Marolt: You don’t know what you’ve got until it gets improved
The tourist’s first impression of the village was that of wonder. How could a small town so beautiful, so neatly tucked into a cozy cove by the ocean, one of such quaint beauty, geographic perfection and tranquility, be still so untouched by improvements?
The reality was a recognition of practicality. The town was accessible by just one road that crossed a river by an ancient one-lane bridge. It prevented tour buses and large trucks from entering the streets that stood placidly resolute against the crossing of decades.
“I love this place,” the tourist exclaimed when he arrived. “I hope it never changes,” he whispered to himself as he took in one last sweeping look on the day he departed, remembering the comforting secrets he discovered during his week there.
The local innkeeper heard only what he said when he first signed the guestbook and thought, “Of course this man is right. This is the most special place in the world.” And then, after further reflection, “There are certainly more like him who would come if I only had more rooms.”
He mentioned this to his neighbor over coffee one morning, and his neighbor thought, “He is right about this,” and then, “I bet I could rent my house a few weeks of the year to a few who can’t get a room at the inn because it is always full. It would pay enough for me to get off this island once in a while, even though I know no other place compares.”
The grocer eventually heard of the homeowner’s plan and had his own thoughts about it: “These new visitors would need all sorts of things for their stays. If I could expand my store a little bit, I could sell all of it.”
One of the wonderful curses about a small village such as this on the edge of the sea is that residents know one another and meet purposelessly and often on street corners, at the local cafe and, in this case, on the beach they had to themselves and shared generously with all who came there.
It was in the sum of these cordial and seemingly insignificant meetings that the innkeeper, the grocer and the homeowners passed along their ideas without really intending to. At any rate, it was them and many others who came to the conclusion that the one-lane bridge at the edge of the town was what stood in the way of more hotel rooms, more renters for houses, an expanded grocery store and other new shops.
Somebody pointed out that if they tore out the old bridge in favor of a new, bigger one, not only could they bring in more visitors, but they could bring in more machinery to build improvements to the town to make it even more attractive.
They held an election to determine whether they were crazy to consider tearing out the old bridge that had kept their town tranquil for as long as any remembered.
The innkeeper indulged the notion of a new car and making his life more secure. He voted in favor of a new bridge. The grocer dreamed of retirement and envisioned extra sales accumulating in his savings account, which would allow him to enjoy all the town had to offer in his inevitable spare time. He, too, voted “yes.” The homeowner also decided a new bridge was for the best. He reasoned rightly that more visitors meant more rent and more rent meant a higher value for his house. He had never thought of selling before, but who knows? It can’t hurt to get things lined up just in case.
They built the new bridge, and things changed almost exactly the way the villagers had imagined, only somehow differently in a less perfect way. They began to resent the tourist for it, because it’s hard to resent yourself, even if it is just.
As for the tourist, he said: “I stay in your new hotels not because I demanded them but because they are there. I buy more at your stores for the same reason. I rent your houses for more money not because they are better but because it is more crowded and harder to find a place to sleep. I was unwavering in not wanting this place to change. I am the only one who didn’t have a motive for replacing the bridge.”
The tourist was right, but nobody heard him because they were all too busy and couldn’t take a minute to listen.
Roger Marolt is a tourist who loves the inconvenience of a one-lane bridge in Hanalei, Hawaii. Contact him at email@example.com.