March 29, 2009

Inauguration Week, Day 3

It’s been so hard for me to find the time to sit and write another post. I’ve already started into the spring student tour season and between that and getting ready to compete with my quartet and chorus in the Sweet Adelines annual regional competition, the days are just flying by! I really want to get a handle on this blog thing, so I’m going to do my best to finish up the parts about the Inauguration before the end of the week. The information already seems so dated, now that President Obama has been in office for more than two months! Wow! Talk about time flying by!

Okay, so I’m up to Day 3 of Inauguration week. It was Monday, the day before the Inauguration, and this was when things started to get interesting and challenging. I have to start by saying that I’ve never really liked big crowds and don’t enjoy being a part of them, but I’ve learned to adapt. You really don’t have a choice if you’re going to be a Tour Guide because the crowds are big around here in the heart of the tour season. So I was a bit apprehensive as we got closer to the actual Inauguration, but knew that I would just have to handle it.

My groups spent the night at their hotel in Baltimore and were picking me up in Virginia on the way to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. It made perfect sense to go there – visit the home of our very first President before the swearing in of our newest one! Besides, most groups that come to Washington include a visit to Mount Vernon because of its historical significant and sheer beauty.

Most trips to MV start with the bus unloading in front of the Visitor’s Center. The groups line up while I go and pick up the tickets that have been reserved for them at the box office. Then we enter the Center, where we give them a few minutes to use the rest rooms and take their pictures with the life-size brass sculptures of General and Mrs. Washington and their grandchildren, Nell and “Washy”. Then we spend some time looking at the model of the MV Mansion while we wait to go into the introductory movie, if time permits. I usually check with the staff at the information desk to find out how long the wait is to get into the mansion and plan our course of action based on that. It’s not unusual to wait 20-30 minutes, or even a little longer for the mansion tour, especially at the height of the season. Afterwards, we walk around the grounds and then head back to the beautiful educational center and museum. The whole thing takes around 2-3 hours, although we’ve done an abbreviated version of the tour when we’re short on time.

That’s what we do on a normal day, when there are only 2,000 or so visitors that day…when we arrive and there are maybe 10-12 busses there already. However, January 19 was not a “normal” day. Before we even arrived at Mount Vernon I had heard that there were reservations for 17,000 people to visit that day, and that was just the organized tour groups that made arrangements ahead of time! That’s almost five times the normal number of visitors for a day. I have to give the staff at MV a lot of credit, though – they were well prepared for the onslaught! Instead of having the busses park along the parkway west of the entrance after dropping their groups, they were sent off to park about five miles away and we were told to call our drivers when we were ready to leave. The movie in the visitors center was running almost constantly in two theaters so they could keep groups going in and out. Our group stopped and watched it, then headed for the mansion. Oh my gosh! The line was the longest I had ever seen it and the estimate was that it would be at least a 90 minute wait to get into the house. Since we only had about two hours left at that point, I suggested to the two group leaders that we bypass the mansion, go see some of the other buildings, go to the back lawn of the mansion and look out over the Potomac River (a great photo opportunity), then head down to the tomb where General and Mrs. Washington are laid to rest. They agreed and we spent about an hour covering those areas. Then we went back for a quick visit of the museum and educational center. There are some great videos in the center, including a theater where it “snows” inside. Of course, the students all wanted to see that, but it was another 30-45 minute wait just for that movie and we didn’t have the time. In fact, the center was so crowded that they were only letting groups into the building as other groups left. It was a mad house!

The plan to call our driver and have him come pick us up almost worked. I called and he came over and got in the line of busses at the pick-up point. Unfortunately, my groups ended up heading for the bus in dribs and drabs as students finished in the gift shop, just so we could relieve some of the crowds. The MV “police” made our driver move after five minutes – no waiting for the whole group. He had to circle around three times before we were all out there, and each time he ended up in a different spot in line.

I guess you kind of had to be there to appreciate the situation. Imagine that you’re walking down a LONG sidewalk that has dozens of huge motor coaches lined up and you’re looking for that ONE coach that belongs to you. Just when you spot it and know it’s only 3-4 busses away, the driver pulls out and drives away because he’s been told to move! Then you don’t know where he’s going, how long he’ll be, if we should go to the spot he just vacated or expect him to show up somewhere else, etc. Thank goodness for cell phones! I don’t know how guides did their jobs before the darn things were invented!

