Jobs or snobs?

That question's slant reflects one view of the debate over the States Ports Authority's plans for a new cruise terminal and an expansion of that business here.

The answer displayed on signs outside Monday night's Historic Charleston Foundation forum on this controversy: "Jobs Not Snobs."

The opposition casts the question -- and answer --quite differently:

Should we grow the cruise business in Charleston, and put the terminal at that SPA-chosen site, when we already have a surplus of tourists?

Some folks also ask: Why bring in so many more cruise-ship passengers, who tend to be loutish sorts clad in garish T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops?

This dispute has become bitterly divisive, even spawning hostile relations within some local families.

But enough of the argument over the location of the new cruise terminal and the SPA's merely "voluntary" assurance that it will serve no more than 104 ships a year -- for now.

The larger question isn't which side of this squabble should take a long walk off a short Union Pier.

It's why so many people go on cruises to or from here -- or to or from anywhere else -- in the first place.

Cruising fans have often tried to get this non-cruiser on board by hailing the ample eating bounty on those floating hotels. A typical testimonial: "The food's really good, and you can eat all you want all day and night long."

From Carnival Cruise Line's web site: "Unlike land resorts, our kitchen never closes. The Pizzeria featuring salads, freshly baked pizzas and calzones is accessible 24 hours a day."

Swell. Belly up with other gluttons to the round-the-clock, face-stuffing trough while sailing the ocean blue in a big, crowded boat from which you can't cast a fishing line.

OK, so cruises take lots of satisfied customers where they want to go.

That raises another persisting puzzle, at least for this Holy City native:

Why do so many people want to come to Charleston not by just sea but by land and air?

Our local economy depends heavily on tourism. And when friends and family from out of town visit, most are utterly enchanted by the timeless ambiance of this special place.

As Carnival pitches this port of call: "The South has always been known for its grace and charm. And nothing epitomizes it better than the beautiful historic city of Charleston. This 'living museum' is made up of formal gardens, magnificent plantations and stately old homes that offer a first-hand glimpse into life before the Civil War. No wonder Charleston is cited in polls as one of the top 10 domestic destinations to visit in the world."

Still, while Charleston packs in guests because it is in so many ways unchanged, for many of us who grew up here, the steep rise in tourists over the last quarter century is a major -- and not entirely welcome -- change.

But hey, if you can't beat 'em (and you can't), join 'em. Stop taking our Port City attractions for granted and take them in again yourself.

Take pride, too, in this fresh evidence that old buildings aren't the only reason we have so much company:

The new issue of Travel and Leisure lists Charleston at No. 7 on "America's Best Cities for People-Watching."

The magazine's flattering praise for not Charleston's historic sites but human sights:

"Sure, the city ranks highly for people-watching, but the people themselves get points for being good-looking and friendly -- they're the kind you want to gawk at and get to know."

Gee, thanks, though this column's mug shot doesn't do me justice.

And if we're so "good-looking and friendly" around here, how could Travel and Leisure rate us under the top six of New Orleans, Savannah (they've got to be kidding), Honolulu, New York City, Las Vegas and San Francisco?

Now a question of survival:

Have you ever seen "The Poseidon Adventure" -- and what happened to that cruise ship?

From that 1972 cinematic epic, far superior to the 2005 re-make -- and to 1997's insipid, overrated "Titanic":

Rev. Frank Scott (played by Gene Hackman): "Through the kitchens and go deeper and deeper in the ship till we reach the hull. That way!"

Police Detective Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine): "And you just kick out the bottom and we swim ashore, huh?"

And you still want to go on a cruise, huh?

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier.