Our guide, an upbeat woman in a purple blazer, was talking about architect Kirtland Cutter as the tour bus rolled past a disheveled man on his hands and knees on a Second Avenue sidewalk downtown.
He appeared to be experiencing dramatic digestive distress. This definitely wasn’t supposed to be part of Thursday afternoon’s sightseeing.
Welcome to the Spokane Familiarization Tour, a four-hour survey of some of the city’s postcard attractions.
The idea was to get a group of local convention planners and hospitality industry professionals to try to see Spokane as a tourist would. You know, confront anew that old question: It’s a nice place to live, but would anybody want to visit?
No one could pretend that the 22 people taking the tour were an objective panel. But their answer appeared to be an emphatic “.”
“Cool,” said one tour-goer as the bus crossed the Monroe Street Bridge, affording passengers a splendid look at the churning Spokane River.
“Wow,” whispered a wide-eyed convention planner standing inside St. John’s Cathedral on the South Hill.
Sponsored by a business called Group Coordinators, the outing started downtown and wound up at the Arbor Crest Cliff House. In between, tour guide Harla Jean Biever knowledgeably promoted the notion that Spokane is an attractions-studded tourism destination.
Don’t smirk. If you had spent a few hours listening to her tell stories about Spokane’s geology, architecture, history and unique personalities, you might have had the same reaction as a woman who works for the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It just goes to show you,” she said. “You live here, but sometimes you have no idea.”
Now make no mistake. Thursday’s excursion was all about Spokane’s greatest hits. You know, the Looff Carrousel and Patsy Clark’s. Manito Park and the Grace Campbell House.
The idea that the Lilac City might have its share of civic embarrassments and seamy reality checks didn’t come up. This was no underground tour. This was an invitation to fall in love.
“We are the hub of the Inland Northwest,” Biever said while the bus sat parked at the Cliff Drive overlook.
Most of this was not new to those on the tour. Maybe none of it was. But most people seemed to enjoy playing tourist.
Walking toward the student center at Gonzaga University, with the Bing Crosby memorabilia room the destination, one woman did her impression of the Spokane-reared singer. “Buh buh buh buh.”
Inside, someone else volunteered that, until that moment, she had never seen a gold record.
“Cool, huh?” said one of her bus buddies.
Wine tasting was next. People were smiling as they got back on the bus.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo