After enduring the five day tour guide interview, known as the fam tour, we faced the next challenge: a series of three bus tours with senior guides and real live tour patrons. This on-the-job training was designed to teach us the mechanics of the tours, such as checking luggage, calling restaurants and hotels to confirm reservations, and signing vouchers with tour vendors. At the same time, we were to learn the dynamics of tour guiding, such as how to entertain the tour customers, how to foster a cohesive group of happy patrons, and how to best represent the tour company.
It seems that the majority of the tour guiding candidates made it past the fam tour, with some exceptions including the woman who could not speak into the mike. We were broken into teams of three people and scheduled for three tours with increasing responsibilities under the guidance of the senior guides. My three training tours were to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Williamsburg, Virginia, and Washington DC and ranging from four to five days in length to be conducted in March and April.
I was very enthusiastic about being a tour guide! Growing up, I had been involved with theater, cheerleading, and student government. I was extremely out-going and talkative. I had a personality that could be best described as “large and in charge”. Forty four people trapped on a bus with me and a microphone: it was my dream come true!
For our first training tour, we were assigned topics to talk about with the tour patrons en route to our destination. My topic was the George Washington Bridge. These were in the days before the Internet so some planned effort to research the topic beforehand was required. I visited my local library to learn some fascinating facts about the George Washington Bridge that I could impress everyone with. On notecards, I recorded facts in a story format. For good measure, I also looked up the Hudson River so I could mention that were crossing the Hudson on the GW Bridge. I felt confident and prepared.
Then, several days before the tour, I found out that the owner of the company and his wife would be traveling with another couple on our trip! Ah, the pressure. The big day came. Together with the two other novices, I sat in the back of the bus. The senior guide had introduced us as trainees to the patrons and explained we would be assisting her throughout the tour. I saw the owner and his wife. They were several rows in front of me. Our final passenger pickup that morning was in New Haven, Connecticut. I realized I didn’t have very much time until we got to New York City. I was so nervous about the owner being there. What if he didn’t like me?
After a short while, the senior guide introduced me. I walked to the front of the bus and took the mike. I started with my speech. Seeing we were on a bridge I remarked we were crossing the Hudson River. The bus driver cleared his throat loudly. Under his breath, he told me we were crossing the East River. My timing was off! Quickly, I corrected myself to say we had just crossed the East River and we would be crossing the Hudson momentarily. I finished my speech. Everyone clapped politely.
On the way back to my seat, I nervously looked over at the owner sitting next to the window. His head was back, his mouth was open, and he was snoring! He slept through my speech! His wife was sitting on the aisle. As I passed by, she took my hand and patted it, telling me I had done a great job and had a lovely speaking voice. Whew! Her kind remarks put me at ease.