Tourist Bored

At the Wine Exchange, a hybrid tasting room and speakeasy the Contessa and I visited yesterday, a pony-tailed day-tripper was wagging her wine-stained tongue about locals and tourists landing on a curlicue query about how tourists are perceived in Sonoma. A wizened gent smoothed the Hawaiian shirt over his broad belly (an ironic wardrobe choice if not for its touristy trait, then for the squally clime wringing over the valley), smiled kindly and said to her “We look at them as visitors, not tourists” just as the cash register made a sonorous ca-ching.

Now, mind you, I’m only a notch above a tourist myself, the total time of my official repatriation from Los Angeles (by way of several Bay Area beds) has crested only seven weeks at present writing. Despite my Petaluman provenance, I have to admit the young woman’s question caused me a slight pang of anxiety. It wasn’t the kind of unease one suffers when a buddy is sent up to the principal’s office for a mutual crime, which, for a moment, this seemed similar. It was, in fact, a sort of pale stage fright. Townie or tourist? In an effort to explain the sensation to myself, I did some minor dredging and yielded this:

“Modern tourist guides have helped raise tourist expectations. And they have provided the natives—from Kaiser Wilhelm down to the villagers of Chichacestenango—with a detailed and itemized list of what is expected of them and when,” historian Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in his 1961 book The Image. “These are the up-to-date scripts for actors on the tourists’ stage.”

I’m compelled to reflect, despite my current failure to garner mention in the visitor’s guide (the theatrical program to this drama, to extend Boorstin’s metaphor), on what a tourist might expect of me – a small town newspaperman and filmmaking manqué on self-imposed exile from Hollywood, embedded in the wine country. Probably just some over-stuffed chicanery like a scarecrow in a vineyard, I’d presume. That’s if I register at all on the palette of local color – perhaps I’m only ultraviolet on the rainbow – a few nanometers shy of visible…

“Who cares?” chided the Contessa when I shared the thought. She swirled the last ruby slug of zin in her glass and put a twenty on the counter.

“And if a tourist strikes up a conversation with me, tell me then, Contessa, what role do I play?”

“Act like you’re lost,” she sighed as a raven lock fell across her eyes like curtains about to close the show. “And click your heels together and say ‘There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…”

“What if I am home?”

“Then everything would be black and white wouldn’t it, darling? And you wouldn’t be fretting about local color, now would you?”