I may be the only person living in Montana that doesn’t look forward to summer. I am like the Grinch of all things sunny and happy, walking through town kinking sprinkler hoses, knocking ice cream scoops off cones, and popping inner tubes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love summer. But there are only 12 short weekends we get to enjoy it, and there are unavoidable spoilers that come along every year sucking up my summer.
It started when I got old enough to be “responsible”. The wedding invitations started coming in their decorated little envelopes bearing bad news: cross another free weekend of summer off the calendar. Forget about swim suits and boat rides, you will be stuffed into pantyhose and high heels sweating through an outdoor ceremony and bartering for drink tickets.
Then comes the company. This happens when you hit phase two of responsibility and find yourself with a “guestroom”. They come to drink the Kool-Aid of the “Montana is SPECTACULAR” variety. Sure, Montana is great, especially these three months out of the year, so thank you for choosing me to be your tour guide. Cross another few weekends off the calendar.
And finally come the tourists. They come in hoards, filing into our state parks, and clogging our roads with campers. My once breezy 15 minute commute down Reserve street in Missoula will turn to a hot, sweaty, road-rage induced, RV dodging 45 minutes of hell. Around 10 million people visited our state in 2012, which is 10 times the population of Montana.
Is it just me, or does this marketing campaign slogan imply a bit of snarky sarcastic undertone geared towards tourists? No? Ok, its probably just be me.
In comes the last phase of responsibility: tolerance.
The inner Grinch in me really struggles with this one. I have a few coveted weekends to myself left on my calendar and all these extra people are messing it up! Their lofty perusing of real estate packets, and talk of buying a piece of our paradise. The snide comments of two star service in a small family owned restaurant. (Ya, grandma isn’t moving as fast as she used to, SORRY!)
And the expectation for all of us to cater to, and play a part in their own Montana fantasy. I have a friend that owns a business in Virginia city who lost it when a tourist walked into her shop during lunch hour and commented: “Pizza? That doesn’t look like 1890’s food to me.”
But, according to our state tourism board, visitors to Montana in 2012 spent $3.3 billion which is new money for Montana’s economy. Without tourism tax revenue, it is estimated that each Montana household (avg. 2.36 ppl)would have to pay $757 in additional local and state taxes. (www.travelmontana.mt.gov)
And while employees in the hospitality business bear most the load of catering to, and appeasing tourists, the fact is all of us are responsible for representing our state in a good light. Our daily encounters with visitors to our state can influence their impressions of Montana, and make the difference between them returning for a second vacation or giving Colorado or Wyoming a try next time.
So while the Grinch in me will still run for the hills on my few open weekends, hiking deep into the wilderness away from people. The hospitable side of me will quietly drive my house guests on the 50 plus miles of Going-to-the-Sun Highway for the fourth time this summer. And the gracious wedding guest side of me, will paste a smile on my face, do the hokey pokey, and turn myself around in my bar chair. I will make friendly chit chat at the fuel pump, even to folks with out of state license plates. And I will learn to count. Count all the ways I love Montana in the summer. Count the free weekends I have to myself. And count down the days to September when all the tourist are gone.
So here we go! Open the shades, shake off the dust, paste a smile on your face: IT’S TOURIST SEASON!