There are times when we writers wonder if our words have any impact at all but when I wrote a column last month advocating a casino in Whistler, the responses I received indicated that some people were not only listening, but that they were right on board with the idea.
I touched a nerve that week. It's obvious that people demand change but there's not a public forum for them to discuss what these changes could be - and it's possible these folks wouldn't say anything in public anyway, advocating a controversial casino for fear of rocking the delicate boat this town, for whatever reason, happens to be riding on.
But something needs to change because the village during shoulder-season weeknights is like a ghost town. Businesses are suffering. And on and on. The comments I heard are, in a nutshell, that council and staff need to break open their heads and seek new ideas for reining in the visitors - ideas that probably don't fit their original vision of what this town should be - and attract businesses that are more lucrative than what Whistler currently provides.
We're talking about sin here. Late nights. Gambling. Exposed nipples. The kinds of experiences regular life doesn't allow for regular, debt-fearing people to indulge in on a regular basis. Let's cram every possible measure of fun between these here mountains. Give the visitor every excuse to come and have them thinking upon departure, "Well that was weird, wild fun." That'll bring them back, and their friends. Let's offer every avenue of fun here - for the families as well as for the father who wishes, for an hour or two, to let loose his inner gorilla.
Let's mine the heady days this town was founded on for inspiration. Whistler's peak success in the early-to-mid 2000s was built on its 1970s reputation as a crazy party ski town. That was the draw and still is, for some. Those days are legendary but long dead. These people got nekkid and did drugs. They did things all young people should try at least once in their lives, but then they grew up and had kids of their own. They kept the ski town but cancelled the crazy party and now they want visitors to enjoy the town as much as they ever did.
Boring. No one's saying abolish the family fun - make more of it, if it's lucrative - but success won't happen through golf, skiing, mountain biking or drum'n'bass music alone. These are all very rich offerings in this town that draw a significant crowd, but it's a tiny, expensive fraction of what people worldwide are interested in doing on vacation. There's a very wide margin of people for whom pristine mountain beauty is simply not enough of a draw.
It's about money here. It's about fashioning shoulder seasons into functional arms. I wonder, with the economy what it is, do we have the luxury of avoiding these types of experiences? The arguments against casinos or strip clubs or Las Vegas-style anything will be invariably moralistic but if the economy continues to suffer, can we afford to bring morality into the equation? As I've written before, how we confront the evil in our society will determine what sort of presence it has in our community. The biggest problem with Whistler is it wants to be both a bustling tourist town and a great place to raise the kids. The two, I'd say, are not completely compatible.
As a young-ish single white man from the city who had no real interest in winter sports prior to moving here, I was more inclined to spend my money in Vegas, or Los Angeles, or Amsterdam, or Montreal, or even Nelson because that's where I'll get the most colourful experience for my dollar. I am not alone in this regard.
I met the owner of a prominent café in town who has decided to sell the business. I asked this lady, who's well into adulthood, why they were selling and she said she was tired of the food and beverage business. Too much work, she said, and, I gathered, not enough money. When I asked her what was next she said, "We're going to try something else. My husband wants to open a strip club."
"Those aren't allowed, you know," I replied.
She smirked, waved her hand in dismissal. "Oh well, we'll start a - what do you call it? - a petition."
"Well, it would be lucrative."
"Very lucrative," she said.
It's just an idea. And anyway, it's easier to write these things than to actually do anything about them. But think about it folks. Whistler can't afford not to.