Grasshopper Soup: Big-city ways are changing Tahoe

Bob Sweigert

Here they come! They are pouring into the Tahoe Basin over Donner Summit, Meyer’s Grade, the Mt. Rose Highway and Spooner Summit like a drenching summer rain. They are flooding the two lane roads and campgrounds, our quaint little coffee shops, souvenir shops, exclusive restaurants, cruise boats, water sport centers, casinos and, like summer rain, they are making us as green as the forest, sparkling with new growth.

Welcome to Lake Tahoe! Soon you will find summer someplace other than hanging on the wall where the sun don’t shine, printed on the calendar in a little box marked last Friday.

We wish you could know what life is really like in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. But life is changing here too, like most places. Perhaps where you come from there are, like here, big plans in the works to build tall buildings, and provide more artificial material attractions designed and marketed to attract big money and convince us that the proposed major development will have no negative impact, and that man’s great plans improve on nature itself, touching it in every possible way, making every creek, river and mountain appear as if it had never been touched at all.

When I moved to Lake Tahoe more than 32 years ago, no one was naive enough to be seen walking around in broad daylight wearing a suit and tie. Such unnatural, formal attire was for city slickers, not real mountain men.

Then a strange guy began appearing in town wearing a suit and tie in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. He stood out like a foreign spy. It was ominous. You could feel it in the air as the awkward man in his out-of-place costume slid by, avoiding eye contact. There was this feeling that something wasn’t right.

At first I thought nothing of it, like I was having a bizarre, once in a lifetime dream I would forget as soon as I woke up. Then you’d see the same guy later, trying to look nonchalant, as if he was at a wedding or a funeral, and not here to cause trouble. Then more men in suits began to appear, and ladies wearing smart dress suits and high heels, carrying brief cases and files instead of skis.

It was obvious these newcomers were not here to live close to nature or go for a hike up Shirley Canyon, or four wheeling over the Rubicon Trail.

It doesn’t matter what people wear, for the most part. But that has changed. Casual mountain attire is still very much alive and well, but not like it was 30 years ago. With rare exceptions, people who came to the mountains dressed for the mountains.

It began to get a little stiff in the collar just before the Resort at Squaw Creek broke ground about 25 years ago. Someone decided to put up framed, glass covered wall hangings in the lobby of the resort that contained authentic Indian spears, shields and clothing displayed like a cigar-smoking, white man’s hunting trophies. It was in real bad taste but they hung in the lobby for years.

They were most likely hung, not by someone wearing a suit, but by simple mountain people who were following orders given by a man in a suit who wanted to impress his friends, and guests, in suits and ties who would gasp and say, “Oh my!”

Finally, someone came along and saw how creepy the artifact display was and they were removed. The lobby was remodeled with some real class and character. Thank God for that man, or woman, who was also most likely wearing a suit and tie, which proves that not all city slickers are bad. Some of them actually have good sense and good taste.

But, then it became a violation of corporate policy to keep a pair of skis leaning against the wall in the corner of your office. That’s when it was clear that the real mountain culture was at risk, and the invasion of the culture snatchers might succeed.

We hope you will be able to meet some real Tahoe people during your visit.

Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.

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