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

BILL KURTIS: There's nobody who knows more about travel than Rick Steves, the travel guide guru who still lives in a town where he was born, north of Seattle.


We traveled to Seattle to interview Rick Steves in September 2014, and I asked him where he got his wanderlust.


RICK STEVES: You know, I remember a long time ago there was "Roots," and everybody was tracking their roots and wanting to see tombstones with their names on it and 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 happened to be in Europe. So...

SAGAL: Right.

STEVES: ...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 - where you're best-selling and your TV shows and your specials on PBS - and they're called Ricknics?

STEVES: That's what I've heard, yes.

SAGAL: Yes. Why not Steveorinos?


STEVES: Maybe Steveorino doesn't rhyme with picnic.



STEVES: 'Cause my people have a lot of picnics.

SAGAL: They do.

STEVES: And 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.

SAGAL: Right.

STEVES: Normally people are just raving about everything, but that doesn't help you. You know...

SAGAL: Really?

STEVES: ...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...


SAGAL: ...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, you have enough time for one great university town. So 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 kind of place.

SAGAL: There you are. It is, in fact, very lovely.

MAZ JOBRANI: And 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, like, 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...

SAGAL: Really?

STEVES: ...Because they wouldn't do that at the train station.

SAGAL: And did it fade into the mist like "Brigadoon?" Did it, like...


STEVES: The whole town just disappeared. That was the end of it.

SAGAL: It's destroyed. There's just - there are tumbleweeds rolling down the streets. And there are no tumbleweeds in Italy. You brought them somehow.

STEVES: Well, that's when they let...

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

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


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.

BURBANK: Exactly.

SAGAL: You know why not?


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...


SAGAL: ...B, exact replicas of the outfits of each of the 11 different "Doctor Whos" - or I think we're up to 12 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.

STEVES: I'm going to go with C, yeah.

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.


SAGAL: If you're a "Doctor Who" fan and you...


SAGAL: ...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. That's a great service.

SAGAL: Isn't it, though?



SAGAL: All right, so you still have two more chances. There's 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: Well, 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.


SAGAL: That's the answer.


STEVES: All right.


STEVES: All right.


SAGAL: All right, this is exciting. You have one more. If you get this right, you 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?


SAGAL: You ever use masking tape?

POUNDSTONE: It didn't sound like a confident...

JOBRANI: Yeah, you got to...

POUNDSTONE: ...Response...


POUNDSTONE: ...You got from Peter there.

SAGAL: They don't like that.

STEVES: Let's see, I got one winner. I'll go A then.

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


SAGAL: That's right.



STEVES: All right, good.

POUNDSTONE: Good for you.




SAGAL: If you're sleeping too well, I recommend to you "The Mammoth Book Of Killers Still At Large."


SAGAL: No 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.

POUNDSTONE: All right.

SAGAL: Well done.


SAGAL: 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.

SAGAL: (Unintelligible) it at me...


JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I've been everywhere, man. I've been everywhere, man. Across the desert's bare, man...

SAGAL: Coming up, it's our beach books segment with "Game Of Thrones" and "Jack Reacher." He'd take the Iron Throne in five minutes flat. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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