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Rick Steves throws down the gauntlet in a most inviting way.
He dares you to take a can opener to your mind and work it around the edges. The anaesthesia for this procedure: world travel.
Striding back and forth across the wide Stranahan Theater stage last night and showing pictures from his trips, Steves enthralls and nearly transports 1,400 people with his rapid-fire delivery.
Missing from this travelogue are images of the Eiffel Tower and the Roman Colosseum. Instead, Steves, 53, shows pictures of people, and therein makes his point: By engaging the people in the lands to which we travel, by becoming temporary locals, we will expand our views of what's possible. Moreover, we can, to some small degree, reshape a bit of the world's views of America.
Steves, of Edmonds, Wash., has written 30 guide and travel-related books and his Rick Steves' Europe airs on 200 public television stations. His $30 million a year business also takes 10,000 Americans to Europe every year.
In much of Europe, people work and earn 20 percent less than Americans but have 20 percent more free time. Is that a family value? A freedom?
The sale of marijuana is permitted in the Netherlands, while the United States spends $10 billion a year on its war on drugs, makes 800,000 marijuana-related arrests a year, and imprisons another 80,000, says Steves, who is on the board of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
One slide shows a vending machine on a Swiss street that dispenses needles; the initial chill of the image thaws when Steves explains that 18,000 Americans die each year from heroin overdoses; 7,000 Europeans do.
"Europeans have a passion for exploring problems differently," he says. "In Europe, it's not measured by the number of people you lock up [for drug use] but how do you reduce harm to your society. It's a health problem, not a crime problem."
True, Europeans pay hefty taxes, but they do so willingly and expect a lot for it.
"It's different. It's an ethic on their part. There's high taxes but there's no homelessness, there's no hunger, there is health care and quality education for everyone," he says, adding that he prefers being an entrepreneur in the United States' more free-wheeling business climate.
"In America, we are a loving people but I think we have a hard time understanding the gap between the rich and the poor in this country and in the world." Half of humanity is trying to live on $2 a day, he notes. "And the average lot in life for women on this planet is to walk for water."
The Authors! Authors! speaker's program is sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
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