dube, surrounded by a clutch of phat boarders all wearing those dorky red Roots hats backwards? Rabbit hopping a bicycle between parked cars?

The overwhelming impression of Nesters since last summer has been one of chaos. There have been several construction machines half the size of the entire, shrinking parking lot on some days. A curiosity, for sure, but a tourist attraction? If the people want chaos they’ve presumably already seen the village. If that’s not chaotic enough, Cable 6 could more aggressively advertise its schedule of council meeting reruns so visitors could tune in and watch chaos in action. Or should that be chaos inaction?

I’m puzzled trying to figure out what exactly might be tourist-worthy about anything I’ve ever seen at Nesters. Admittedly, in a world where people are riveted by spectacles like the funeral of Lady Di or Survivors, and the depths of "reality" TV have yet to be plumbed, maybe watching people buy groceries is a turn-on. I once lived in a small town where the weekly excitement pretty much consisted of going down to the local A&P on Thursday evening, watching the truck unload and then betting on what would be the "Manager’s Special" that week. But even that wasn’t much of a gamble since we seemed to be the nation’s dumping ground for water-damaged caseloads of Green Giant Creamed Corn.

Or maybe it’s the laundromat Glacier’s hoping will be the principal attraction. True, it doesn’t have the same touristic cachet of watching colourful native women in Third World villages beating their wash on rocks down by the river, but there is a certain dangerous fascination in wondering just how much fleece is too much fleece when the spin cycle hits full RPM’s.

The Barber Shoppe is always good for a few voyeuristic moments in an otherwise slow day. And while Amanda and Julie and Lisa and Barber Boy du jour would present a jarring juxtaposition for those expecting Floyd the Barber, there would be poetic justice in having tourists in Whistler watch locals get fleeced for a change.

All in all though, I think the "entertainment" quotient of Nesters is pretty thin. If I were running the braintrust at Tourism Whistler, I’d be more than a little worried about this. There are, as I see it, two problems that have to be dealt with here: not enough entertainment – for a truly world class resort – and the very grave possibility of the "wrong" kind of entertainment, e.g., Ross Rebagliati toking a dube, surrounded by a clutch of phat boarders all wearing those dorky red Roots hats backwards.

What is clearly needed is a Nesters’ Entertainment Strategy. Modelled on the very successful program in the village, this could consist of auditioning "locals" who would perform at specific locations at Nesters throughout the day whenever trolleyloads of camera-wielding tourists rolled by.

Typical "locals" scenes might include a pleasant, tousle-haired ski bum driving a shitbox ’75 Subaru plastered with Trevor Would Do It and No Fear decals waiting patiently while a Seattleite in a Lincoln Navigator flailed hopelessly trying to dock the behemoth in one of the new, straight-in parking spaces.

Or a group of tanned, athletic, out of work lifties dressed in colourful logowear and Peruvian hats playing choreographed hacky-sack while a glassy-eyed friend slapped out rhythm on a well-travelled conga drum.

Or maybe a Mayor O’Reilly lookalike having an animated conversation with typical "locals" over a mochaccino and discussing important "local" issues like whether the greens at Nick North are unreasonably fast this year.

The possibilities are limitless but the time for action is now.

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