Monday, July 2, 2007

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (cue: gunshot sound fx)

It's the 4th of July weekend, and the tourists have arrived on Cape Cod en masse. Actually, it's the first of two 4th of July weekends, as this year America's birthday falls on a Wednesday, granting it a party that stretches out over an entire week, like Mardi Gras and/or the major holidays in the life of a child with divorced parents. The pictures of the cars stuck in traffic coming over the Bourne Bridge were horrific no matter how you looked at them. In light of current events, it brought to mind the cars abandoned on the highways of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. If you preferred to look at it through Hollywood's viewfinder, the sight resembled a George Romero film where the zombies had all learned to drive and were now heading to the Cape to eat the tanned flesh of the Kennedy kids. If you were a local, you simply swallowed your vomit and tried to look away.

I imagine the Wampanoags, the original inhabitants of the area, must have felt a similar feeling of woe when the Mayflower first came over the horizon. No longer were they autonomous humans with lives of their own, but complimentary, make-shift tourist bureaus, living solely to give detailed directions to their easily distracted, ADD-afflicted interlopers. I'm sure that the pilgrims had a lot of children who needed to go to the bathroom/have a glass of water/wanted to sit and read books for free with no intention of purchasing them, too. And they were guests, dammit, so why shouldn't they be allowed to? Is it documented anywhere whether the first words out of John Smith's poorly cared for mouth were "Do you have public restrooms?" or "Where's a cheap restaurant where I can get 5 star seafood?" Cuz I've got $5 riding on the first one and I'd really like to collect.

For a small business owner, the tourist season is (seppuku on) a double edged sword. Sure, the money is flowing (well, it was...pre-recession), but so is the unasked for criticism from folks who will most likely never return. Oh, you like espresso and think we should add a coffee shop to our bookstore? That is what you said, right? Because I could barely understand you as you stuffed your face with the complimentary coffee and cookies we laid out for *ahem* paying customers. You say your daughter self-published a novel about a girl who dreams of becoming a writer? Well, gosh darn it, why are we wasting our time planning Harry Potter events when we could be stocking up on print-on-demand books that there is absolutely no demand for? While I agree that having Alice Sebold, Michael Chabon and the cast from Grey's Anatomy in to do a group signing would be nice, I'm afraid that that has already happened. Last week. Sorry.

Another headache is the ludicrous expectations that many of these folks wash ashore with. In what bookstore, save one on the Harvard campus, would you be able to walk in and purchase a specific volume of untranslated 1970's Swedish psychology texts? And yet there are people walking in with requests as ridiculous as this every hour on the hour. You try to let them down easily, (a free cookie is a good way to start), but they will often take offense, as if you purposefully didn't have the book in stock just to make the writing of their thesis paper that much more of a challenge. What's worse is that they then tell you, "I'll try Borders," and then ask you for directions! I offer to tell them how to get to the Massachusetts border and leave it at that.

As strange as it sounds, I am actually able to take some small solace in the fact that the tourist season is still only beginning. Cuz come late July, all of the stuff that threatens to drive each and every one of us locals insane inevitably starts to seem less annoying and more a part of everyday life. The memories of traffic-free side roads fade away, as does the urge to treat crosswalks like checkered flags at the Indy 500. You actually begin to smile at customers -- are they still called customers if they're not buying anything? --when they yell at you and your staff for not allowing pets to roam the aisles unattended, as you know that the experience will provide fertile fodder for countless columns while bookstore blogging in the slower months. I don't have the proper psychology book handy (I think it's one from the 1970's), but I believe they call this Stockholm Syndrome.

Hmn...Stockhlom. Now there's a place I'd like to visit someday.

(The second photo is actually of Falmouth, England, but I thought it apt considering the secession celebrations currently taking place.)

Note: For a longer, funnier critique of local tourism, check out Marcia Monbleau's wonderful The Inevitable Guest: A Survival Guide to Being Company & Having Company on Cape Cod.