Tourists can be really annoying. They overrun our home towns, take pictures of landmarks we’re all-too-used to seeing (or pictures of something so much less spectacular, like a pigeon), stand on the left of the escalator (dang escalefters), and are generally just a big nuisance. At the same time, while we all complain about tourists, we all, at some inevitable point, ARE tourists. Even if you are one of less annoying travelers who is respectful of other people, avoids the tourist traps, and tries to blend in like a local, the truth is undeniable – any time you visit a city or country that is not your own, you are a tourist. We are all, at some point in our lives, that annoying visitor that gets in everyone’s way.
But despite their bad rap, I think we can all learn a little something from the tourists that come to visit our hometowns. Did you ever notice how tourists are always smiling and the locals are always grumpily or absent-mindendly walking past them? The tourists are exploring what’s around them, while the locals rush by their everyday surroundings as if the local violinist playing on the street corner wasn’t even there. Sure, those tourists are on vacation - they're supposed to explore this town, they have time to pay attention to the new and different. Being on vacation means breaking out of the norm – seeing things we wouldn’t normally see in our daily lives, trying something that we wouldn’t normally try. But when we're not on vacation, we seem to slip back into robot mode. Why? Why does that sense of adventure only have to be when we’re visiting another city? Why can’t it be in our daily lives, on our way home from work, in our hometown?
I write this message sitting outside Cosi/Panera (cause, you know, in DC sometimes the closest thing we can get to sidewalk cafes is putting chairs outside major restaurant chains). For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather while munching on my sandwich and doing a bit of people-watching. About 25 feet ahead of me, there is a violinist and guitarist playing duets together outside of the Dupont Cirle metro station – and they sound amazing! They’re playing mostly classical tunes, but just wrapped up a beautiful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I walk into this metro station every single day, and I can tell you from experience that I always – ALWAYS – walk past the musicians that are playing there. Today I have the privilege of having a bit of time to kill before Theology on Tap, and thus the privilege of listening to these two gentleman serenade the evening commuters.
Just a short while ago, there was a small group of what were clearly tourists walking past the musical duo. What seemed to be a mother and her grown daughter from the group started dancing together to the music. They were in the middle of a public sidewalk, without a care in the world, and with the biggest smiles on their faces. Their smiles showed nothing but joy. They danced to the music while their family members cheered and documented the scene on their cameras. It was wonderful. And yet, there were other families, other couples walking by, who did not stop to dance. Why not? Most likely because of the same reasons I would give you on a normal commuting day – they’re too busy, they have a bus to catch, a dinner date to make it to. All of these are perfectly legitimate excuses, and I will tell you that I make them all the time. But what if one day we didn’t make them? What if we stopped in the middle of our ordinary day, became tourists in our home town, and paused for 30 seconds to stop and listen to the music?
Don't get me wrong, I know that having a routine and being busy is part of everyone's lives. I know that sometimes vacation is the only chance we have to break out of the rat race and breathe. We can't always just stop our daily lives. But when we get too caught up in that routine, we can often miss some of the beauty that is right here in front of us every day. Maybe pausing for a few seconds to notice something at home will help make our crazy lives just a little bit less stressful and a little bit more peaceful. Maybe if we take just a bit more time to look and listen, we'll begin to see and hear things that we might normally miss.
P.S. I know that street musicians aren't always the greatest, but those guys were GOOD. I'm happy to say that they're tip box was quite full.