It is just too possible when fiercely and doggedly working on a project — glued to the chair and unable to break away — to miss something that is obvious.
At that point, it’s time for a field trip. A couple of years ago, I took a tour of the local airport, seeking fresh ideas about how newcomers find information about transportation in the region. I discovered an entirely unexpected insight.
It was a “eureka moment” of finding out how visitors actually first see our hometown.
Instead of the official brand at the time of Reno and Lake Tahoe, “All seasons ~ 1,000 reasons,” the first look can be a back-lit sign at the airport … “Joey Gilbert, Fighting for You.” Here follows a screen capture from Facebook, and then the story leading up to a gracious tourist showing me his most recent social media post upon arriving at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
A one-hour tour
The one-hour tour did start innocently enough — I took a selfie in front of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport to become one with the traveling scene.
Was the nearby businesswoman using a cellphone to call and ask a friend in town where the best Sushi could be had? No, it sounded as though she was snipping and complaining about someone she didn’t like.
Picking an apple from the basket at Peet’s Coffee near the main airport entrance, I asked the young barista what people ask for most as far as information, not latte flavors per se. She said that a frequent request is general information about Tahoe, and also a more specific question about where to get a good breakfast at Lake Tahoe.
Dangnabbit. I wanted to simply observe, but forgot.
Perching myself at a high table outside of Peet’s, I tried to look smiling and all approachable-like, posed with my notebook and casually sipping a free Frappuccino sample. In addition to observing, maybe someone would actually walk up and ask me for information. Oozing with the best Biggest Little City friendly posture, no one came up to me. This young guy with a skateboard tucked into the straps of his duffel bag under his arm passed by me twice going in opposite directions, looking somewhat uncertain about something.
Most people walked by at a medium pace, rolling a suitcase behind them, or thumb-working a mobile phone. Mostly both at the same time. They didn’t hurry, so “the time?” must not be a needed query.
You know, people here don’t look happy, or expectant of a fun trip ahead. They are gazing intently at cell phones or yawning. There are a lot of airport staff walking around — security, maintenance folk, and people with badges that don’t look mean or anything. There are plenty of people here from whom to ask information.
But in one half hour in front of Peet’s, I heard not one question asked.
Silence or venting
Disappointed, I moved on to the gift and book store next door, paid my dollar for a Reno Gazette-Journal, and asked the quietly smiling lady what people ask her most often.
“Vent about taxes and things,” she replied.
Not satisfied with this, because I wanted to know more about what tourists are asking instead of what locals are whining about, I pressed further, rephrasing my question.
I finally figured out — slightly embarrassed for misunderstanding — that she was saying “Events and taxis and things.”
Golly, it was time to shyly slip away without fanfare to another location for the second half of this one-hour excursion.
Back-lit boards and brochures
At the corner by the luggage claim area, there was a kind of visitor’s alcove where two looping videotapes play on and on about our region. Adirondack chairs and a picnic scene sets the rustic atmosphere. The back half of a trailer sticks out from the wall. This would be a great place to see people get information, I thought.
Since the lady at the bookstore stressed the “events” topic, I plunked down in one of the hard, uncomfortable low wooden chairs and watched two back-lit boards listing Reno-Tahoe events. Beside them, crisp, new orange brochures about festivals were ready for free and easy grabbing.
One 20-something woman did stop to look at the lit board, but did not take a pretty brochure. A father and his little daughter stopped to look at the trailer sticking out of the wall and then looked at the events board, but also did not take a bright and shiny brochure.
By this time, the part of the looping videotape that said, “this is a story about a place where people approach life in the upright position,” kind of got to me with its annoying triteness. I just had to do something besides sitting and listening to the repeating script. So, I concentrated on taking a good photo of how the chairs and fire pit table obviously blocked the cute “Welcome” sign held by Reno-Tahoe’s little bear.
Finally, the Mother Lode of Reno-Tahoe visitor information-seeking.
A 30-something gentleman sitting in one of the other Adirondack chairs said to me, “Would you like me to get out of your picture?”
Eureka … finally a verbal question asked by an actual traveler.
I responded with something like, “Hi, not at all, I’m taking a pic of the bear — finding out about what kinds of information and messages visitors to Reno first see, and what kinds of things they need to know when they get here.”
It turns out he is a market analytics type whose company in Salt Lake City was bought out by Adobe. He and his buddies meet here for skiing trips. He said that he could actually tell me exactly what he first noticed in a Biggest Little way after he deplaned.
In fact, he walked over to me, showing me the picture he took with his phone of the first back-lit board he saw in the terminal upon arrival, which he promptly posted to Facebook. It was, of course, Joey Gilbert, the former fighter, turned lawyer. And now, all of his friends have a first impression of our “1000 reasons” city, too.
Feeling a bit self-conscious for the home team, I asked him what he would have liked to see — something that would have helped or provided needed information.
His answer was clear and head-slappingly obvious … a map of all the region’s ski areas shown in geographical relation to each other. Attempting to gush with a Nevadan’s interpretation of southern hospitality and Midwestern charm, I offered as much good information about ski areas in the region as I could think of. Incline has good views, Alpine and Squaw are huge now that they’ve merged, the backside of Northstar has fun terrain, and that Boreal has the most consistent snow during warm weather because it’s on top of the pass.
“Restaurant advice?” I asked.
He said, “Yes,” that he was just on Yelp for that very reason. I recommended Silver Peak, feeling confident that he and his buddies could get both good brews and food there. About an hour later, though, my eyelids widened in a light bulb moment … oh fiddledy peanut butter cups! What if he was a devout person and didn’t drink? I was wondering if he even liked or drank beer. What was I thinking? That all guys like beer? I should have said Great Full Gardens or Campo….
Going about 10 minutes past my one-hour deadline, I hurried to the old faded jeep, needing to meet up with my husband at Brewer’s Cabinet. So, my final question was to the smiling short-term lot attendant as I payed for parking at her booth.
“What kind of information do people need when arriving to this region?” I asked.
She replied with tired, but laughing eyes that the information most people ask her is “where is the nearest gas station?”