Tourists stay away in ‘blobs’ |

Tourists stay away in ‘blobs’

The Clear Creek Ranch Bed & Breakfast is searching for a new “theme.” Apparently “rustic, mismatched, and mildewy” is not enough for today’s tourists. They are staying away in droves – or pods, or clutches, or gaggles. That I can’t decide on the proper collective noun may be a sign I haven’t defined my target market well enough.

I do know I need clients that spend money like sailors on shore leave – in which case, the correct collective term is a “blob” of tars.

Perhaps I should take a cue from the towns near the Ranch. They run their quaint downtowns like Gold Rush era theme parks. In one “historical district,” homeowners can’t replace a doorknob without filing an environmental impact report and opening the (still-knobless) door to an invasive public probe.

How many layers of floral William Morris wallpaper does it take to bring those saggy, dry-rotted walls up to code? Opinions differ.

Local Main Streets don’t feature many storefronts dating back to the true California Gold Rush of 1849-’50. Most of the original structures were wooden. Those that didn’t rot burned down. The brick ones with the iron shutters date from a slightly later period.

The local architectural “Taliban” seems to forget the “original” structures weren’t built to code, or as part of any master plan. If they had been, unique homes like the Bourne cottage at the Empire Mine, or Julia Morgan’s impressive Northstar House (currently under extensive restoration) would never have been allowed.

And what’s the deal with our Art Deco courthouse, shaped like a 1920s ocean liner? I like it, but I always expect to see disembarking passengers dressed like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or someone from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

In Colonial Williamsburg, town inhabitants dress and act as if it is the late 18th century. No electricity or telephones, but plenty of horse manure.

If the Williamsburgians can do it, why can’t we? Issue mandatory gold pans, slouch hats, pickaxes and burros to the indigent, young men loitering on the sidewalk. Dress their girlfriends as dancehall floozies. Convert all parking meters into hitchin’ posts.

Do tourists want the real thing, or just a sanitized, deodorized version of nostalgia? Will they notice the carriage horses are wearing diapers while they enjoy city-supplied Wi-Fi and tap e-mails on their laptops as the “authentic” scenery goes by? Is it really the bygone era they want to escape to, or just the present and its insecurities they want to escape from?

Questions best answered by a psychic, of which there is no shortage in the county surrounding Clear Creek Ranch. Some say the same quartz rock that yielded all that gold a hundred years ago acts as a giant cosmic radio receiver.

Based on the TV reception out here at the ranch, the whole cosmos is enduring nothing but second-rate re-runs.

And speaking of second-rate, my dilemma remains. What theme to choose? I refuse to invest in costumes. All I have in my closet is a vast selection of Hawaiian shirts. But hanging coconuts on the digger pine trees isn’t going to fool anyone for long.

Everything else I own is spattered with axle grease or oil (motor, bar chain, or salad – take your pick). So maybe something in an automotive motif, to draw the NASCAR crowd. Several neighbors already have a rusting homage to Detroit muscle cars stacked up in their front weeds.

Perhaps if I install his and hers lube racks next to every bungalow …


Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at

His column appears every other Tuesday, alternating with Gina Gippner’s column, “Just Mom.”

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