The Asheville, North Carolina Tourism Catch-22

The Asheville, North Carolina Tourism Catch-22

A server's hatred for the tourist industry, but also utter dependency for survival.
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It's 2 p.m. on a Thursday -- I work at 4 p.m. It's my friend's birthday and I know that all she really wants is that framed Mucha painting that is in the window of some vintage shop on South Lexington. The entire process of driving downtown, parking, buying the painting, and heading home should take no more than 15 minutes ... right?

Not today. Turns out my internal ETA measurements are set to 2011 downtown Asheville, North Carolina, standards. Instead, I sit in traffic for 20 minutes while watching hordes of people with Tops for Shoes bags and leftovers from Tupelo Honey stroll past my car. I miss a green light because a couple stops in the middle of the road to consult the Asheville Brewery Map, gesturing like conductors as they try to figure out if Jack of the Wood is the same thing as Green Man (it's not). All parking garages are full so I park in a customer-only lot whilst telling myself that now that the car situation is out of the way, it won't take long enough for anyone to give me a ticket.

Wrong again. I spend the next 10 minutes walk-jogging through clusters of like-dressed people who all keep staring up at nothing with that "I'm taking it all in" dopey face that tourists are prone to. A group of girls ranging from their 20s to 50s who are all wearing tacky crowns and sashes call out to me for directions, prefacing their inquiry with, "You look like you live here." Is that a compliment? What are they implying? Are they referring to the "Oh Christ, please, no" look I've most certainly been sporting since I left home? I don't know, but after a couple of exchanges, I hustle my way, finally, to the store -- and then spend another hour reliving the same hell to get back to my car and on my way to work.

There is a reason no sane person I know goes downtown anymore. In some ways, it feels like some distorted version of Disney World where the attractions are the Bohemia and Art Deco streets, and all the locals are caricatures for beer-sloshed out-of-towners to poke and prod. It's no secret that Asheville is a bubble of arts, liberalism, and hefty amounts of alcohol, but that shouldn't mean that we should turn our town into a tourist attraction either. Most of us moved here for freedom in a vibrant, accepting culture not to be a part of a show... right?

But that's just it. It turns out that with all this corporate money pouring in alongside rich entrepreneurs who are trying to make this city on every top 10 travel list in the world, the regular people, like myself, can no longer afford to live here -- unless we play along, i.e. work in the service industry.

So this becomes my existential crisis: How do I fight back against tourism when my job depends on tourists' satisfaction. The answer is sadly that I can't. As much as I hate the tourists who give me forlorn half-smiles as I tell them I am an aspiring author ("Oh, Richard, did you hear that our server is going to school for poetry? How quaint.") I know that as long as they find my artistic endeavors as charming as my good service, I might get a nice tip, which they will consider their act of charity for the day. It's also easier for me to do this because I had expected it anyway -- I am a college student and a poet, so it's kind of in the cards. But this city isn't all college students and arts degrees. Local newspapers and social spheres are finally taking note that people with doctorates are having to live out the same service industry jobs because it's just too damn expensive any other way.

Of course, I could delve into a whole separate discussion of job markets, but I think this topic is quite depressing enough. The hard fact is, no one can afford to live here anymore. The best example I have seen recently is a couple I knew decided to travel the country for about four months. Before they left, they lived in a turn-of-the-century home right near the outskirts of downtown that only cost them about $400 a month without utilities. As they came back to the city and looked for a place to rent for the same price (even with sharing the house with other people), they could not find anything below the $750-$800 bracket. I would love to say that this situation is an outlier, but it isn't. Ask anyone who has tried to move in the past year and they will tell you that prices have skyrocketed -- and not just for real estate.

The truth is, we are being pushed out. This city which gets its allure by the people who live here and cultivate a culture are being driven out by the people who are trying to sell it. Most of us can't afford to eat where we work if we were paying regular price. Most of us also can't pay rent unless we live off of generous tips from customers. Whether or not the people who are trying to make our city a commodity notice that we can only survive by being tip hoarders, they certainly aren't making it easier. Yes, they are bringing in jobs, but if their standards are raising the cost of living, then what's the point?

So the question is, what do we do now? If we get rid of all the tourism -- which means hotels, restaurants, breweries, etc., what jobs will be left? It's a nice thought that everything will go back to normal, but sadly, it's not the case. We've gone too deep and to backtrack means people who live here will lose jobs. We've raised the bar too high, and now we might not be able to pull it down again.

I know I'm not the first one to say any of this -- and I certainly will not be the last. We have four more hotels slated for the downtown area in 2016, which means more tourists, more expansions, and more service industry jobs. Who knows, maybe one day or another a recession will hit and a cleanse of tourism will begin with hopeful results. But I am not an economist; I can't predict those things.

