Sonoma: How to Slum it Like a Tourist

It?s been observed that our tourists seem to enjoy themselves in our town more than we Sonomans. This perception could be the result of many factors, not least of which being that tourists can afford to enjoy themselves in Sonoma?s wine country, whereas we Sonomans spend all of our money merely trying to live here.

I suppose one could say that, as residents, we?re on some kind of ?Permanent Vacation? in our ?destination location? but unless you?re in a Jim Jarmusch film, an Aerosmith album or your ?boyfriend?s back and you?re gonna get in trouble,? the sentiment rings kind of hollow.

This is why the so-called ?staycation? always rubs some of us like a losing lottery scratcher. Though some Sonoma wineries offer free tastings to townies (Gundlach-Bundschu and Bartholomew Park come are among those with this classy take on local hospitality), there are few other experiences that tourists and locals can both enjoy without dropping a paycheck. This is a fact of life ??tourism is business, Sonoma is a tourist town, ergo Sonoma is in the business of inhaling your wallet and spitting out its empty remains like a tamale husk.

Many Sonomans are slaves to the wine country dream, which is like the American dream but served atop a bed of arugula. The iconic ?white picket fence? is crushed under the weight of zinfandel vines and there?s a church key under the every ?welcome? mat. Other Sonomans just woke up here one day to find a landscape that seems to have shifted beneath their very feet. Ask any local over 40 about what it was like ?before? and their comments are invariably preceded by a slight shake of the head and a quiet sigh. Whatever follows is academic, they?ve already said volumes. Things ain?t as sweet as they used to be ??now they?re tannic, herbaceous and sometimes jammy.

Then there are the newbies. Some come to Sonoma to aspire, others to retire ? yet another demographic comes to expire, which has is admirable in its own grim way. Ironic that science (or the wine lobby) keeps finding links to imbibing and longevity. Perhaps Sonoma?s expirees seek the fountain of youth in the wine that flows freely from the font of fundraisers, say, or perhaps the purple-drench is their exit made glass by glass like foundling footsteps toward their maker.

Of course, as a joke making the rounds goes, ?In Sonoma you drink yourself to death, in the Springs you drink yourself to meth.? Hmm. Couldn?t it have been ?math?? If drinking led to better arithmetic instead of methamphetamine I would have passed algebra the first time (I passed on the meth too, by the way). The Springs would be MIT West given all the ?math.? Instead of graffiti, there would be equations scrawled everywhere. Alas, the only numbers we got are the one?s plummeting from the real estate appraisals.

The devastation of the home market is clearly the result of the greater economic woes affecting the nation-at-large rather than a mere couple of lab busts. Likewise, as any merchant might tell you, there has been a slip in what is usually a robust season for Sonoma?s tourist business. Given the current fiscal climate how does one find the presence of mind to enjoy the wine country?s peak season whilst the recession double-dips our collective aioli?

Slum it like a tourist. Start by strolling to any of a number of our hotel lobbies, take a seat and unfurl a newspaper (this one will do). Read absently while people-watching, until a sense of superiority begins to well in the darker recesses of your soul. When satisfied, loosely fold the paper under your arm and conspicuously adjust yourself. Meander to the Plaza, walk twenty feet, pause and look at a tree you?ve never noticed before. Take a deep breath. Exhale while saying ?Mine.?

Any thoughts?

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