Whew! We got through Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, I would find out later, when one of the groups sent in an evaluation, that they were totally unhappy with our visit to the plantation because they didn’t get to see the mansion. Forget the fact that I explained the circumstances and that they knew the crowds were outrageous and some plans would have to be changed to make it all work. If they had been honest and told me up front that they didn’t care how long they had to wait in line – they wanted to go in to the mansion no matter what – we would have split the groups and left them to wait in line while I took the others around the plantation. No, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. They just acted like everything was honky-dory, and then complained about it in their evaluation a week after the tour! Oh, joy!

Well, I thought the worst was over, at least for that day, but it wasn’t. We had to figure out where to take them for lunch because they were “on their own” for lunch instead of having a reserved meal somewhere. We were heading for the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which had just reopened in December, so I suggested that we let the students get something to eat while they were there. The museum has a lovely (albeit expensive) café, so that’s what we did.

We got to the museum only to discover that all of the rest of the millions of people who were in DC for the inauguration – minus the 17,000 that were at Mount Vernon – had come to the same museum! We had to wait in line outside for about 20 minutes before enough people left that we could enter the museum. It was right about then that I started to feel like I was at Disney World – same kind of crowd control, but with security sweeps, magnetometers and bag checks added in! We spent about 2 hours in the museum although I’m not sure the students got to see a whole lot. I headed for the café for some lunch and relaxation while I had the chance. I saw several of the students doing the same thing. Whatever – they needed some down time after Mount Vernon.

Around 4:00 we gathered and walked down past the Washington Monument. It turns out that one group had reservations to go up in the Monument that afternoon…except that the Washington Monument was closed for three days because of the Inauguration! This was another thing they complained about in their evaluation (yes, it was the same group). So we saw it from the outside, took some photos, and then continued on to the World War II memorial. That is the newest memorial in Washington (dedicated in 2004) and one of my favorites! It’s beautiful and moving and full of symbolism. It was also full of tourists that day! The other sad thing was that since it was January, all of the water in the pools and fountains was removed and turned off so it wouldn’t freeze. It was a shame because the memorial just doesn’t look the same without it!

After WWII, we walked down towards the Lincoln Memorial, part of what we guides refer to as “The Big 3” – the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We usually visit all three at one time because of their close proximity. Under normal touring conditions, the busses drop us by the Korean Memorial (south end, near Independence Avenue) and pick us up an hour later on Constitution Avenue near the Vietnam Wall. It didn’t quite work that way this time. There were still structures up around the Lincoln Memorial from the concert on Sunday, as well as Obama’s salute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that day (it was King’s Holiday on Monday), so we really couldn’t get up to the memorial. In fact, we couldn’t get very close at all because of the security equipment, bleachers, jumbotrons, etc. We didn’t even try to get over to the Korean Memorial because it was almost impossible between the crowds and the obstacles. So I talked to the groups about all of the memorials and then we headed for the Vietnam Memorial. That went pretty well until we got ready to leave. There were a number of busses from the same company as ours lined up along Constitution Avenue and it was hard to tell which one was ours. Needless to say, the students kept telling me ours was to the west and we headed that way….to the wrong bus! We had to back-track and go about two more blocks east until we finally found our wonderful driver, Tom, waiting for us!

At this point, you’d think that things were okay and we had made it through the day without too many problems. Well, that’s only partially true. The groups had coupons for the food court at Union Station, at the other end of the National Mall. The plan was to drive down there (usually about a 10-minute drive), show them how to get in and out of the food court and then I would leave them for the evening. They were heading back to Baltimore after dinner. It didn’t happen as planned, to say the least. We got stuck in the worst case of gridlock that I’ve ever experienced! Traffic was everywhere! Roads were closed! Preparations were already being made for the Inauguration and parade the next day. We absolutely couldn’t move! After we traveled about 3 blocks in almost an hour, Tom got off of Constitution Avenue and tried a more circuitous route to get to Union Station. We got caught in more traffic, but it was a bit easier than where we had been…..until we got to a spot two blocks from Union Station and were blocked off by police. They told us that the station and all of the surrounding streets were now closed until after the Inauguration!

So here it was, almost 8:00 pm, with a group of students who were hungry, tired and grumpy, and a tour guide (ME!) who was about the same. The only difference was that I wasn’t able to show my emotions – I had to remain positive. I also had to figure out how to get them some dinner since they couldn’t use the coupons they had. I called the tour company for suggestions. They explained that the group leaders had cash on them for a meal at the airport on Wednesday, so to find a fast food restaurant and have them use that cash for dinner and the company would replace it.

