500 words about Tourism

By Elliot Williams

As someone who grew up in and around the birthplace of our nation, I understand why people hate tourists so much.

Tourists make traffic unbearable. Tourists tend to be blind to local customs. Tourists are, for the most part, annoying.

But then I became one, and saw the value of viewing the world from an outsider’s perspective.

My family moved five times between four different states, spanning the entire country, before settling in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’m one of those JOPs (just outside of Philly). I spent a good 14 years in the area, a relative bubble, both as a teen and as a student at Villanova.

I’d venture into the city every now and then, but I was far from an explorer and barely scratched the surface of one of America’s most historic and beautiful cities.

Now I live in Syracuse, where I’m pursuing a master’s degree, and on a two-week break in August I went home to visit friends and family. As the tourism mindset begets, I realized how little time I had and wanted to use every bit of it.

So I grabbed some friends and did the most touristy things possible. We went to Boathouse Row. We toured the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We ate on South Street. We went to the Liberty Tower’s Observation Deck, where we saw a 360-degree view of the skyline, and tried to name the neighborhoods below.

We rode SEPTA, and I once again tried to decide whether the Independence Pass was the best option to get from here to there. We went to Rittenhouse Square and an event about education hosted at WHYY near Independence Mall. We learned about some of the great Philadelphians of the past, and read too many Ben Franklin quotes.

My friends also taught me about topics that divide the city, like gentrification, which I saw firsthand as I walked around southwest Philly. We talked about police brutality, youth violence and how there are countless roadblocks for inner-city youth to graduate from high school, make it to college or get a job.

These topics certainly deserve more attention than a paragraph, but the point is this: While I was learning about the city I grew up next to, I was really learning about myself.

I learned that it is easy to become complacent and take a place for granted when you live there long enough. At different points in my life, I have failed to recognize the beauty that could be found in my immediate surroundings. Many of us do.

In my first few weeks of grad school, I have noticed that the international students spend weekends camping and visiting central New York’s scenic lakes and waterfalls. I am learning from these students who see the area as new and exciting, and constantly take pictures of the unpredictable world around them.

I want to be a tourist, even if it means I have to ask for directions or slow down traffic from time to time.

Editor’s note: This story is part of our September 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about Location: Where are you, and how does it affect how you see the world?’


Elliot is pursuing his master’s in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. He writes about culture and entertainment, and has made approximately $7.99 in sales from his underground rap career. You can email him at elliotcwilliams30@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @ecwilliams30.

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