Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Down on Main Street

If you're like me, and let's hope you're not, then you're a sucker for a small town with a great main street. In my case, I think it is because I grew up in a big city. More and more of us are from suburban or exurban outposts, and have never known the sound of church bells and train whistles - what my grandpa called the sounds of a real town. Whatever it is, there is something about a small town with a vibrant main street that feels so familiar, even if we have never lived in one.

Now being in the timeshare game, you might think that I don't get to small towns that often, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that most most timeshare resorts are built in or around metro areas, the beach, or major theme-park attractions. But a good number are located very nearby some great main street towns, making for a perfect day trip. Or longer. Take the America's Greatest Main Streets list just put out by Travel + Leisure magazine. Of the first four mentioned, I have been to all of them by way of a timeshare rental - in town or nearby.

Galena, IL, is not only home to the WorldMark Galena resort, it was also the hometown of Ulysses S. Grant just before the American Civil War. That's right, the guy who is not buried in Grant's tomb (they don't bury you in a tomb so much as just toss you in there) lived in this 19th century boomtown along the Galena River. Now when I say boomtown, I am not talking about gold, silver, or even the railroad. No, Galena's claim to fame was the mineral of the same name and its proximity to the Mississippi River. Galena is the natural form of lead sulfide and at one point in the 1800s, this area produce almost 80% of the lead in the U.S., shipping it by way of Old Man River. Its lead mining days are long gone now, which is probably a good thing, since tourism is now the number one source of income for this quaint community of 3,400. Toxic heavy metals and hand-in-hand window shopping don't usually mix.

Paso Robles, CA, is more or less half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and timeshare rentals can be found at the WorldMark Pismo Beach Resort, about 45 minutes away. The town's name is Spanish for "The Pass of the Oaks" and has been known for its mineral hot springs for thousands of years: first by the native Salinan Indians, and then by waves of European immigrants. In the late 1890s, construction began on many of the buildings that make up the main street highlighted in the T+L piece. Today it is known for not only hot springs, but nearby wineries, championship golf, and being the home of the California Mid-State Fair. It was severely shaken by a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in 2003 and has recently been growing in population at a rapid pace. You might want catch this one while you still can, if you know what I mean.

Port Townsend is a bit more difficult to get to from a timeshare in either Seattle or the San Juan Islands. You're looking at a ferry ride either way, but that is part of its charm and its history. In the late 1800s, Port Townsend was perfectly situated to be the major port of the U.S. west coast. With easy access to timber and overseas markets, the City of Dreams boomed and many of the buildings that are now part of the U.S. National Historic Landmark District were erected. But the railroad that was to have connected it to inland markets to the east, like Seattle and Tacoma, never materialized. Port Townsend found itself on the "wrong side" of Puget Sound. Population dwindled and many buildings fell into disrepair. But as often is the case, artists and other creative types swooped in looking for cheap housing. Slowly but surely the area became home to a thriving and artistic community, as well as a popular getaway for city slickers. And in a bit of movie trivia: the motel scenes (hubba-hubba) from "An Officer and a Gentleman" were shot at the Tides Motel in Port Townsend. I am sure the cleaning staff wasn't crazy about that decision.

Finally there's Staunton, VA. You pronounce it stan-tun, unless you want to tip yourself off as being from out of town. You can rent a timeshare in nearby McGaheysville, which is unfortunately pronounced mick-GACK-ees-vill, and find yourself right in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Staunton is home to the birthplace and presidential library of Woodrow Wilson, country music giants the Statler Brothers, five nationally recognized historic districts, and the American Shakespeare Center. The latter features first-rate productions in an exact replica of the Bard's Blackfriar's Playhouse. Just don't go looking for Main Street in this town. Instead, set your feet down on Beverly Street, and take in the Queen City of the Valley on foot or via the free downtown trolley.

Well, I am off to check out the Oasis Bordello Museum in historic Wallace, ID. That's right, this place was an active brothel from the mining heyday of the Old West. But rather than close down when the boom ended, it stayed open (and eluded police detection) until 1988! On that night the occupants scattered in a hurry, leaving everything behind. This museum presents the cathouse just as it was on that evening, right down to the video store rental list taped to the kitchen wall. I bet you ten bucks "An Officer and a Gentleman" is on that list.

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