Tom started heading out of town towards Baltimore – it was the only way we could go at that point because of the traffic and road closures. He turned east onto New York Avenue and our luck finally changed – there was a McDonald’s one block ahead of us! Hallelujah! He pulled the bus up and we unloaded the groups and let them go in to get dinner and bring it back on the bus. While they did that, I had to figure out where we were and if there was a Metro station nearby where Tom could drop me off and I could head home. Otherwise, I’d end up in Baltimore with the groups, which certainly wasn’t part of the plan! I pulled out my trusty fold-up DC map, only to find that we were just past the edge of the area it covered! Rats! (Well, that’s not really what I said!) After a little bit of thought I decided to call my “research assistant” – my son, who was at home on his computer. I gave him the name of the closest intersection; he punched it into Google Maps and told me we were exactly two blocks from the Metro station at Gallaudet University! Thank goodness for his expertise and for the Internet! After everyone was back on the bus, we drove over to the Metro and I waved goodbye as they headed off to Baltimore.

It was 10:00 pm by the time I finally got home. I was exhausted, hungry, beat and still had to prepare for the big day – Inauguration was tomorrow! I took a long, hot shower, heated up a can of soup, packed up all my things for Tuesday and laid out my clothes. I had to be downtown at 5:30 am, and with the predictions of the crowds, that meant leaving my home at 3:30! So I snuggled up on the sofa in the living room with my alarm clock nearby and slept for about three hours. Then it was up and out to be a part of one of the most exciting days in our country’s modern history.

Well, you’ll just have to wait until I write again to hear about our adventures on Inauguration Day. I promise you won’t have to wait too long!

March 18, 2009

Inauguration Week, Day 2

On Sunday, January 18, I met the two high school groups that I would be leading for the next four days. One group was from Kansas and the other from Texas. I took the Metro to Washington National Airport to meet them when they arrived. There were a lot of people on the Metro that day heading downtown for the pre-Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew already that the day would be filled with challenges due to road and bridge closures. It would be nearly impossible for the bus to get into DC from Virginia, so the plan was to spend most of the day outside of the city. The groups were arriving too late in the day to even think about going to the concert, so that was never an option.
On Sunday, January 18, I met the two high school groups that I would be leading for the next four days. One group was from Kansas and the other from Texas. I took the Metro to Washington National Airport to meet them when they arrived. There were a lot of people on the Metro that day heading downtown for the pre-Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew already that the day would be filled with challenges due to road and bridge closures. It would be nearly impossible for the bus to get into DC from Virginia, so the plan was to spend most of the day outside of the city. The groups were arriving too late in the day to even think about going to the concert, so that was never an option.

The groups arrived one right after the other. It took quite a while for them to retrieve their luggage because there were so many school groups coming in at the same time. In fact, there was something like 12 WS groups alone arriving at National that day within just a 3-4 hour period. There were lots of groups for other tour companies coming in, too. By the time everyone had their bags and we got them loaded on the bus, it was around 2:00 pm and they were starving, so the first stop was for lunch.

We headed to Pentagon City Mall to hit the food court. At this point, I should probably explain that one of the downfalls of being a tour guide in DC is the amount of time I spend eating at various food courts! When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense – it’s cheap and they can handle a lot of people at one time. There are about 6-7 food courts in and around DC that we frequent; Pentagon City Mall is one of the most popular. We obviously weren’t the only group going there that Sunday, either. As our bus driver, Tom, approached the mall, we saw wall-to-wall busses parked along the road. We got lucky, though – one was pulling out as we came up, so Tom grabbed the space and we unloaded.

I was very lucky to have Tom as a driver for all four days of this tour. I’ve worked with him before and he’s one of the nicest drivers I know. He’s from southern Virginia, but frequently works in DC and really knows his way around. He also knows all of the familiar routines, like where to drop and pick up groups for all of the monuments and memorials, which made my job much easier! I hope to work with him again this season and in the future.