I am a server, though, and, in some cases, an optimist. While I might want to scream at tourists as they take pictures of the "retro" shops downtown, at least I know that there is a culture behind it all that is still fighting to be alive, and in some ways the tourist industry is helping. If there is anything this town has been built on, it's dreamers, and the thing about dreamers is they have a lot of life in them. Whether in a service industry or not, people in this town are going to work for their goals, even if it's just a shot. Tourism might continue to grow, but if we are still fighting for what brought us all here in the first place, maybe we can find a light at the end of it all.

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Your Wait time At Theme Parks Is Not Unfair, You're Just Impatient

Your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself.

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Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios "unboxed" on June 30, 2018. My friend and I decided to brave the crowds on opening day. We got to the park around 7 AM only to find out that the park opened around 6 AM. Upon some more scrolling through multiple Disney Annual Passholder Facebook groups, we discovered that people were waiting outside the park as early as 1 AM.

We knew we'd be waiting in line for the bulk of the Toy Story Land unboxing day. There were four main lines in the new land: the line to enter the land; the line for Slinky Dog Dash, the new roller coaster; the line for Alien Spinning Saucers, the easier of the new rides in the land; Toy Story Mania, the (now old news) arcade-type ride; and the new quick-service restaurant, Woody's Lunchbox (complete with grilled cheese and "grown-up drinks").

Because we were so early, we did not have to wait in line to get into the land. We decided to ride Alien Spinning Saucers first. The posted wait time was 150 minutes, but my friend timed the line and we only waited for 50 minutes. Next, we tried to find the line for Slinky Dog Dash. After receiving conflicting answers, the runaround, and even an, "I don't know, good luck," from multiple Cast Members, we exited the land to find the beginning of the Slinky line. We were then told that there was only one line to enter the park that eventually broke off into the Slinky line. We were not about to wait to get back into the area we just left, so we got a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania that we didn't plan on using in order to be let into the land sooner. We still had to wait for our time, so we decided to get the exclusive Little Green Man alien popcorn bin—this took an entire hour. We then used our Fastpass to enter the land, found the Slinky line, and proceeded to wait for two and a half hours only for the ride to shut down due to rain. But we've come this far and rain was not about to stop us. We waited an hour, still in line and under a covered area, for the rain to stop. Then, we waited another hour and a half to get on the ride from there once it reopened (mainly because they prioritized people who missed their Fastpass time due to the rain). After that, we used the mobile order feature on the My Disney Experience app to skip part of the line at Woody's Lunchbox.

Did you know that there is actually a psychological science to waiting? In the hospitality industry, this science is the difference between "perceived wait" and "actual wait." A perceived wait is how long you feel like you are waiting, while the actual wait is, of course, the real and factual time you wait. There are eight things that affect the perceived wait time: unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time, pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits, anxiety makes waits feel longer, uncertain waits are longer than certain waits, unexplained waits are longer than explained waits, unfair waits are longer than equitable waits, people will wait longer for more valuable service and solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

Our perceived wait time for Alien Spinning Saucers was short because we expected it to be longer. Our wait for the popcorn seemed longer because it was unoccupied and unexplained. Our wait for the rain to stop so the ride could reopen seemed shorter because it was explained. Our wait between the ride reopening and getting on the coaster seemed longer because it felt unfair for Disney to let so many Fastpass holders through while more people waited through the rain. Our entire wait for Slinky Dog Dash seemed longer because we were not told the wait time in the beginning. Our wait for our food after placing a mobile order seemed shorter because it was an in-process wait. We also didn't mind wait long wait times for any of these experiences because they were new and we placed more value on them than other rides or restaurants at Disney. The people who arrived at 1 AM just added five hours to their perceived wait

Some non-theme park examples of this science of waiting in the hospitality industry would be waiting at a restaurant, movie theater, hotel, performance or even grocery store. When I went to see "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the power went out in the theater right as we arrived. Not only did we have to wait for it to come back and for them to reset the projectors, I had to wait in a bit of anxiety because the power outage spooked me. It was only a 30-minute wait but felt so much longer. At the quick-service restaurant where I work, we track the time from when the guest places their order to the time they receive their food. Guests in the drive-thru will complain about 10 or more minute waits, when our screens tell us they have only been waiting four or five minutes. Their actual wait was the four or five minutes that we track because this is when they first request our service, but their perceived wait begins the moment they pull into the parking lot and join the line because this is when they begin interacting with our business. While in line, they are experiencing pre-process wait times; after placing the order, they experience in-process wait times.

