Paradise Talks Back
When Outside correspondent Mike Steere profiles paradise, he hears about it
By Mike Steere
"Here we go again. Another magazine has decided San Luis Obispo is paradise," opens reporter Jeff McMahon of SLO's weekly New Times in his reaction to Outside's July cover story on American outdoorsy dream towns.
The opener works pretty well here, too: Here we go again. Having searched East and West for the most deliciously livable sports towns in the country and profiled seven--Burlington, Vt.; Charlottesville, Va.; Madison, Wis.; Durango, Colo.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Spokane, Wash.; and San Luis Obispo, Calif.--it's time to listen to the paradiseniks accept (or reject) the compliment.
McMahon was gracious and funny, claiming personal credit for the discovery of SLO. Rocky Barker, in-house ranter and raver for Idaho Falls's Post Register, was hilarious. But he may not have meant to be. I hope, for his sake, that he was straining for effect in his blast against "the journal of Lycra-clad-yuppified-Power-Bar-chomping America." He casts doubt on fitness of Outside readers for citizenship: "Are they the kind of people who can find happiness, sink roots, and add to the community of Idaho Falls?" Then he consoles himself that the "perpetual newcomers" won't last anyway: "They will move on to the next 'dream town' down the road."
"Let's not turn this place into another Bozeman," pleads poor Rocky. He fails to notice that my story points out, over and over, that Idaho Falls couldn't become another Bozeman. Not if it tried. Not before the sun shrinks to a red dwarf. Being irredeemably homely and unhip is a big part of IF's charm.
Credit where it's due--the guy is a virtuoso fulminator. Check out his performance, which we've dubbed "We're So Uncool It's Hip."
To get to Idaho Falls and its half-dozen sibling dream towns, I polled outdoorsy friends, Outside's editors, and its far-flung network of contributors. I also trawled for responses in a couple USENET newsgroups. The results were surprisingly unanimous, as they were when I researched Outside's 1992 Dream Towns piece. People of similar bents dream in sync. Folks in Burlington, Vt., who have never been to Wisconsin or Virginia are still very likely to know that Madison are Charlottesville are very cool places to live, and vice versa.
This isn't to say that the towns are interchangeable. Like beauty, paradise is individual and self-defining. And those particularly susceptible to it--as I am--can fall for it in practically any form. For at least 72 hours I was wildly in love with every one of 1995's picks, just as I was back in 1992 with Boise, Idaho; Portland, Oreg.; Ventura, Calif.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Juneau, Alaska; Traverse City, Mich.; Cornwall, N.Y.; Asheville, N.C.; Beaufort, S.C.; and Hilo, Hawaii.
Where will Outside be looking in 1998? Did we miss any killer towns this time? Should we just shut up, because this sort of attention does damage, as Rocky Barker avers?
You know where to find me. Rocky does, too.
Editor's note: We encourage you to speak up and send in your own comments to Mike Steere.