After lunch, we boarded the bus and headed up the road to Arlington National Cemetery. Now remember, I had just been to ANC the day before with a different group. Remember, too, that I said it’s one of the most physically demanding places we go, so imagine how thrilled (?) I was to be back there again, especially on another cold day. Actually, I shouldn’t complain – it was much warmer than Saturday. The temperature was actually in the 20’s! The cemetery was a lot more crowded, though, than it had been the previous day. This time we headed straight for the Tomb of the Unknowns instead of first going to the JFK gravesite. I wanted to be sure that we were in time to see the changing of the guard on the hour. We ended up being a few minutes early, so we visited the memorials for the two space shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, and for the Iran Rescue Team. We even had time to stop and sit in the amphitheater so the groups could take pictures. Then we walked around to the Tomb. There was a huge crowd because so many people were visiting DC, but wanted to avoid the National Mall and the concert. Both groups were able to find places to stand so they could see the ceremony. There were also a couple of wreath-laying ceremonies that they were able to see.

The rest of the visit to ANC was routine – we visited the JFK and RFK graves, and then headed back to the Visitor’s Center and the bus. It was when we left Arlington that things started to get interesting. If you’re familiar with the area, you know the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima) is literally right next to ANC. It’s usually a 5-10 minute drive from one to the other. Not this day! The roads around the Iwo Jima Memorial were closed off to traffic so people returning to Virginia from the concert across the river would be able to walk on the roads. We were stuck on the George Washington Memorial Highway heading west, towards the Beltway, and had to think fast before we ended up going an hour out of our way! Tom got off onto Spout Run, which took us towards the city of Arlington, VA. Neither of us had a map of that area or a GPS with us, so Tom just drove through town by the seat of his pants. Bless his heart; he’s one of the best! He maneuvered his way through Rosslyn (actually part of Arlington) and was heading back towards Pentagon City when he realized he could take a different road to get us to Iwo Jima. A couple of turns and there we were! I was so pleased that the students would get the chance to see this magnificent memorial! We spent about 20 minutes there with everyone walking around and taking pictures from every possible angle.

By the time we left the Memorial, it was apparent that the concert was over because of the number of people walking around and coming across the bridges from DC. We went back to Pentagon City Mall where the students were to pick up dinner to go and then head to their hotel in Baltimore to check in and get ready for a dance that night. I left them at the mall and jumped on the Metro to head home. The trains were packed, especially once I got to Metro Center to switch to the red line. Everyone was happy and talking with each other, strangers as well as friends. It was totally unlike it usually is on a crowded Metro train. I heard people talking about how great the concert was, but I had to wait until I got home and could watch it on the news.

All in all, it was a pretty good day without too many complications….but I also knew the worst was yet to come as we got closer to the swearing-in on Tuesday. Still, it was exciting to hear the buzz all around me and know that all of these tourists were here for such an historic occasion as this Inauguration. As a citizen of our wonderful country, I was thrilled to be a part of it all. As a tour guide, though, I knew the next few days would be spent working our way through crowds, dealing with lots of security checkpoints, closed roads and various hassles.

I got home, ate dinner and got my things together for the next day. First stop on Monday was going to be Mount Vernon… and 17,000 other tourists! Stay tuned….

March 16, 2009

Inauguration Week, Day 1

For me, as a tour guide in Washington, DC, the Inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President actually began on the Friday before the swearing-in, January 16. That was the day I spent in training with the company I was going to be working for over the next five days. (I don't know how the tour company would feel about being included in my blog, so I'll just refer to them as WS.) The training was excellent, but the best part was that WS loaded all of the guides down with hand and foot warmers, space blankets, and other goodies to help us make it through the cold weather. They had set up an outstanding support system, too, in terms of communications, problem-solving teams, logistics, etc. We all knew it was going to be a tough week, but we also knew the support we would need was already in place.

The excitement really started the next day, Saturday, January 17. I was assigned to a 3-bus group, a band from somewhere in Alabama. They were coming to DC for the inauguration and to perform at a couple of different venues, but they were not part of the official parade. They only had 4 hours that morning for some quick sightseeing and then they were heading off to perform. It was a beautiful day, but very cold! When I left home around 7:00 am, it was 8 degrees above 0 and the wind was blowing! Now, I was a Girl Scout and a Scout Leader for many, many years, so I know how to deal with being out in cold weather. I wore many layers, from silk thermal underwear out to gloves, hat and scarf over my warmest coat. Still, it was definitely the coldest day I had ever spent as a tour guide. I did learn a valuable lesson that day about using foot warmers, too. I had never tried them, so I read the directions carefully and thoroughly. It said not to put the warmers against your skin once they were activated (opened to the air), but to attach them to the outside of your socks. I did just that, placing a warmer under the ball and toes of each foot. What it didn't say was that the more you walk on them, the hotter they get! By the time we had walked through Arlington National Cemetery and back to the bus (about a 90-minute stroll), I had a blister on my left foot from the heat of the warmer! The whole time we were walking back from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the bus, I felt like someone had given me an old-fashioned hot foot! The minute we were back on the bus, I tore off my boots, took off the foot warmers and repositioned them on the TOP of my feet.

