Tour guiding is a strange and interesting business, and the people who do it are diverse. Like many unusual professions, those of us in the business enjoy being together to share stories and our unique brand of fellowship. It’s a chance to feel sort of, for lack of a better word, normal. I am lucky to be a part of a company that seems more like a big family than a bunch of coworkers, and once a year we have our version of a family reunion- the Tour Guide Summit. Rick Steves brings in all of the guides from all over the world for a meeting of the minds. It’s a fascinating event and the highlight of my year, so I thought you might be interested to know what it’s all about.
The past couple of weeks (and months of preparation) have been dedicated to the work of preparing for the year ahead in tours. We’ve planned itineraries, talking through every tiny detail and possibility. Absolutely everything is up for discussion, from great restaurants to worst bathrooms. It’s electric to put so many talented and passionate people in the same room and do some heavy brainstorming, the ideas fly fast and furious. Sometimes we can’t agree and decide to allow guides to choose individually, which keeps our tours spontaneous and unique to each guide. The best conversations are the circular ones, where we decide that we really have been doing it the right way all along. The Italian meetings often involve wild hand gestures.
Some of our days have been dedicated to general meetings and trainings. Unfortunately, we are not normally able to see other guides in action on the road, so this year we spent an afternoon listening to a selection of our colleagues doing their best lectures. We heard a gripping account of the fall of the Berlin Wall, learned the proper way to eat spaghetti, found out that growing up Communist was not what we thought it was, and listened to an unlikely story of a famous art collection. Each guide brought something different to the stage, each had their own spark, their own insight. By the end of the day I was floored by the talent in the room, my admiration for people that I’ve always liked and cared for grew so much it made my heart want to burst. Seriously. Amazing. People.
We held our tour reunion on Saturday, joined by thousands of fans and tour alums. The visiting and reminiscing was punctuated by slide shows and talks from a variety of guides. I saw tons of tour members from years past, it’s always so fun to see them. Some of our bus drivers came for the event, much to my delight. Without them we’d be going nowhere. After all of the hard work came the hard play. Every night of the week brought some sort of social event, a happy hour or dinner. Our traditional Thursday night party is always at Rick’s house. More than a decade and a half ago all us guides could comfortably fit into his kitchen and then gather around the piano while he played. These days we are too many, so this year’s party spilled into every room available, including the laundry room! The culminating event of the party is always the talent show, where guiding teams come up with a song or skit about their country. This year I got to be in two groups. The Italians did a song about gestures, in which I translated like Vanna White, then the Americans lip synced to a rap about Rick Steves. I’m not exactly “street” but did my best imitation. The winning entry, however, came from the Germans. They did a dead pan piece about German humor that had us all rolling. German humor can be….humorous. Who knew?
Another guide summit tradition is heading down to the pub for some fun late into the night. Some nights were later than others, although the evenings went much later when we all were a bit younger. I was pretty proud of myself for sticking by my Irish brothers and making it to the end a couple of times last week, but I must admit that I am paying the price this week.
The grand finale of the summit was a boat cruise on the Puget Sound with an 80’s theme. I put on a slideshow of pictures of what we all looked like in the 1980’s, which gathered about as many laughs as it did groans. The DJ cranked the 1980’s tunes and we danced and sang the night away in full costumes. That will certainly be one of the best nights of my year.
It’s a fine thing to have an exotic job, but even the coolest job can be a drag without good people around you. Sitting alongside of people from every country in Europe, all with different backgrounds and life stories, letting the conversation drift in and out of different languages as if watching a game of language table tennis but somehow fully following the thread. I can’t tell you how great it is. Even the new guides seem like old friends you’ve been waiting to meet. I’ve been a part of this madness for 16 years and counting. Lucky me. There isn’t a way to be grateful enough, but I’ll keep trying. Thanks for all of it, Rick.