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Not My Job: Travel Guru Rick Steves Gets Quizzed On Steve Ricks

BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME, the NPR News quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. And here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: Since we are away from the office this week, we thought we'd spend some time remembering some past trips. Last September, we went to Seattle to interview travel guru Rick Steves, who told us how he got the travel bug in the first place.


RICK STEVES: You remember a long time ago there was roots, and everybody was tracking their roots and wanting to see tombstones with their names on it stuff like that?

SAGAL: Oh, roots like, you know, like Alex Haley's roots?

STEVES: That's right. Yeah. And that didn't do anything for me, but I wanted to find my cultural roots, which happed to be in Europe. So I got over there and it was quite interesting. There was different candy, different pop. I remember statuesque women in Germany with hairy armpits.


SAGAL: You're a 14-year-old boy. You go over to Germany like oh, they have different candy, and then you notice the women with hairy armpits.


STEVES: It had quite an impact on me.

SAGAL: I can imagine. You made a career out of it. Now you are - you have these very large number of fans, people who follow your books and - were best-selling and your TV shows and your specials on PBS - and they're called Ricknics?

STEVES: That's what I've heard, yes. I don't know. I don't actually know where that came from, but I hear it a lot. And I guess there's a lot people that are looking for somebody to sort through all the superlatives, and tell them if you got limited time, do this and not that. Normally people are just raving about everything, but that doesn't help you. You know, I'm tired of hearing people.

SAGAL: So do you actually say - I mean, will you tell people, you know, everybody goes over here, don't go over there. It's terrible. It's a tourist trap. Avoid it.


SAGAL: Like, give me an example. Tell the world some place they shouldn't go that they think they might need to go.

STEVES: Don't go to Oxford.

SAGAL: Don't go to Oxford?

STEVES: Now here's the reason.

SAGAL: Please.

STEVES: Americans have the shortest vacations in the rich world, and if you've got a short vacation, which we generally do, and you're going to England, the question is not is Oxford good or bad? The question is, is Oxford or Cambridge better for your trip? And I think Cambridge is more fun as a sightseeing place.

SAGAL: There you are. It is in fact very lovely. Oxford is more urban.

STEVES: And then you save time for something entirely different.

SAGAL: I see. Has anybody ever mistreated you? I'm sure it happens, you travel all over the world, and people have treated you rudely or ripped you off. And then you say to yourself in your best Emperor Palpatine voice, I shall destroy you.


STEVES: I got in a little bit of a tiff with the tourist people in the little town of Vicenza in Italy because they wouldn't provide a place for travelers to check their bag for the day if they're side tripping in from Venice.


STEVES: Which is like less than an hour away by train. And for two or three years, I came back and I said all of these people with my book are coming to your town and there's no place for them to leave their bag. They're not going to spend the night, they just want to check the bag for three hours. And if you don't have a place to check bags at the train station, I'm going to take you out of my book. And I finally had to take Vicenza - the entire town out of my book because they wouldn't do that at the train station.

SAGAL: That's an immense power, Mr. Steves.

STEVES: Well, it's fun to do that.


PAULA POUNDSTONE: Do you ever - when you are dealing with somebody and maybe the tourist board isn't agreeable, do you ever just say one word - Vicenza?


STEVES: No. But...

POUNDSTONE: Just want to say one word to you - Vicenza.

STEVES: You know, the problem with...

SAGAL: Have you ever heard of a town called Vicenza? Right. You know why not?


SAGAL: Now people who have seen you in PBS might be surprised to learn that in addition to your travel, you're a huge pot advocate, right?

STEVES: I worked on that for 10 or 12 years now. I'm a board member of NORML.

SAGAL: Does your advocacy in this issue ever sort of conflict with your vast audience and readership? I mean, would they be surprised to know this?

STEVES: Yeah, once in a blue moon somebody will email me and say I know what you think about marijuana, and we're not going to take your tours or read your guidebooks. And all I can think is Europe's going to be more fun without you.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: So this - this marijuana enthusiasm explains why your top recommendation of things to do in Paris is just sort of look at the sky.


SAGAL: I'm glad you found that funny. Thank you very much.

STEVES: I've been there.

SAGAL: Well, Rick Steves, it's a pleasure to talk to you. We've asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: You're Rick Steves, what do you know about Steve Ricks?

SAGAL: Despite your many travels, Rick Steves, you've probably never crossed paths with many people in the world named Steve Ricks. So we're going to ask you three questions about these people who are sort of your reverse doppelgangers. Get two right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Rick Steves playing for?

KURTIS: Kyle Roylance Hart of Seattle, Wash.

SAGAL: There you go.

STEVES: All right.


SAGAL: So we got on Google and we found that there is a, quote, "bespoke tailor" out their named Steve Ricks. What is Steve Ricks tailor - what is his specialty? A, custom tailored hazmat suits for discerning emergency workers; B, exact replicas of the outfits of each of the 11 different "Doctor Whos" - I think we're up to 2 now; or C, custom-made and custom-fitted codpieces?


STEVES: The only one I can really envision is C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C.


SAGAL: So if you want your codpiece - you want it to be comfortable, you want it to be fit - no, actually it was B, the "Doctor Who" outfits. If you're a "Doctor Who" fan and you want to dress like say the ninth Doctor, then you call him up and he will make your suit look exactly like "Doctor Who."

POUNDSTONE: Wow. Thats's a great service.

SAGAL: Isn't it?



SAGAL: All right, so you still have two more chances. There is a number of musicians out there named Steve Ricks, including one whose art form is what? A, mix tapes to listen to while you're stoned...


SAGAL: B, collages of found traffic noise; or C, well, he's a male Stevie Nicks impersonator.


STEVES: I can't picture Steve Ricks being a male Stevie Nicks.

SAGAL: Well, you just sing all the songs, I guess, in a much lower register. But move on.

STEVES: OK, I'll go with just to keep up with the theme, A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A - mix tapes to listen to while you're stoned. That's the answer.


STEVES: All right.


SAGAL: You and he have more than just your names in common. All right. This is exciting. You have one more. If you get this right, you'll win. Deep down in the Google results, we found a Steve Ricks mentioned in what book? A, "The Mammoth Book Of Killers Still At Large."


SAGAL: B, "How To Make Anything Out Of Masking Tape;" or C, "A Man, A Plan, Another Canal: Gowanus."



STEVES: I love the idea of masking tape. I'll go with B.

SAGAL: Masking tape?

STEVES: Is that what it was? I'll go A then.

SAGAL: "The Mammoth Book Of Killers Still At Large."


SAGAL: That's right.


POUNDSTONE: Good for you.


SAGAL: If you're sleeping too well, I recommend to you "The Mammoth Book Of Killers Still At Large." Don't worry, Mr. Ricks is merely a witness to a victim's disappearance, not actually one of those killers. Bill, how did Rick Steves do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of three, so he's going to have a happy trip next time.


SAGAL: Very well done. Congratulations. Rick Steves is America's best-selling guidebook writer and host of the public television show, "Rick Steves Europe." Rick Steves, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.

STEVES: What a pleasure. Thank you.


JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I've ben everywhere, man. I've been everywhere, man. Across the desert's bare, man. I've breathed the mountain air, man. A travel I've had my share, man. I've been everywhere. I've been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.