Rick Steves, Cool Dude.
I have no idea how I started watching Rick Steve’s Europe. It’s a long-running travel show about all sorts of places in Europe, and I hate to say it, but doesn’t even feel that particularly well-done to me. He’s this sorta white bread dude American dude with bland high-level generic opinions about things and a YouTuber I-bought-a-GoPro-and-pointed-it-at-myself vibe to the show. But it’s endearing, dammit. And he goes to some very beautiful places and I like watching videos of people going to beautiful places and talking about it while they are there.
He published a book, Europe Through the Back Door, which had this glorious license:
Anyone caught reprinting any material herein for any purpose whatsoever will be thanked profusely.
He was doing it way before I ever was.
Turns out, politically, he’s fairly active:
“Like most of Europe, I believe marijuana is a soft drug, like alcohol and tobacco. Like alcohol and tobacco, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be taxed and regulated. Crime should only enter the equation if it is abused to the point where innocent people are harmed.”
He says, while literally being on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Those of us with passports and who are wealthy enough to travel a lot—especially white, straight, Christian males like me—don’t often think a lot about civil liberties … at least, not in an immediate or personal way. Civil liberties just aren’t an issue for most of us. If a wealthy person is in trouble with the law, he can hire a good lawyer. It’s the poor who are filling our prisons. If I want to smoke pot, no one’s going to arrest me. It’s poor and black people who get arrested, and then disenfranchised. I have a voice because I fit societal norms and I have money.
And he’s not just a talker, he puts up.
In 2005, he constructed a 24-unit apartment complex in Lynnwood, Washington, called Trinity Place and administrated by the local YWCA, to provide transitional housing for homeless mothers and their children. In 2017, Steves donated that $4 million apartment complex for homeless women and kids to the YWCA.
And he’s a big donator to the arts and to ecological organizations to help offset the idea that he promotes travel, which isn’t exactly the most ecologically benign thing you can do.
Then I find my way over to his profile in The New York Times from Sam Anderson and get an even better sense of him:
He wears jeans every single day. He drinks frozen orange juice from a can. He likes his hash browns burned, his coffee extra hot. He dislikes most fancy restaurants; when he’s on the road, he prefers to buy a foot-long Subway sandwich and split it between lunch and dinner.
So he’s still on the beat, making shows and doing speaking tours and all that, very rich many times over, and still walking the talk:
Every year, no matter what else is going on, Steves spends at least four months practicing the kind of travel he has preached for 40-odd years: hauling his backpack up narrow staircases in cheap hotels, washing his clothes in sinks, improvising picnics.
And then goes on to talk about how it’s about opening your mind. Even just a little travel outside your little world can wipe away an otherwise slowly festering ethnocentric attitude.
I’m not here to idolize him. I don’t really know the dude of course. I read he’s divorced and that’s a complicated thing but you can’t help but note the extreme dedication to work and how that might have played a role. Probably some bummer stuff there.
But I gotta admit I like his style. I mean the dude has a notebook with “High Notes” on it where he smokes weed and then writes down the weird stuff he writes in it like:
“Make a rug with vacuum marks, so it always looks freshly vacuumed.”