Enough with the tourists already



Savannah Morning News column

Sunday, July 26, 2015

In the end it all comes down to people, real people. Not people needing people (thanks anyway, Barbra). Not dogs. Not cars, vacations or rugs. Not rings or things. It’s people. People who bring you three-bean salad or lasagna when you’re sick. People who pick up the paper, buy you small curd cottage cheese or walk your dog. People with ideas. People who live in your neighborhood.

Yes, you appreciate the plethora of workers taking x-rays, scheduling appointments and keeping order in cavernous health care waiting rooms that look more like international airports than places of healing, but it’s the workers who remember your name or laugh at your jokes or lead you to the waiting room who count the most.

Because really now, what do you miss most when you quit, leave or retire from a job?

Hint; It’s not the department of human resources, although when you think about it, this is what you should be missing. That is their job after all, to look after you, the human, though all too often they’re looking after the second part of that job description, the resources.

A second hint: It’s probably not the meetings, managers or middlemen. And – I’m going out on a limb here – it’s probably not the money. We all know too much money is spent on the chiefs, not enough on the workers. No wonder we don’t miss the chiefs.

Everyone I’ve talked to says the same thing about quitting a job. They miss the people they work with, the people they’re in the trenches with each day.  They may miss the work but they don’t miss the hogwash, the poppycock, the nonsense.

What is so hard to understand here?

Over the weekend I read about – hold on to your seats, here – a mini-revolt against tourism in favor of city residents. Somewhere in this world, local governments, elected by the people for the people, are starting to put people, aka residents, ahead of moneyed multinational corporations who don’t know them from Adam.

Heresy, I know.

In Copenhagen, a popular place for cruise ships and tourists, there are “quiet zones,” where guides on cruise ships insist that people stop talking for five minutes while they cruise through neighborhoods. Tourists, the Danes say, should blend in with residents, not the other way around. The Danes have prohibited foreigners from buying vacation rentals on their seacoasts and limited bars and restaurants from taking over Copenhagen. The Dane in charge of tourism explains the dilemma: “How do you take advantage of the growth of tourism and not be overtaken by mass tourism?”

Have we been addressing this, Madam Mayor? Have we been thinking of our residents before the out-of-town stockholders of the multinational corporations backing the flood of hotels and shops and tour buses? I think not.

Barcelona’s new mayor, alarmed at how the industry has taken over neighborhoods, replacing pharmacies and small grocery stores, has announced a one-year ban on new tourist accommodations. She does not want Barcelona to turn into another tourist-clogged, tourist-heavy Venice. I wonder what she would say about downtown Savannah, where the best time for locals to do business and enjoy the ambiance is before 10 a.m.

Are you listening, aldermanic candidates for District 1? Your constituents live here, not on paper or in some corporate listing. Your people are electing you to protect them. Your cry about new jobs (at mostly $8 an hour) from proposed hotel construction is starting to fall on deaf ears. If a larger hourly wage is made part of the deal they may start to pay attention. How hard could that be?

Bhutan, a magical spot in South Asia near the Himalayas, has restricted the number of tourist visas, curbed hotel construction and imposed a high tariff on tourism.

Aldermanic candidates for the at-large position: are you paying attention?

When do we in Savannah start investing in people instead of corporations, especially when the people in those corporations live out of town?

What are we doing for our own?

At least one philanthropic organization in this country is addressing this in a new way. Jake Hodesh, who used to head Savannah’s Creative Coast, now works for an outfit in Cincinnati called People’s Liberty. It calls itself a philanthropic “lab.” One of its objectives is to award grant money to local individuals – as in people – instead of to organizations. These people are charged with improving Cincinnati through projects in public art, design, education and technology. “The future of a city is determined by who gets involved,” reads the description of the project. “Philanthropy is more than cutting checks.”

I don’t see any mention of human resources, managers or meetings.

Maybe we should start thinking of people not proprietors.


Nothing but time to find inner resources

Savannah Morning News column

July 19, 2015

A month ago a friend of mine said she’d be spending her 40th birthday in a San Francisco meditation center. Was it a day, a week, a few weeks? I don’t remember the details. It all seemed tortuous to me. Admirable but tortuous. I’m afraid I might be more of the John Berryman sort, the famed and late Minnesota poet who wrote of not having any “inner resources.” Kelli must have “inner resources.” Me? I’m not so sure. But after a week at home, laid up with a broken kneecap and no car I can drive (flashback to teenage years: “Mom, please, can I borrow the car?”) I might be finding them.

P.S. The inner resources do not come from being able to name the 15 Republican candidates for president although after a few hours of the tube I might be able to get most of them (but don’t ask me about the Greek crisis; it’s still “all Greek to me”). And don’t ask me for any insight on the most recent Ben Affleck kafuffle, despite my deepest research.

No, for my deep and resourceful mind, the boob tube is best for things like watching Savannah’s City Council meetings (yes, seriously, although I wouldn’t mind if they would spend more time identifying the speakers and offering just a little background, but the camera work is pretty darn good, far, far better than the one camera at the joint city/county school board meeting aimed about a mile out; the county really needs to do something about that).

Maybe my standards are too low (well, I do have a lot of at-home to fill, me and my leg immobilizer), but to me there is real life drama in those civic meetings. One thing is for sure: they are not scripted. Still, in the end, what goes on beats a lot of what passes for ordinary television fare these days.

If I’m lucky and the stars are with me, I can navigate the other three remote controls and sneak in a few episodes of the BBC political-spy thriller of Israeli/Palestinian/English import, “The Honorable Woman,” particularly apt since I just returned from that hornet’s nest of the world. It’s helpful – and I’m not ashamed to admit it – to watch each episode twice. The story is complex but compelling.

But meetings or well-done television series, no matter how volatile and contentious they are, can never beat a good book. Except if I had known what a painful and depressing story Richard Flanagan tells in the first third of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” I probably wouldn’t have started it during the most painful and depressing part of an immobilizing injury. Except when my reading guru recommends a book, I usually go for it. This book was worth it. It got me out of myself. It did what historian Barbara Tuchman says reading is supposed to do. This is how one reviewer quoted her: “Without books, history if silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”

At first no one looks good in Flanagan’s book, which takes places during World War II, especially the Japanese who are overseeing a group of Australian POWs commissioned and drive to build a railway. There’s torture. There’s horror. There’s dysentery, lice and cruelty and that’s putting it mildly. There’s an overwrought love affair. But it was good story-telling.

More books await but for me at least I need a little breather between stories. Fortunately I have met up with a “New Yorker enabler” (that’s what she calls herself) who feels righteous in just in dropping off a stack.  It’s win-win. She gets them out of her house; I get to skim through and read only what I want since I didn’t pay for them.

Between this stack, my 7, 522 (slight exaggeration) “friends” on Facebook and the hops from one couch to another there’s plenty of time to blend up a paste of comfrey leaves, olive oil and honey to heap on the offending knee. Comfrey, which grows next to the house in a space formerly known as a driveway, is not called bone knit for nothing.                          Maybe it’ll work. Maybe the bone and the tendons and the arteries will grow back faster. In a period where me and my friends are growing shorter it’s kind of cool to think we can still reproduce new bone and maybe some inner resources. We have our own form of meditation.