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A Day In The Life of a Tour Guide

[This runs long, so get comfortable.]



"So, yesterday was interesting. I picked up my scheduled mini-busload of visitors and set off to show them the San Francisco sights. First up, we went to the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina. I couldn't get a parking space anywhere as the place was chock full of giant tour busses and gaggles of wandering people staring down at their phones instead of up at the neo-classical temple to the arts, so I had to turn my group loose on their own while I stayed with the van. This is never a great option, but they did all manage to find the spectacular rotunda and get back to the van on time, so then off we went to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. As I approach the toll plaza I see a flock of, I do not exaggerate, approximately 50 small-ish motorcycles waiting to merge into traffic. Regrettably there is just enough gap between me and the car ahead of me for them to start sweeping in, so I brake to allow them to stream ahead. Now I notice the riders are wearing costumes and cos-play animal heads, and they proceed to do wheelies and tricks like standing up on their bike's saddle and so forth, all the way across the bridge in front of me while I work hard to stay back out of any possible interaction because this is not how I want my career as a tour guide and commercial driver to end. Keep in mind that I am on the mic *narrating* the tour as I'm driving, so part of my brain has to stay more or less on script while the rest of it is madly improvising safe driving strategy. Nothing like being surrounded and upstaged by 50 idiot children who should never have been given motorcycle endorsements on their driver's licenses. I get across the bridge, go on to Ft. Baker where everybody gets some great photos, then back across the bridge and off to Land's End where the ocean looks like a million bucks sparkling in the lovely sunlight. We're back on track, yay. Next up, Golden Gate Park. We get to the Bison Paddock and things are going really well. Two of the bison ladies are standing up fairly near the fence and actually moving around, even tossing their huge shaggy heads. You have no idea how exciting this is, since most times all my passengers get to see are a few dark brown unmoving lumps in the far side of paddock while I yammer on about the difference between bison and buffalo and the history of this particular herd and yada yada... Okay, so we're in the Park getting close to the Music Concourse where I usually have the deYoung Museum, the Academy of Sciences, The Hagiwara Tea Garden, not to mention the gorgeous Band Shell and Concourse itself to talk about.


It's Sunday, all of that is closed to vehicular traffic, I can't go there. I'm not entirely surprised by this but it means I also won't be able to show off the Conservatory of Flowers, my personal favorite because I get to tell people about our magnificent Titan Arum Corpse Flower specimen, which blooms once every few years and smells of rotting meat throughout the course of its two or three day run, so exciting. So instead I head over to Fulton Street and as I make the turn into traffic I go over a bump in the road Thwap! and it's the final straw for part of the interior headliner of my aging van conversion which lets go and falls on the heads of my rearmost row of passengers, all four of them. We pull over and I inspect the situation. I have no tools with me but even if I did I suspect they wouldn't help as it looks to me that the screws are stripped and the holes so enlarged from wear that this is going to take some serious re-engineering back at the yard. Duct tape could have helped, but I don't carry that in my tour bag (note to self, add duct tape to tour kit).


So we improvise by extending all the headrests as high as they'll go and jamming an empty coke bottle and my steel thermos between the fallen part and the headrests. We set off again, me now driving with excruciating care to avoid jostling our rigged-up fix.


After Stanyan Street and the Haight we go through the Castro, where the rainbow flag obliges with a stirring display in the brisk wind. I get through the Castro, and I go around the top end of Dolores Park, and we all marvel at the spectacular city view. Now I'm heading down Dolores Street, passing Mission High ("Notice the lovely tilework on the Spanish Neo-Colonial belltower...") and ahead of me I see cop cars everywhere and multiple tow trucks with guys in a frenzy working to clear what appears to be some kind of ad-hoc park-in obstructing the road ahead. There's a demonstration right about where I was heading to show my passengers the historic adobe Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores as it's commonly known, and the grand Basilica next to it. Traffic around me congeals, and for several minutes we are jammed alongside and inches away from a large black SUV full of evidently drunk and/or high, testosterone-fueled revelers who think it's hysterically funny to make obscene gestures and lewd faces at my busload of middle aged and elderly passengers. Finally traffic comes unstuck and we turn away from our objective and move on to my next talking point, City Hall and Civic Center Plaza. I have a secret spot for great photos, so that goes pretty well, and we turn up Leavenworth to go to Nob Hill. We get to California Street and as we arrive at Grace Cathedral we see what appears to be possibly the entire San Francisco Police Department Motorcycle contingent, parked in rows in front of the Pacific Union Club. It turns out the President of Italy is visiting and it's A Very Big Deal. At the same time there is an event starting at the Masonic Theatre directly across from the PU and hundreds of pedestrians and dozens of cars are arriving and milling about. It's utter madness, completely in keeping with our day and we are once again moving like sludge in February. Keep in mind that while all this is going on I am on the mic, improvising what I pray to God is interesting and amusing commentary because what I normally have prepared to say runs considerably shorter that the amount of airtime I have to fill due to this day's various off-script events. Okay, we get through the crush of people and cars and we're off to Chinatown, which goes by blessedly without incident, and we turn into North Beach and we're on the home stretch back to Fisherman's Wharf where this all started a very long time ago, earlier this afternoon. But whoever's in charge of programming this day isn't quite finished with us, because right across from my favorite Stella Pastry shop on Columbus Street ("fabulous cannoli and sacripantina...") two fire engines and a fire department ambulance have come to the aid of a woman who, as we and everybody else within a two block radius watch, is being fitted with a neckbrace and transferred to a gurney while traffic once again comes to a standstill in both directions.


I start writing imaginary customer reviews in my head for this tour and it's literally all I can do to stifle my guffaws. I am *just* this side of hysterical with the wonder of it all. We get back to the drop-off site, and god bless the people on my van who have been good sports and cheerful throughout the tour and its vicissitudes, they tip me generously and thank me for showing them my "lovely city."  It will not surprise you that on the way home I stopped at Trader Joe's for a bottle of vodka and some chocolate. I applied some of each, judiciously, and went directly to bed."


Amanda is a private tour host on LayoverStop and an official tour guide for a group tour company in San Francisco.



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