LeBARON: The off-the-wall queries about Sonoma County tourism

  • Jeff Brooner, visiting from Benicia for a business conference, and his son, Travis, 2, browse through tourism brochures at the Santa Rosa Convention & Visitors Bureau at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, Calif., on April 5, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

It's not nice to make fun of tourists.

They are the people who bring us money. At last count, $1.36 billion per year in Sonoma County. And just last week I read that Sonoma County is outpacing both Napa and Monterey in increasing jobs in the tourism sector. That's impressive.

But their off-the-wall questions make it difficult to abide by this don't-make-tourist-jokes dictum. At the several visitors centers in the county, staff and volunteers will tell you that sometimes it's hard to keep a straight face.

They come in, with their mother-in-law, their dog, their crazy questions and "We just keep smiling," says Alice Richardson, who has spent the past 16 years greeting travelers at Santa Rosa's classy old railroad depot at the end of Fourth Street. "And then, when they leave, we laugh."

She's not talking about the average visitors who are looking for directions or information, who know what they want to see and just need a little help finding it.

It's the unexpected, the outside-the-box inquiries, the "You're not gonna believe this," stories that make the job tons of fun for everyone who meets the touring public here.

I visited around last week, talking to several of the many people who work, often volunteer, at our visitors' centers.

They all have favorite stories.

Ray Crowder, a Monday volunteer in Santa Rosa, remembers the man who asked for "the address of the Golden Gate Bridge."

When Ray explained that if he was on Highway 101 he couldn't miss it, the fellow was insistent.

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