The scheduled itinerary called for us to take the group to Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Corps War Memorial (more popularly known as Iwo Jima), then to the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial/Korean War Veterans Memorial/Vietnam Veterans Memorial (which we do all as one stop). The busses picked us up in front of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, a very common place for guides to meet their groups. I arrived early, of course, and the busses were a bit late coming in because they had traveled all the way from Alabama overnight. I huddled around with the other guides who were waiting for groups. There really wasn't anywhere to protect us from the wind because the bleachers for the Inaugural Parade had already been put up and we couldn't get to the overhang/protected part of the front of the OPO. I just figured it would be a good way to get used to the cold since we would be in it all morning.

The group arrived, the three of us guides each boarded a bus and off we went. The first challenge -- and one that I often face as a DC Tour Guide -- was that of the three bus drivers, two had never been to DC before and one had been here just one time! That meant that in addition to telling the high school students and chaperones all about DC, I would have to give my driver directions as to how to get around. This makes the job twice as difficult, but it's just part of the challenge we sometimes face.

We headed first for Arlington National Cemetery. There's a routine that we follow when leading groups through ANC. We start at the Visitor's Center (giving them a chance for a potty break), then head to the John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy graves. If time permits, we walk up to the Custis-Lee Mansion (also known as Arlington House) that overlooks the cemetery and has a great view of DC, then go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. If you've never been to Arlington, it is quite an experience. Row upon row upon row of headstones, all of people who served our country in the Armed Forces. Many of them died in battle, but many died later of natural causes. The important thing to remember isn't about how they died, but how they chose to live at least part of their lives protecting our freedoms! It's a point I try to convey to the groups I take to visit there. I also give the students a little talk about what I call "memorial behavior" -- being silent, respectful, reverent while they are visiting ANC and any of the other war memorials in the area. These high school students were very well behaved. Sometimes I'm not as lucky when I'm leading 8th graders around in the Spring.

The other thing I explain to my school groups is that Arlington National Cemetery is uphill, even when it's downhill. I know that sounds strange, but by the time you're finished walking around for two hours, you know what I mean! ANC is the most physically demanding of all the places I take groups, but it is well worth the effort. (Fortunately, when I occasionally get to guide a group of adults or senior citizens, they usually purchase the Tourmobile tickets so we don't have to do all that walking!)

This day was a bit different from other visits to ANC because it was only 15 degrees when we started walking from the Visitor's Center to the JFK gravesite. I told the group that the last time I had led a group of students up the hill, it had been the Spring of 2008....and the temperature that day was a heat index of 108 degrees! Quite a difference! If I have my druthers, I think I prefer the cold because just walking around the cemetery makes you so hot. When it's a hot day in June and I'm leading a group, it is much more exhausting and strenuous!

The cemetery was a bit crowded, but not as much as I've seen it in the Spring at the height of the season. We skipped the Custis-Lee Mansion because we really didn't have time for it that day, so we headed from the Kennedy gravesite to the Changing of the Guard. During the winter, the guard is changed every hour on the hour, so you have to time it right or wait a whole additional hour to see the ceremony. We made it to the Tomb of the Unknown just in time for the ceremony! Whew!

After we were done at Arlington, we headed straight for DC. Our time was already running short, so the school leaders opted to skip Iwo Jima. We knew there would be a lot of traffic in town and weren't sure how long it would take for us to get around. We crossed the Memorial Bridge, drove around the Lincoln Memorial the best we could (some of the roads were blocked off in preparation for the big Inaugural Concert on Sunday), and went to the WWII memorial. This is one of my favorite memorials, although it is much prettier in the spring and summer when the fountains are filled and running. It really misses something without the water. I gave the group my usual spiel and sent them off to look around.

