Just one of the locals

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

There is a certain type of person who goes on vacation and says he wants to experience wherever he is going "like a local," despite the fact that locals almost everywhere mostly sit around at work daydreaming about their next chance to go on a vacation. There's one particular self-hating version of this type of person who might, say, go to Chicago for the weekend and (even with a Nikon around his neck) look down his nose at his fellow provincials wandering starry-eyed between the Art Institute, Navy Pier, and the Rainforest Cafe without acknowledging that he, too, is a tourist. He says the word "tourist" the way someone else might say "rodent" or "Carrottop." He has never been to a Rainforest Cafe. It could be a place that serves pan-seared marmoset and sloth tartare. He wouldn't know.

It's with food that he's most annoying. He feels very strongly that meals in a place as big and fantastic as Chicago should not be wasted on something familiar or uninteresting. "You only get a few chances to eat when you're traveling," he says. "I'm not going to waste one of them in the Bennigan's on Michigan Avenue." He might drag his 8-month-pregnant wife, his 2-year-old daughter, and his farsighted mother-in-law around the Loop for an hour looking for some place halfway-interesting that's close to their hotel for lunch. He might end up sulking through a meal in some deep-dish pizza place surrounded by suburbanites and their bags from Macy's, Forever 21, and H&M. Later that evening, on a date alone with his 8-month-pregnant wife in the city of big shoulders, he might hold her arm and drag her down icy sidewalks through three northern neighborhoods looking for a place to eat that wasn't lit by blue neon or filled with the type of guys who wear those newfangled tech-earmuffs. "Are you really surprised by any of this?" He asks her. "Don't you remember Venice?"

"That was eleven years ago. But yes, we smelled every damn canal before you found a restaurant that fit within your annoying matrix of authenticity and affordability."

The next day, he forces her to walk past twenty greasy hot dog stands looking for a place to get an Italian Beef. Some look too nice, others too popular. He refuses to visit any place with a reputation as "the best," resenting such subjectivities because they don't allow him to discover anything for himself. They decide to get tostadas and menudo in Pilsen. He walks back to the hotel; her woman parts hurt so she takes the CTA. He thinks Little Italy looks like it's populated mostly by Indian medical students. As he walks through all these neighborhoods, he thinks a lot about gentrification, how hipsters like him seek and fetishize and ultimately destroy the authentic, because they are so ashamed of what they are. It takes him three hours to get back to the hotel with all his detours, though it would have taken far less if he'd had ice skates.

Finally, as they are about to leave town, they pass a hot dog place on the outskirts of Ukrainian Village that looks just dirty and empty enough to try. He waits for the middle-aged woman to grill a cheeseburger for a black man in coveralls. When it's his turn at the counter, he orders an Italian beef. Dipped in gravy? Yes. With peppers? Yes. It is everything he has dreamed it would be. He even takes pictures.

A few minutes later, on I-94: "I'm sorry you married such an annoying tourist."

"It's okay," she says. "I had notice."