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What is a “Local”

A couple of weeks ago, on a nice Sunday morning in Jackson Hole, my wife and I were standing in a line for breakfast at the always popular “Nora’s Fish Creek Inn”.  The two guys in front of us were becoming very agitated and the one was on his cell phone.  Sounded like he was talking to the wife and the conversation went something like this.  “Where are you?  Well it’s no use now, we’re in a big line with a bunch of tourists”, (said in a very derogatory tone).  “Alright then, we are heading out”.  With that, he and his buddy left the line – woohoo!  Two less people in front of us.

Now, this little episode got me thinking.  What really is a “local”?  Obviously this guy thought he was a “local”, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t meet my criteria for a local.  Of course, this means that he himself was more than likely a dreaded tourist.

To be a local, you must meet all of the following criteria:

You have lived in the community for at least 5 years.  This is actually pretty liberal.  I’d be tempted to say that you had to be born and raised there.  But in a resort town like Jackson, that would eliminate a lot of honest hard working people who have “put in their time and earned their stripes”.  If you are putting down roots and engaged in the community, five years is a good compromise.

You must live in the community for at least 9 months out of the year.  I don’t care if you do have a 5 million dollar home, or a crappy condo.  If you don’t actually live there the majority of the time, you are nothing more than a well off, or very wealthy tourist.  Again, I’m tempted to be hard-nosed and demand 12 months out of the year.  However I do know some true locals who have lived in Jackson Hole all their lives, and just have to leave during November, January or say April.  There are some ugly, cold months in Jackson and even the die-hards sometimes struggle with skiing in -30 degrees, or the endless gray skies of November, or the constant mud of April.  But, just because you show up in July for a few weeks of fishing, and in February for some skiing doesn’t at all qualify you as a “local”.

If you have children, they must attend schools in the community that you claim to be a local in.  The preceding requirement insures that this one is met most of the time, but sending your kids “back home” to some private prep school disqualifies you.  If you are local, you get involved and your family is involved.  No kids, well I guess you get a freebie on this one.

You can’t ride on other family members’ coattails.  Just because your mom/dad, sibling, aunt or cousin lives there does NOT make you a local.  I grew up in Jackson Hole and I still have lots of family there, but that doesn’t qualify me as a local.  I visit all the time and I romanticize about moving back, but that doesn’t get me the “local” ticket.

Finally, to be considered a “local”, you must understand what drives the economy in a resort town like Jackson.  If you took the tourists away, the valley would look more like it did in the 60’s when I was growing up there.  The “locals” would only be some ranchers, a few guest ranches and hunting camps and the businesses that grew up supporting them.  Most of the ranches are long gone, and the lifeblood of a resort community like Jackson Hole are the tourists that come there to experience the beauty and exhilaration that the valley and surrounding mountains have to offer.

Now here’s the deal.  I’m not a “local” anymore, BUT I sure can spot them – and I can also tell you who the pretenders are.  It’s funny, but the people at Nora’s that Sunday morning who were the “locals” didn’t seem agitated at all.  It was the tourists, who THOUGHT they were locals that were the agitated ones, (and there were a few other ignoramuses in addition to the two aforementioned pretenders).  So, the next time you you’re in a line at Nora’s, or some other place like it in your favorite resort community, just chill and enjoy the atmosphere and the scenery.  Then when you get back to New York, Salt Lake City, LA, Boise or wherever your real home is and you are all important and have to be somewhere in a hurry, feel free to get all up tight and start freaking out and stressing about life.

Oh, and one last thing.  If you know the guy on the cell phone, tell him we only had to wait 5-10 minutes and as usual, the breakfast was fabulous.  Give him my thanks, and let him know that he really made one former “local” and current tourist very happy!

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