While I was waiting for the group to regather near the wall of stars, I could swear that I heard James Taylor music coming from somewhere! I kept looking around for speakers or someone with a loud iPod, but didn't see anything. Then it occurred to me -- the music was coming from the Lincoln Memorial, further down the mall. There was a rehearsal going on for Sunday's concert and James Taylor was one of the performers. How cool was that? After we finished up at WWII, we decided to walk down the path along the reflecting pool to see the Lincoln Memorial. We continued to hear music -- bands warming up, singers practicing, directions being given. When we got to Lincoln, we were able to stand across the road from the memorial and see some of the rehearsal. We actually saw Sheryl Crow doing a couple of numbers! Of course, to the students, this was far more interesting than looking at some old, historic buildings! Unfortunately, because of the rehearsal, we weren't able to go up to the Lincoln Memorial or even see much of it because it was blocked off by bleachers, platforms, lights, jumbotrons, etc. We also couldn't get over to the Korean War Memorial because of the crowds, but we did have the opportunity to go visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, always of interest to these groups. By the time we finished that, it was time for the group to head to lunch and for me to head home.

The first day was done.....almost, but not quite. My tour guiding for that day was finished, but I still had another adventure ahead that evening....

As you can tell from the title of my blog, music is also a big part of my life. I sing women's barbershop harmony in a Sweet Adelines chorus as well as in a women's quartet. The Lead of our quartet arranged for us to perform at an "Inaugural Ball" being held at the high school where she teaches. Of course, it was that Saturday evening, so even though I was tired, I had to go. You can't very well have a quartet if one person is missing, can you? We got all dolled up (sorry, that's a really old term!) in our sequined tops and headed for the school. I was so glad that we did, even though my feet hurt and I was beat! It was so much fun! Of course, we love to perform any chance we get, but this was such an unusual venue for us. We even had our picture taken with President-elect Obama.....well, at least it was a cut-out of him! The audience was appreciative and seemed to like our mixture of patriotic and humorous songs. We got rave reviews and prolonged applause, which was a great ending to a very long day.

Thus ended the first day. My next post will be about my meeting with the school groups I would guide for the next four days, including through the Inauguration itself. Until then, stay well.

March 6, 2009

Tour Guide Beginnings

It's March, and that means that the spring season for tourism in Washington, DC will soon be getting into full swing. Each year, thousands of middle school students from around the U.S. -- primarily 8th graders -- descend on our Nation's Capital to learn about their Government and to visit the famous landmarks and historic locations in the area.

I'm entering my 3rd season as a Licensed Professional Tour Guide, but I've lived in the Washington area my whole life. I always avoided going downtown (into DC) during tourist season because it was such a pain and so crowded. However, I look at it from a whole different viewpoint now.....TOURISTS = $$. The more tours I work, the more money I make. Don't get me wrong, though -- I don't do it just for the money. I actually LOVE being a tour guide! Yes, it's exhausting, with its 14-hour days, long walks, unpredictable weather, etc. Yes, it can be frustrating, especially when you have a group of students -- or even just a few within a group -- who really don't care about anything except socializing with their friends and don't want to hear you talk about the history of the U.S. Capitol or anything else. But it can also be rewarding, like when I had a boy from rural eastern Texas who had never been to a big city and couldn't understand why he didn't see "no 4x4's or no jacked-up trucks" roaming around the metropolitan area....or the girl whose face lit up when she saw the Lincoln Memorial at night because she had always dreamed of seeing it. Then there was the first time a student came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with a name from his grandfather to find on the wall. He proudly made a rubbing of it and couldn't wait to take it home as a gift for the old man. As with any job, there are good days and bad days for tour guides....and the good ones far outnumber and make up for the bad ones!

This is actually my second career. I retired in 2007 after almost 33 years as an employee of the Federal Government. I was feeling burned out after spending my entire career with the same organization and I was ready for a change. I was eligible to retire, but didn't really want to stop working. So I retired from that career and started a new one. In addition to guiding in DC, I'm also trained and certified to be a Tour Director/Manager/Escort (the title depends on what company you work for). I'd like to eventually do more Tour Management and travel to other areas, but for now, I'm happy to stick mostly to Washington.

Life is kind of funny, as I've discovered since I started down this path as a DC Tour Guide. All my life, I took Washington for granted. I'd been downtown countless times and seen the monuments, museums, statues, etc. It wasn't until I started to really learn about them that I came to appreciate them. Now that I know so much about the city, its history, culture, government, etc., I love it more and more. I never get tired of seeing the sights, especially when we're touring at night. Is there anything more beautiful than looking down the mall from the WW II Memorial towards the U.S. Capitol, then turning west towards the Lincoln Memorial and seeing all of the sights lit up against the dark sky? Wow! Even now, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. It makes me so proud to be a part of this wonderful nation and so happy to be able to share it with people from all parts of the country and the world.

