Why do people-normal, semi-cogitative people-become such suckers for junk when they're traveling? I'm speaking of our penchant for snapping up anything and everything that tourist-baiting shopkeepers choose to sell. You're as guilty as I am, aren't you?
The nicer the scenery, the lower your financial inhibitions. For instance, there's a scenic overlook at Tallulah Gorge, Georgia. It provides a gorgeous view from a spot 900 feet above the waterfall and trees of Tallulah Gorge. It's only two hours from CNN Center in Atlanta, but the gorge and the surrounding area are right out of a Smokey Mountain folk song. (If you're thinking "shameless plug," you're right.)
A few strategic tourist-oriented shops sit right beside the overlook. One of them has a porch that actually offers a better view of the gorge than the ground-based overlook because you're higher and you can lean over the porch railing instead of standing behind a fence. These shops sell crafts made from local materials, postcards showing the overlook when it was first built, Cokes in 6-ounce bottles and all manner of quaint crap. No "must-haves" here...right?
Like most souvenir stores, these shops might as well aim a giant Hoover out the window and suck all the cash out of tourists' billfolds. I watched in awe as they peeled off Benjamins to stock up on pre-rusted watering cans and other yard ornaments, birdhouses designed to look rickety and rustic, leather pouches with fringe and beadwork, fake "coonskin" caps, t-shirts, corn-cob pipes, hemp jewelry, postcards of the cliff and the waterfall (the picture taken sometime when we'd had a lot more rain), and much more. These shops could probably put price tags on their doorknobs, and there would be a doorknob stampede.
Travelers are the worst impulse buyers of all. If it's for sale and I'm on the road, I can always justify buying it. These Tallulah Gorge shops could sell rocks from the area and between me and the other tourists, we'd clean them out. They'd sell all 900 feet of the cliff if they weren't careful, and they could take photographs of the cliff at various stages of depletion and sell them, too.
It wouldn't take much marketing prowess to entice us into buying rocks: "Step right up! These rocks are from the Vendian period, folks. Much better than your run-of-the-mill Cambrian rocks."
If you pass a cliff every day, you probably won't buy a picture of it. But see a cliff on vacation and your life is incomplete without a few postcards. You need postcards to send to friends and co-workers to convince them that you truly communed with nature, just like Daniel Boone. Of course, when you're back in the car, the first thing you say is, "Turn on that damned AC! I must be running out of freon, because I can't see my breath in the car."
Any place that draws visitors should have a vendor selling postcards of that spot. I'll bet you can buy postcards showing the wrecks of James Dean and Princess Di. (Too bad about James Dean.) People at the beach will buy sand from that beach-even if they have the exact same color of sand back home. And any beach shop sells seashells just like the ones you can pick up 25 feet from the shop's door. Heck, camping enthusiasts will even buy commemorative pine cones instead of just picking up one or two from the woods. If it's for sale, someone's going to buy it.
I once bought a bullet from a gift shop at the Gettysburg Battlefield. But I found out later that my bullet was probably younger than me and had been made to look like an old bullet by a very modern bullet mold. Apparently, the bullets they dug out of the battlefield were all sold to tourists like me.
If the Gettysburg Battlefield's management was smart, they'd offer to shoot you in the leg with a real Civil War musket. Then, for a fee they would amputate it with one of those cool Civil War saws they always show on the Discovery channel. You know, the patient is "de-limbed "while biting down on a bullet, sipping whiskey and composing a poetically moving letter to Scarlet back home. Hmmm. More memorabilia to buy and sell.
Airports could sell postcards of airports. Some too-frequent fliers claim they can instantly identify the various U.S. and international airports when they see them from the air or ground. You know the type. Blindfold them, take them to an airport and they could identify the airport and the concourse they're on by the sounds and smells. These people would buy airport postcards in a second. They could use them to drill each other, sort of like flash cards. I can hear them now, chatting omnisciently up in first class:
"What's this one, Bob?"
"Wrong, sucker! It's LaGuardia. You should be back with the cattle. That'll cost you 15,000 frequent flyer miles. Fork 'em over."
I've decided to start selling postcards of the Shaughnessy residence. For a limited time, I'll even throw in a can of red clay, a little leftover grass seed and a scorpion or two. The line forms to the right.
© 2001 CMP Media LLC.
9/1/01, Issue # 1809, page 56.
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