I love tourists.
I love tourists who wear plaid shorts and skimpy shirts — or vice versa — and squeaky sandals; tourists with squalling children in their arms, and fanny packs banging their belts.
It's summer tourist season, and some people complain: Tourists don't know where they're going. They bonk our heads unfolding their street maps, and jam-pack subways, reeking of sunscreen, Starbucks and bug spray.
But I love tourists. They remind us of what's remarkable in the places we walk past.
I love tourists who fall silent when standing in front of Abe Lincoln's noble stone smile; who tear up at the Vietnam Memorial, smile between Mickey and Goofy at Disneyland, gawk at the tippy-top of Sears Tower, and bow their heads at ground zero.
I love tourists who hold up their children to get a better look at the Statue of Liberty, and children who say, "Oh, yeah, I loved New York" — or Chicago, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Ol' Faithful, or the Taj Mahal — because they had a great ice cream cone there.
Tourists remind us that life goes on: Eat up.
I love tourists from Idaho who bring "I Love New York" T-shirts back home, and tourists from New York who drive through Mississippi and tell their friends, "You won't believe how nice the folks down there are!"
I love to see long lines of students from all over who chatter as they go into the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and students who come out holding hands and shaking their heads after they've seen what's inside.
Tourists puncture stereotypes with personal experience.
They notice that New Yorkers aren't rude; in fact, if you ask New Yorkers how to get to Central Park, they're likely to go out of their way to show you, tell you their life story and ask for yours. They've heard that Carnegie Hall joke, too.
Tourists learn that Los Angeles isn't just for movie stars, but is filled with people who take to the roads early to work in factories, restaurants and malls. That the French are actually quite friendly, if a little touchy when Americans ask, "Why do you guys love Jerry Lewis?" That downtown Birmingham, Ala., looks more diverse than Georgetown or Santa Monica, that Germans have a sense of humor, and that Texans, Britons and Australians can make anything sound funny.
I like tourists from Boston who wear their Red Sox caps defiantly on the streets of New York, and tourists from Tokyo who put on Chicago Cubs caps and grin because they've been to Wrigley Field and want to remember it.
I love tourists because they put fresh eyes on familiar places, and remind us that wherever we look, we can find something amazing.