Happening:

Love it or hate it: Tourist traps

Ar 170609986
Patty Templeton on a jackrabbit near a defunct gas station in the desert.
Ar 170609986
Patty Templeton on a jackrabbit near a defunct gas station in the desert.

Love itOMG gawd. Get me in a car, turn on the radio, give me a fizzy drink, and let’s go. We have all of the world to see, including its tourist traps.

I freakin’ love tourist traps – especially cheap ones. If you’re counting rich-ass places like Disney World, eh, not so much. If we’re talking roadside wonders, tombstone tourism, and small historical towns with peculiar gift shops attached to gas stations, buckle up, buttercup, we’re going.

I’m the person willing to drive 30 extra miles to snap a pic on an oversized, saddled jackrabbit statue even though it looks like the defunct gas station behind it has turned into a meth shed. It ain’t unusual for me to go an hour outta the way because I saw a billboard for homemade caramel puffed corn sold from a shack by a man in a beaver costume, once again, by a gas station.

Theme: American gas stations contain or lead you to obscure wonders.

I don’t know where I get this from. Maybe my ma. She’s a wild woman with a big heart. She’s the one who taught me to dance like no one was watching, even to a good song at the end of movie credits. She’s also the one who gave me my wanderlust. We once went to Oatman, Arizona, together – because we wanted to hang with the donkeys that overrun the ghost town.

The weather’s gorgeous. I dunno about you, but I’m fittin’ to fill up my car and go find hidden America.

Patty TempletonHate itSometime mid-elementary school, let’s say third grade, I recall riding through the middle of dusty Texas forgottenness when the family Suburban passed an all-but empty tourist trap – some sort of market with large plaster animal statues out front. One image nestled into my young brain as we whizzed by: A donkey standing in the summer sun tied to a small merry-go-round, apparently waiting for a family to drive by with a hankerin’ for a heartbreaking donkey ride. I still haven’t shaken the image of that donkey 30 years later.

This gets to the heart of why I hate tourist traps beyond the ones that exploit animals: They just make me feel bad. The badly-taxidermied cross-eyed coyote. The aging toy railroad at the North Pole Christmas year-round place. Weird military relics in what amounts to some guy’s garage. Questionable scientific oddities, the sight of which ruins your afternoon.

On any kind of trip, where one usually encounters tourist traps, I’d rather not feel bad, for the people running them and the people who part with their money and are, I can only assume, embarrassingly disappointed at what’s beyond the curtain.

David Holub