On a day trip to Buffalo, at one of the stores we visited—I can’t remember exactly which one, it might have been the glass shop—the proprietress asked us where we were from. Brooklyn, we said. She visibly shuddered, either an enormous unconscious tic of revulsion, or a conscious and theatrical desire to communicate her disgust. She had her eyes turned down, looking at the counter, wrapping something, I think, when I swear I heard her mutter under her breath: “All those people.” Which is not a polite reaction anywhere, but you’d think that someone in a town with a big tourist economy—where every store on the main drag, regardless of its stated purpose (hardware, cigars, knitting, etc.), has some kind of cowboy tchotchke or other for sale up front—would keep it to herself.
It reminded me of this old, hare-brained idea I had for red county tourism. Remember the amazing maps that a Princeton engineering professor made of the county-by-county breakdown of the 2004 election results (“Purple America“)? And how one of the interpretations of those maps (fuck if I can find where I read this originally, though) was essentially that at places where people interact with people who are not like themselves, such as big cities, ports, rivers, borders, tourist towns—i.e., heterogeneous intersections of human commerce—the citizenry tended to vote Democratic, whereas in isolated counties, remote towns, places that are insulated from the outside world, buffered by other counties—homogeneous places that no one visits much—people tended to vote Republican?
Thus, red county tourism. What if the French, say, bypassed New York City and chose to explore the wonders of Garfield County, Montana, instead? Perhaps they could check out the Hell Creek Fossil Area. What if the Dutch vacationed in Sioux County, Iowa? If Luxembourgians and Belgians made a faddish destination of the U.S. Sheep Experimental Station of Clark County, Idaho? What if New Yorkers, for that matter, all decided that the latest thing was camping out on the banks of the Draw River in Glasscock County, Texas, or Stinking Water Creek in Hays County, Nebraska?
As a New Yorker, I like to think that all the world would be a better place if people could just meet, and buy lots of crap from, people different from themselves. I’d like to think that the minds of the shuddering glass shop ladies of the world might be opened. I suppose the only way to know for sure, though, is to put my money where my mouth is. Utah Field House of Natural History State Park, here I come!