Colonialism in the 21st century is still very relevant, and present here in the United States. Though today it may not be to the severe degree of a hostile takeover of a small village, for example, we still show signs of colonialism through our participation in and encouragement of being tourists. I’m fortunate enough to have grown up in a town that I would not consider to be a “tourist destination.” Tucson, Arizona is surrounded in natural beauty and rich in food and culture, but our triple degree summers keep the tourists away most of the year. It has a charming hybrid feeling of being a big city and a small town at the same time. And when we do come across tourists, we greet them with enthusiasm and excitement (at least I do). Usually I begin a conversation with a tourist with, “Have you tried a Sonoran hot dog yet?!”
Louisville, Kentucky struck me with the same charm. Though it’s obviously a big city, it had an adorably welcoming appeal to it from the locals who were eager to share their ways with my friend and me. On my first evening in Louisville, I went to the Troll Pub Under the Bridge (because I’m a nerd and appreciate mythological creature references and yes, the restaurant was actually under a bridge).
The server came up to our table.
Me: Um… I’m just going to tell you now. We’re not from here.
Server: (smiles) That’s okay!
Me: Okay then. So… how big is a “hot brown”?
Server: It’s actually a pretty good-sized serving.
Me: (gestures to my friend) So the two of us could probably split it?
Me: Great. We’ll take a hot brown. Next question, how do we order bourbon without sounding like we’re tourists?
By the time we finished our sinfully delicious hot brown, and our bourbon mixed drinks (OMG they put bourbon in their Bloody Marys instead of vodka, it’s appropriately called a Bloody Derby), the server returned to our table and explained that since we were visiting we should participate in the “Urban Bourbon Tour.” He then gave us each an “Urban Bourbon Tour Passport” which we were to get stamped at participating restaurants. 6 stamps = free t-shirt. Challenge accepted.
Because locals don’t seem to participate in the “Urban Bourbon Tour” each time we asked for a stamp in our passports we really were branding ourselves with great big signs across our foreheads that said, “WE’RE NOT FROM HERE!”
“So, where are you from?” we were asked countless times. We’d explain we were from Arizona. “What brings you to Kentucky?” My friend and I would give each other a glance that asked, “Do you want to tell them or should I?”
Me: We are on a quest- to visit all 50 states.
Kentuckian: Oh so Kentucky is your last one then?
Me: Well… I still have 30 states after this.
Kentuckian: Really? So you picked Kentucky before 30 other states?
We had this conversation over and over again throughout the weekend. Why was this so surprising to them? Tourists? On a weekend other than the Derby? With no other motives besides just wanting to visit? For fun? How can it be?
My experiences and conversations with the locals of Louisville moved beyond colonialism. Rather than feeling like we were the “other,” the locals made us feel like we belonged there. They begged to tell us about Louisville’s history and gave us suggestions on what we should do and see. They are so proud of their local culture and were more than happy to share it with us, which really made this trip so memorable.
So, besides conversing with locals, eating a hot brown, and delving into a little Kentucky bourbon, what else did we do over a holiday weekend in Louisville? Stay tuned for Louisville, Kentucky Part 2 coming soon!