Thursday, July 24, 2014

An extremely odd tourist guide

I'm not big on tourist guides - they never seem to have the information that you really want to know - by my Mother-in-law gave me this book for my birthday a couple of years ago, and my husband and I are planning to move to Washington so I figured I'd give it a read.

Washington reaffirmed my dislike of tourist guides but wasn't wholly useless. There's a fair amount of interesting historical information, and some minimal discussion of useful geography, along with a fair number of decent maps.

It's the other stuff that drives me crazy. Sure, there were a bunch of helpful phone numbers for reservations at the Space Needle or a winery tour on the eastern side of the state, but there are also a whole lot of authorial idiosyncrasies that I just can't get behind.

One of those is the incredibly strange language surrounding Spokane in the book. There's a lot of longing and whimsy in the writing but I know people who have seen Spokane and they all describe it as "not quite a pit". That doesn't mesh with Doerper's description as "one of the most beautiful cities on the west coast," neither does this picture:

In which you can see that most of the buildings are either from the school of 80s Skyscraper Ugly or Turn-of-the-century Brick-and-Smokestack. Though the bridge is pretty nice, as are the mountains and trees - but pretty scenery does not a pretty city make. There's also a truly strange interlude in the discussion of farmland around Spokane in which an unnamed, mangled farmer and his wife hope that someone will want to keep up the way of life that took the man's arm - the story is dropped in there apropos of nothing and never explained further. Is this Doerper and his wife? His parents? Someone he interviewed? A depressing folktale sprung from a depressing region? Spokane's crime rate is almost double the national average (and all crimes except for assault and arson have gone up since Washington was written so have fun with those murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries, and general theft), the city has only 201 more police officers than they do sex offenders (385 and 184) and the four most common businesses are UPS stores, FedEx, Nike stores, and Starbucks which suggests to me that most people who are in Spokane want to ship their stuff away from it, strap on some running shoes, front-load on caffeine, and get the fuck out of Dodge.

But Doerper's delight with this (clearly shitty) city isn't even in my top-two most irritating things in the book.

Number two irritating thing: Shouldn't you say SOMETHING about Twin Peaks when you're writing a book about tourism to Washington? He mentions Northern Exposure once, but not the show that spawned a 22-year history of festival attendance every summer. It's a bizarre omission, especially since several of the show's stars are from some of the cities listed in the book.

Number one irritating thing: There's no mention of Twin Peaks, very little attention is paid to some of the more populous areas of the state, and he doesn't feel the need to talk about the ABSOLUTELY BITCHIN' Sci-Fi museum underneath the Space Needle, but Doerper made sure to set aside about twenty pages for a chapter called "Heavenly Oysters." Again: nothing is said about Kirkland, Redmond, or Lake Stevens as a ski resort, but there are 20 pages about fucking oysters. When they should be shucked, how you should cook them, photos of the different varieties, and an amazingly patronizing little lecture about how it's totally okay to pair seafood with a red as long as you're daring and know a shitload about oysters.

So I guess if you want to go to Washington, go to fucking Washington and ask people who live there what's around town and fun to do. Don't read a guide book that has its head so far up its ass that the Author was allowed to present 20 pages about shellfish instead of spending that time talking about children's museums or (actually very important to visitors) traffic laws.

     - Alli

Doerper, John. Washington. Fodor's. New York: New York. 2008.

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