Salt Lake City. Last month, I wrote that salt water taffy is the top-selling souvenir purchased by tourists visiting Salt Lake City, and tourists buy the stuff simply because they make a mental association between salt water taffy and the Great Salt Lake, even though there is no salt water in salt water taffy. Since then, 2 very well-educated people I know and who read my newsletter told me that purchased salt taffy at the Salt Lake City airport as souvenir gifts and assumed that it was made from Great Salt Lake water. Well, I saw the same sort of thing at Lake Tahoe last week. I was at the lake for a couple of days. While I was there, I visited a number of the souvenir stores that line Highway 50, the main street in town.
Huckleberries. Huckleberry food products were – by far – the best selling edible souvenir at Lake Tahoe. Several gift shops at South Lake Tahoe had big displays of huckleberry products, including Lake Tahoe brand huckleberry jam and jelly, huckleberry taffy, huckleberry syrup, huckleberry truffles, etc. All of them had the name of the lake on the label. However, there are no huckleberries at Lake Tahoe. They don’t grow anywhere in the Lake Tahoe basin. So why do tourists buy this stuff? It is simply because people mentally associate huckleberries with the mountains, and there are plenty of mountains at Lake Tahoe. The fact that there are no huckleberries at Lake Tahoe doesn’t matter at all.
Moose. Nearly every souvenir shop at Lake Tahoe had clothes for sale with pictures of moose on them. I also saw plenty of carved moose figurines and moose ash trays with ‘Lake Tahoe’ on them as well. People buy moose clothes at Lake Tahoe for the same reason they buy Lake Tahoe huckleberry jam. People make a mental association between moose and pine-covered mountains. However, moose are not mountain dwellers. Moose do not live in steep terrain, like mountain goats. Besides, there are no moose at Lake Tahoe. In fact, there are no moose anywhere in either Nevada or California. The nearest moose are hundreds of miles away.
Clam Chowder. I am beginning to think that this sort of thing happens at all tourist destinations. People buy souvenirs based not on what is actually there but rather based on the things that they mentally associate with the place. I suppose that is why the Number 1 selling menu item at restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and the Santa Cruz Pier is clam chowder served in a hollowed out bread bowl. However, the only restaurants in California that I am aware of that offer this dish are at places where tourists eat. It’s not a local dish. You won’t find clam chowder in a bread bowl at restaurants where native Californians eat. Besides, clam chowder is a New England dish, and New England is a long way from California. All of the clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf is made from concentrate or from imported canned clams. There is no commercial clam fishing in California.
I was in Great Falls, Montana in December. When my suitcase went through the scanner at the Great Falls airport, it set off the alarms. TSA agents surrounded my suitcase like there was a bomb inside. A TSA agent said to me: “Sir, the x-ray machine has detected a bottle of an unknown liquid in your suitcase.” I said: “I don’t have any liquids in my suitcase.” They took my suitcase over to a table. The agents put on rubber gloves and searched my suitcase meticulously. (Frankly, I think I would have washed my clothes first if I had known that they were going to do that.) At the bottom of my suitcase they found a jar of huckleberry jelly. The TSA agents asked me if the jelly belonged to me. I said it did. They confiscated the jelly. They told me that the TSA regards huckleberry jelly as a potentially dangerous liquid. I knew that the TSA doesn’t allow people to go into the secure areas of airports with liquids, but it never occurred to me that they considered huckleberry jelly a liquid, and a dangerous liquid at that. The jelly was quite solid. I purchased the huckleberry jelly at a ‘Made In Montana’ store in Great Falls.
After my huckleberry jelly was safely taken away and put someplace where it couldn’t harm anyone, I was cleared to go into the secure area of the airport. I said to one of the TSA agents: “Do you confiscate a lot of huckleberry jelly here?” Every hotel gift shop in Great Falls sells the stuff. She said that they confiscate huckleberry jelly every day. The gift shop inside the Great Falls airport’s secure area had several brands of huckleberry jelly for sale. I suspect they sell it to people who promised to bring huckleberry jelly back home as a souvenir of their trip to Montana, and the huckleberry jelly that they brought to the airport was confiscated, just like mine was. Huckleberries are fussy little berries that only grow in a few places. One of those places is Montana, which is why gift shops all over Montana sell huckleberry jelly to tourists. Although most Americans have never seen huckleberries, everybody has heard of them because of Huckleberry Finn and Huckleberry Hound.
The TSA agent told me that other airports in Montana also confiscate huckleberry jelly every day as well. What do you suppose the TSA does with all that confiscated huckleberry jelly? I suspect that they sell it back to the hotel gift shops! Then the hotel gift shops can sell the jelly again and again to unsuspecting tourists – like me! I wonder how many times my jar of huckleberry jelly was resold and reconfiscated.