So, that's the beginning. It's getting late and I have a busy weekend. My next post will be the first stories of the Inauguration week and the tours I led in the freezing cold. I hope to have some time before Monday to write again.

Thanks for visiting and come back often!

March 5, 2009

Memories of Cookie

I never thought when I did my first posting 10 days ago that I would log on at some point and have so many comments from people....or, should I say, from new friends! Wow! Thanks to my dear friend, AirmanMom, for putting the word out. I love ya', T!

I haven't gotten back to this because I've been pretty busy the last week or so. My older son moved out on his own about a month ago and I've been busy converting his old bedroom into my office and scrapbooking room (another passion of mine). I've had the carpet cleaned, the walls painted, and moved furniture in. I still have quite a bit of work to do on it, but it's shaping up nicely.

It's been very strange since my son moved out because I'm living on my own -- totally alone -- for the first time in my life. I went from being a daughter living with my parents to being a wife for almost 25 years. Even when my husband and I separated, one or both of my grown sons lived with me on and off for over six years. The younger one relocated to PA about 3 years ago and now with both of them gone, it's very different. I don't even have my sweet dog to keep me company -- she passed away almost a year ago. So even though I'm excited about this new stage in my life, it's also taking some getting used to. There are many, many positive things about living alone -- I don't have to follow anyone's schedule but my own; I don't have to worry about meals because I eat what I want when I want; and I don't have to deal with anyone else's mess. But there's also a great sense of loneliness sometimes, especially in the evenings. I feel restless and itchy to do something, but totally unmotivated at the same time. I guess I'm just suffering from a case of the blahs. Big time!

So, since the anniversary of losing my faithful companion, Cookie, is coming up on Tuesday, I thought I'd write a few things about her. She was a wonderful dog -- a "pound puppy" we saved when she was just 9 months old. She was a mutt, through and through -- a mix between a black lab and some kind of terrier, which we were never able to identify. She had the face of the terrier and the body of the lab....and the perfect personality combination of the best of both breeds. She was friendly to a fault -- not a watchdog in any stretch of the imagination! She was full of energy, even to the end of her life at age 11. And she was the smartest 4-legged critter I've ever known. She understood so much of what we said to her and even what we didn't say. She had some quirky things she would do, like go hide in my bathroom when a thunder storm was approaching. (It was dark in there so she couldn't see the lightning or hear the thunder as much.) She was terrible (or adorable, depending on your point of view) about stealing food from the kitchen counter, especially bread of any kind! She was a big dog -- about 95 pounds -- so it was easy for her to reach up on the counter, grab a bag of bread or bagels, carry it to her bed in the living room and eat it. Of course, this always happened when we were away, so all we ever found was the empty plastic bag and a bunch of crumbs.

Her other passion was chocolate. Yes, I know that chocolate is bad for dogs -- I certainly never planned on her eating it. I guess someone forgot to tell Cookie that it was bad for her! Several times we came home and found that she had gotten hold of some chocolate candy that we thought was out of her reach. Once it was a plateful of truffles from Harry and David (which she then threw up, leaving us a nice mess). Once it was a box of chocolates filled with Jack Daniels that we had just bought at a crafts show. I swear she was walking around crooked after eating those!

I could spend hours and hundreds of pages writing about her she would jump up on my bed and dig at the covers and pillows until they were just the right way that she wanted them to be. Or how she would sit and stare at me as I ate -- never begging, but just looking at me with those big, pitiful brown eyes. Or how she would "talk" to me with her whining -- different sounds meant different things. I was so blessed to have her in my life for ten years and I still miss her so much.

Now before you write a comment and tell me to get another dog, let me say that although I miss her with all my heart, there's just no way I can take care of a dog by myself with the crazy schedule I live through the touring season. For example, my first tour of the season has me working 3 12-hour days in a row! Add to that my commuting time back and forth to DC and they are 14-15 hour days. It just isn't fair to leave a dog alone for that long each day and I really don't have anyone who can take care of her while I'm working. Maybe after the tour season is over, I'll reconsider, but not until then.

So, Cookie, this posting is for you. Wherever you are up in Dog Heaven, I just want you to know how much I loved you and miss you. I hope you're busy chasing squirrels, running around in circles, and eating loaves and loaves of bread, all of the things you loved to do here on earth.

Love from "Mom"