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!


  1. Great post, Heart!
    As you know, I too am a DC native! How blessed we are to have such rich history in our backyard! As a child, our field trips were always to the Monuments or wasn't until I was an adult, did I realize living in this area is so easy to take it for granted! Where did kids in Kansas or Kentucky go on a field trip and gain such an incredible experience? (no offence to those states, of course)
    I look forward to reading your next post, even though I have heard of some of your Inauguration highlights!
    Make it a good weekend!

  2. I think you have found a wonderful occupation! I would love love love it!

    I'm looking forward to hearing more!