Last week's “zipper-head” rant in this space about the behaviours of certain out-of-state bicycle-trail riders touched a few nerves, as publicly evidenced by several letters to the editor at the News-Press last week, and by a particularly snarky remark from a cocktail waitress in Wallace Saturday night.
Normally a reporter (or editor) should refrain from getting in the last word, but apparently our subtle attempt at a humourous prod at the obnoxiousness of some of these individuals fell on its face, so a clarification is in order.
I've nothing against tourists, per se, even the gaunt and ridiculously-dressed trail-cyclists from out of state who spend nothing here. My beef is with their conspicuously rude minority who seem to think they're doing us a favour just by being here and that we should serve them and then get out of their bloody way, else our economy might collapse.
It's not that simple, folks. Irrespective of what some delusional leading lights in the Silver Valley have led themselves to believe, tourism is not our principal industry. We are a mining camp, plain and simple, with the added advantage that we are a showcase for how a heavy extractive industry like mining, and a great, beautiful, natural place for visitors, can co-exist. If you can't afford Paris, this is the best place in the world to live.
Do you have any complaints about tourists in your town?
But lag-over the Silver Shaft, the Galena and No. 3 Shafts, Sunshine's Jewell Shaft and Bunker Hill's K-T Tunnel, and there won't be many people left here renting bikes or selling soft ice cream and craft beers to tourists. We are a mining community first. It's why the splendid mansions in Kellogg and Wallace still stand, and why the bicycle trails - abandoned railroad beds that once served our mines and timber companies - are here to enjoy. Take away mining and timber and all this goes away: we'll just be another “cute” western ghost-town with a shut-down ski hill.
Want proof? Drive down along the empty store-fronts on McKinley Avenue in Kellogg and see if the millions invested in the gondola and the new ski slopes helped Kellogg.
So tourism takes a back-seat to basic industry. And as for we mere locals, who have to detour around tourists in winter and summer to get to where we need to be, we should at least get to ride in the middle of the bus if there's room.
My extant ire towards the trail-cyclists is informed by daily insults of seeing these people drive their bicycle-carrying Volvos, Priuses and SUVs hell-bent for leather down the Moon Pass road, and barely slowing down for the children, dogs and slow-moving grown-ups who live on King Street. At those speeds they're tearing up a county-maintained dirt road they don't spend a dime to help us keep open.
All that said, I've met some very nice out-of-state cyclists in town and up on Placer Creek, too, along with some local jerks who should know better and seem to feel free to toss litter along the road. It's all about courtesy, comity, politeness - whether you're a furriner or a local. Show some bloody respect.
We've had the privilege of travelling to many countries on all but one of this planet's continents the past decade. Never have we presented ourselves, whether in Lijiang, Ouarzazate, Zurich, Paris, Beijing, Innsbruck, Kittila, Munich, Arequipa, Medellin, or Marrakesh, as somehow gifts to their cultures. We are, after all, their guests. You take off your shoes before entering the home of an Asian; you yell loudly at the TV soccer game playing in Panama City. You be very quiet in a Paris bar and you don't try to swipe an ashtray our of a Geneva brew-pub without asking (they'll give you one, if you ask). At the top of the Andes in Jujuy, you slow down for people who are tending their flocks of Alpaca, and return their friendly waves.
You hunker down, you listen to the locals, you be polite, you ask to learn a few phrases in their language, you respect their customs and religions, and you obey their speed-limits. You'll get along fine and make life-long friends. Otherwise they've got their own stuff to do without caring about “how we did it in California.”
One wishes the local purveyors of tourism might impart this simple ethic upon their customers. Remind them that they are our guests, and we are not their servants.
Lastly, I regret having used the term “zipper-head” to describe rude tourists. An apology is due.
Zipper-head was meant as a generic insult, the way Clint Eastwood's character used it in the movie “Grand Torino,” and is not listed in our Oxford English Dictionary. Shame on my etymologogical laziness.
Upon further research, the term “zipper-head” actually was coined by American GIs to describe North Korean Army troops during the “police action” there, and is racially pejorative. I apologize to all the brave North Koreans who take this newspaper.