Monday, March 15, 2010

Still geeky after all these years.

You can mock me (go for it, Emily), but I still love Rick Steves. And this is why.

He proves that any 100% whole-grain boy scout can be an informed and curious world traveler. (Or the geeky, socially backward teenaged me, sitting home most Friday nights watching his "Europe Through the Back Door" TV series and dreaming of all the places I would one day go.)

He's as interested in knowing people as places, and his interactions are genuine, warm, and humble. For all his slouchy, bespectacled dorkiness he never makes me embarrassed to be an American/Westerner as do so many other travel show hosts.

He has special dispensation to make fun of Mormons because his first post-parents European traveling companion was his LDS high school buddy: two teen prudes, 70 days, backpacks, hostels, and a shoestring budget (they did it on $7.35 per day, after airfare!) Take that, hippie gypsies: the dork boys are movin' in! (It's a great read -- you really should click on it.)

He focuses on how to cut out empty expenditure and concentrate your pesos on the richest travel experiences. (Unfortunately, wearing drip-dry wrinkle-proof baggy khakis every day is a part of this frugal vision, but other than that....)

His travel business headquarters is in a Washington town where my grandparents lived, and it has gargoyles over the entrance. Inside is a free library of travel books and videos, open to any and all. Nice fella, that Rick.

He speaks the local languages as much as he can, even though he delivers everything from German to Italian in his nasal and abominably accented tenor.

He's filmed some shows with his wife and kids, demonstrating how families can travel together sanely, economically, and without hating each other by the end of the trip.

He has neither that snotty I-only-do-high-culture attitude nor that obnoxious I-only-go-where-other-tourists-don't attitude that characterizes just about every other travel show host I know of. Any adventure is fair game for the mighty Rick.

His recent travel show about Iran ignored politics, focusing on culture, history, and people. At the same time he managed to provide in easy-to-swallow form what scholars on the Middle East have failed to convince U.S. policy-makers of -- that Iran's population is overwhelmingly pro-Western, educated, empowering of women, and rich in the kinds of "civil society" associations that are a necessary precursor to a truly democratic society. He reminds his audience that the negative turn in our relations with this place is a direct result of our upholding oppressive pro-Western regimes and quashing democracy in order to feed our lust for oil.

Oh dear. I swear this didn't start out as a political rant -- it really was supposed to be about Mr. Steves. I'm still a big fan, Rick! If you ever need an extra person on your travel crew to....iron your drip-dry wrinkle-proof baggy khakis?....I'd be happy to step in.

Will work for exotic cheeses and good, wholesome adventure.