While we were driving in traffic this past Memorial Day Weekend, my son looked out the car window at our small town's main street. "Mom, would you just look at all the tourists!" His tone was unmistakably contemptuous. This was concerning, because my son is six years old. Where did he learn such disdain for the throngs of hikers, motorcyclists, foodies and mustachioed-hipsters that swell in the summer to clog the streets of Point Reyes Station, population 2,000?
I admit, it's often challenging living in a tourist town. I roll my eyes on Sunday mornings when we get stuck behind a string of 45 cyclists cruising double-file in the middle of the road, or when I run my favorite wildlife trail and bump into a group of tourists, glued to their cell phones. But I know I can't blame people for wanting to visit my home. It's special here, and people come from all over the world to visit the pristine beaches, eat the famous cheese and hike the national park trails.
More importantly, I remember, too, that I traveled the world myself with nothing but a backpack and some vague ideas. I was fortunate to have had wonderful, even transcendent experiences as a tourist. People, strangers, I met along the way have given me directions, food, even their own beds to sleep in. Some gifts are smaller. Most recently, I was attempting to cross a flooded road with my daughter in my arms in Mexico, when my son, a few steps ahead of me, got nervous and began to cry. A local Huichol lady passing by, without a word, calmly picked him up and carried him to the other side. Because of experiences like this, I'm more fully alive, and connected with humanity. This is the lesson I want to teach my kids, so that they too go out and see the world, and through it, more closely know themselves.
So, as I look down the barrel of high tourist season, I vow to hold fast to these memories. I will take a moment to direct another lost rental car to the lighthouse, and I will say, "Thanks for visiting. Please come again." And I will mean it.
With a Perspective, I'm Elizabeth O'Brien.