Establishments in the hospitality industry do what they can to cut down on guests' wait times. For example, theme parks offer services like Disney's Fastpass or Universal's Express pass in order to cut down the time waiting in lines so guests have more time to buy food and merchandise. Stores like Target or Wal-Mart offer self-checkout to give guests that in-process wait time. Movie theaters allow you to check in and get tickets on a mobile app and some quick-service restaurants let you place mobile or online orders. So why do people still get so bent out of shape about being forced to wait?

On Toy Story Land unboxing day, I witnessed a woman make a small scene about being forced to wait to exit the new land. Cast Members were regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the land due to the large crowd and the line that was in place to enter the land. Those exiting the land needed to wait while those entering moved forward from the line. Looking from the outside of the situation as I was, this all makes sense. However, the woman I saw may have felt that her wait was unfair or unexplained. She switched between her hands on her hips and her arms crossed, communicated with her body language that she was not happy. Her face was in a nasty scowl at those entering the land and the Cast Members in the area. She kept shaking her head at those in her group and when allowed to proceed out of the land, I could tell she was making snide comments about the wait.

At work, we sometimes run a double drive-thru in which team members with iPads will take orders outside and a sequencer will direct cars so that they stay in the correct order moving toward the window. In my experience as the sequencer, I will inform the drivers which car to follow, they will acknowledge me and then still proceed to dart in front of other cars just so they make it to the window maybe a whole minute sooner. Not only is this rude, but it puts this car and the cars around them at risk of receiving the wrong food because they are now out of order. We catch these instances more often than not, but it still adds stress and makes the other guests upset. Perhaps these guests feel like their wait is also unfair or unexplained, but if they look at the situation from the outside or from the restaurant's perspective, they would understand why they need to follow the blue Toyota.

The truth of the matter is that your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself. We all want instant gratification, I get it. But in reality, we have to wait for some things. It takes time to prepare a meal. It takes time to experience a ride at a theme park that everyone else wants to go on. It takes time to ring up groceries. It takes patience to live in this world.

So next time you find yourself waiting, take a minute to remember the difference between perceived and actual wait times. Think about the eight aspects of waiting that affect your perceived wait. Do what you can to realize why you are waiting or keep yourself occupied in this wait. Don't be impatient. That's no way to live your life.

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Why can't France's World Cup Win Be An African Victory, Too?

After France's World Cup Win, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah responds to French Ambassador's rebuttal concerning the identity of African players on the team. And as an African-American, I couldn't help but agree.

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Last week signaled the end of the world's (arguably) most favorite sporting event, the World Cup. France came home with a stunning 4-2 win, the first in 20 years of the country's World Cup history. While recapping the finest moments of their victory, I couldn't help but notice that more than half of France's team players were people of color.

With comments like "Congratulations Africa" and "Victory for the African nation of France," it seems like the world noticed the team's obvious diversity as well. In fact, 15 out of the 23 players on the team were of African descent. That's more than half of the entire team. Players like Pogba and Mbappe are the children of African immigrants from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Guinea just to name a few.

While France's diverse talent definitely played in their favor, a recent joke from comedian and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah sparked controversy with the French ambassador to the U.S. When Noah said, "Africa won the world cup," the French ambassador took to Twitter in disgust for the comment because it seemed to deny the players their "Frenchness" simply due to their African heritage.

Noah's response to the criticism offered a different perspective on the issue.

In short, he pointed out that by him highlighting the Africanness of these players, why should that diminish their Frenchness? I mean, why can't they be both?

Even better, when do countries choose to claim immigrants as citizens?

Noah points to the African immigrant who literally climbed a building to rescue an infant; he was immediately granted citizenship and referred to as a great Frenchman. But when there are robberies or unsavory events caused by people of African descent, the media is quick to call them "African immigrants" no matter how long they've lived in Europe.

If you look at the African countries from which these players originate from, you can't help but notice that they were colonized by the French. Noah refers to this "diverse background" as a direct reflection of France's "colonialism" which is a fact that ultimately cannot be denied.

It's easy to pin people by the color of their skin or their last names rather than the country they call home. I've noticed that some countries do pick and choose when to call immigrants "citizens" and vice versa. In reality, we assume nationalities when we move to a country and possess both as a part of our identity. No matter what you choose to call them, when the sons of these individuals are bringing home the world's greatest trophy, you can't help but feel national pride. Even as a Nigerian-American, I, too, feel like the African continent has experienced a victory through the players of France.

So maybe, in a way, Africa did win the World Cup and so did France.

There's no denying that France is quickly becoming a melting pot of people, cultures and ideas. Therefore, we must respect and acknowledge the duality of a person's identity. We can't pick a side when it's convenient, but we can recognize both when we succeed.

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