Feeling conflicted about tourists


As seen in the Oct. 25 issue
Danny Licht, editor-in-chief
My friend left my house and walked toward his car, a BMW. An open-top tour bus approached. The tour guide said, “Hey, rich kid!” The tourists looked to see. “Everybody say, ‘Hi, rich kid!’” Everybody said, “Hi, rich kid.” 
I don’t remember which tour company it was, but it might have been City Safari, and if it was, it would have been the Westside Tour, alternately called the Blockbuster Tour, where, according to the promotional materials, “You will see architectural landmarks, historical treasures, cutting-edge art scenes and culinary one-time events that are unique to Los Angeles.” City Safari — “committed to promoting tourism in Los Angeles,” with a tour guide who is “addicted to having fun,” with “new clean buses,” with cameras flashing, with “he lives here” and “she lived there” — does, in fact, resemble a traditional safari: open-air vehicle, tourists with binoculars, encroachment of habitat.
I live on a street with a famous house, so I see these buses a few times a day, and when I do, I’m an extension of their metaphor. I become the animal that they seek. I can hear the Crocodile Hunter whispering about my mating call. I can feel them violating my habitat in a personal way. They’re loud and they’re everywhere. They take up space on the street. Their guides make fun of my friends.
So I manipulate them. I co-opt their insatiable desire to see celebrities, their desire to tell their mothers and followers that they saw a somebody. Of course, I am not a somebody, but when I’m walking around the neighborhood and hear their march — the growl of the engine, the voice of the guide — I ready myself. I take a quick look back at them, as if I’m not sure that they’re there, and then when they’re closer I cover my face with my hand, just as a somebody would. They photograph me. They whisper to each other. They “oh my god” and they “is that him?” One time an entire bus shouted “Harry Potter! Hey, Harry Potter!” to me over and over.
In this way, the tourist species and I simultaneously fulfill its fantasy of Hollywood and my ambition of grandeur. It’s symbiosis. It’s perfect. But still I complain about them. We help each other, I love it, and still I whine about their presence. Because, to be frank, I like complaining about them. I like being annoyed by their fame-hungry eyes, their bizarre questions (“Is everyone here rich?”). I like their notion that Beverly Hills is a fairytale. I honk when they slow down on my street and when they stop on Sunset, and I like doing it. I like playing the role they expect me to play, the jaded, fast-paced Angeleno. I like being a piece of their golden puzzle.
Because even though I usually prefer to keep my distance from this city’s overplayed glory, it’s comforting to know that the residents of Beverly Hills, the mythical city, are the envy of the world. That the Oxford American Dictionary identifies it as “the home of many movie stars.” That tourists think I don’t have a calculus grade to worry about or a social life that requires effort or college applications that need polishing. When nothing feels like a fantasy, it feels good to walk outside and see the City Safari, to imagine the strangers romanticizing my life, to be a character in some crazy dream, even if that’s all it is.