September 27

World Tourism Day

 

The small town’s population always exploded during the summer, as tourists flocked eastward to enjoy the beach, carnival attractions, and overpriced hotels with oceanfront views.

In many ways, Larsen preferred the cooler months when vacationers stayed away.  Many of the hotels closed during the off-season, and restaurants might be open only on the weekend.  Larsen could stroll along sidewalks without getting jostled by tourists.  He could cross the street without pausing to wait for an endless stream of cars with out-of-state license tags.

Summer officially ended last week, which should also mean the impending seasonal end of his clerk position at one of the larger hotels.  When Larsen checked the upcoming reservations, however, he noticed the hotel was filled for this week and next, just when the bookings should be dwindling.

Perhaps there was some music festival or gathering of local artists, some sporting or fishing competition he hadn’t been aware of.  The town had manufactured similar events in previous years, in hopes of extending tourism past the summer.  But none of those events had really caught on.

During his evening break, Larsen headed next door to Seaside Towers, a competing hotel where his best friend worked.

He found Chase at their usual smoking spot — a small alcove at the back of the Seaside, next to the hotel’s collection of trash bins.  “Yeah, we’re booked solid,” Chase said.  “I was kinda looking forward to some time off.”

“Same here.”  Larsen took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deep then forcing the smoke out through his nose.  “I’ve had my fill of tourists.  What’s bringing them here, anyway?”

“Nothing.”  Chase took a long final drag on his own cigarette, then he flicked the butt toward the overflowing trash bins, not caring where it landed.  “Everything.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?  Judging from past years, we should be a ghost town this time next week.”

Chase didn’t answer right away.  It almost looked like his eyes were welling up — but his friend wasn’t a weepy kind of guy, so Larsen didn’t give the observation much credit.

“They’re not coming here for the ocean scenery,” Chase finally said.  “All the bookings happened at once, online.  I think people are trying to get away.”  There was a definite catch in his voice, a seriousness his friend didn’t usually exhibit.  And his eyes definitely looked red — possibly from smoking, but maybe he actually had been crying.  “I think something terrible has happened in the cities.  These people aren’t tourists.  They’re coming here, because there’s nowhere else left.”