Watson Lake, Canada 11 Jul 05
Odometer 5,023 m 8,084 km

Sounding more Texan than Canadian, the smiley-faced woman behind the mini-mart counter inquired, “Where ya ridin’ to?”

I momentarily hesitated, not wanting to get into the long version, and simply mumbled, “Argentina.”

She paused long enough to think about whether or not that could possibly be true, then cheerily declared, “Why you’re just a goin’ concern, aren’t ya?”

Here in Watson Lake they’re proud of the going concerns that have graced their village with signs from back home. Starting in 1942, when a homesick G.I. posted the first stateside reminder, their Sign Forest has continued to grow. Within minutes I spotted a familiar Durango logo from the Bar-D Chuckwagon, and later a shrine meant to represent the Four Corners states--albeit New Mexico still needs to get its license plate to the party. In all, it’s a strange spectacle of memorabilia left by tourists in a town where they do not belong.
Lost in the Sign Forest
Many of the world’s quintessential tourist towns lie along the Alaska Highway, where mayors-cum-circus barkers cry out with promises of attractions found nowhere else. Never mind that it’s impossible to verify their claims, we’re drawn in like eager children wondering if it's true. Whether boasting to have the world’s biggest fly-rod, oldest dinosaur egg, deepest hole in the ground or largest post-card display, these towns share one key element: the two kinds of people who populate them.

Tourists, and the people who serve them, form a simplified version of the complex economy that knits our society together. The former are on vacation enjoying a stress-free agenda: shop-eat-sleep. The latter wish they too were vacationing, but instead are stuck here catering to those who are. It’s an odd dichotomy of the happy-go-lucky and discontent.
Take Dawson City, Yukon, for example, a kind of Silverton, Colorado on steroids. No doubt it enjoyed a colorful past, kept alive by the semi-authentic facades that from a distance make you feel the excitement of the 19th century gold rush, but up close one can see the dysfunction in a community where no one is really a local. The business owners are largely absent, presumably on vacation in some other tourist town, while their transplanted employees are brought in to serve a continuous stream of foreigners.

Over time the merchants and tourists have developed a symbiotic relationship. Mining the sightseers has certainly proven more lucrative than the gold in them thar hills, and perhaps the la-la land they provide is exactly what people have come for. Tourists
live in the real world back home, they escape to the town next door.

With time to burn and money to spend, some vacationers are better at it than others. The Americans I’ve seen arrive in long caravans of gigantic recreational vehicles once reserved only for touring rock stars. They tow automobiles, carry a boat, a pair of bicycles, a few lawn chairs and a barbecue grill; nothing is left behind.

But perhaps we only want to be where we
aren’t or possess the things we don’t. This morning while breaking camp I overheard two young boys playing in front of their family’s enormous land yacht, outfitted with every conceivable accessory:

“It’s not fair,” one brother disappointedly moaned to the other, “that guy on the motorcycle gets to sleep in a tent.”

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