Rough Guide to your own Backyard


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Rough Guide To Your Own Backyard
-Chris Dodge

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(print only) Globetrotter Dogma
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Road Reads
Utne Staff

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Friends are coming to town. You could drive them around ritzy neighborhoods, visit a museum, or eat at a fancy restaurant. But why not show them something they’re not likely to find anywhere else?

Take them, for example, on a personalized public art tour. Bike around and look at your favorite murals, sculpture, and promising yard art. While you’re at it, stop for refreshment at a little tortilleria or Asian grocery you know; visit that community gathering spot you take for granted; explore side streets you yourself have never seen.

Instead of dropping in at the mall, treat your guests to some of the unique businesses your town has to offer: a poster collective, ceramics studio, comic book shop, knish bakery, punk record store, or Native arts gallery. Or show off the natural assets of your hometown with an afternoon trek to a nearby wildlife sanctuary, or a quarry where you can hunt for fossils.

You might find an experienced activist to help you conduct a radical history tour. (‘This was the site of the biggest anti-nuke rally in these parts.’) Bruce Kayton has conducted such tours of Manhattan since 1991 (, asking people to show up on a given street corner at a set time, pay 10 bucks, and follow along. His book Radical Walking Tours of New York City (Seven Stories, 1998) will stir many ideas of how to do your own. Also inspiring, Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (City Lights, 1998) by James Brook and Chris Carlsson contains chapters on the city’s murals, an alternative bus tour, and the history of its communities (for more info: Little- recognized artistic and bohemian history can be handled the same way. (‘This is where the locally legendary poet ate a breakfast of grits and gravy every morning.’)

According to an article on ‘toxic tourism’ in Orion Afield ( Spring 2001), activist groups like San Francisco-based Global Exchange now conduct reality tours to open people’s eyes to social and environmental problems right under their noses. Lead your own such tour on a smaller scale by showing visitors the garbage burner or chemical plant that poses problems in your community.

Wherever you live–city, suburb, town, or country–make your tours wild and true. Dare to be counterintuitive. Talk with strangers. And relate your own tales. (‘Here’s where I washed dishes at a Chinese restaurant that served lutefisk and lefse each December at the working class bar next door.’) Your personal stories will be more lively than markers and monuments.

Chris Dodge is Utne Reader’s librarian.

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