Saturday, November 29, 2014

Devil's Bargains

11.  Devil's Bargains

       I am the consummate tourist.  Historical sites, naturally, are my favorites, but I'm not opposed

to going out of my way to glimpse, say, the world's biggest ball of twine.  Tourist traps, often against

 the better judgments of those who run them, give visitors an essential sense of an area's

ambiance.  By paying less attention to what is written on the signs and in the brochures and more to

local and "neonative" input, it's possible to achieve a truer experience.

      Hal K. Rothman, in Devil's Bargain, Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West, is not concerned whether or not tourists enjoy themselves.  His thrust is understanding how innovative outside investors may destroy the very places they  invade, changing the areas and their residents.  Although Rothman explains this as a western phenomenon, the infusion of big money into backwoods, picturesque locations has precedents elsewhere and earlier.  Reading about the transformation of Paepcke's Aspen reminded me of David McCullough's Johnstown Flood (1968).  In 1889, a handful of wealthy magnets created an artificial lake resort above the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania for their private recreation and enjoyment -- and inadvertently devastated the downstream town and its people when their man-made dam burst.  Although most of Rothman's examples have less dire physical repercussions, incursions into places like Sun Valley, the Grand Canyon or Carlsbad Caverns likewise changed perceptions and interrupted local lives.  The wide open spaces and untouched nature of the West made it possible for the moneyed few to take unfair advantage.

     From my standpoint as tourist,  I particularly enjoyed Chapter 6, "Interregional Tourism."  As a child in the 1950s, I was aware of the influence of automobiles in our lives.  The family car provided my first familiarity with the glories of the western terrain.  Every year or so our family left Spokane for an eight-hour road trip west to Seattle (which now takes about half that long).  We motored down the two-lane highway in Dad's '55 Buick into the arid conditions of central Washington, a literal desert compared to our manicured lawn at home.  The tiny, colorless towns through which we passed held neither interest nor promise for us.  Crossing the Cascade Mountains with its high peaks, lakes and waterfalls  invariably awed me (still does!).  When we reached lush, green western Washington and the blue Puget Sound, I felt much farther from home than the 280 miles we had travelled.  The ride itself was the adventure.  I craved, as Rothman states on page 150, "difference
. . . new activities, seeing new places and doing new things . . . travel did not have to mean anything more than an opportunity to get away." 

      This past May, my husband and I toured the Mid-West in our SUV.  In Missouri, we located the legendary Route 66, intending to follow it to visit old-time tourist traps.  Instead, we discovered only short, intermittent segments of the road, interrupted by seventy-five years of modern "improvements" that bisect and obliterate most of  66.  It was one of Rothman's devil's bargains: its very success in opening the West to auto travel lead to its obsolescence. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Diane, I love your concluding paragraph here- personally experiencing the consequences of a devil's bargain. I get what Rothman is saying and agree that the outsider's investment of capital can transform a place (then pass it off as "authentic") and I agree that local communities often suffer ill effects of such investments. I just felt that his analysis was a bit one-sided. Local communities are often very involved in willfully sustaining tourist industries. And I imagine that there are many locals who, recognizing the lack of more sustainable local economies, might favor tourism and even the transformations that tourism might effect on their communities. In other words, I think that the story of western tourism is more complex and multi-dimensional than Rothman's analysis gives it credit. And on an unrelated note, good luck in 711 next semester! hope to run into you in the spring and hear about your project.