The coast road from Jacksonville to St. Augustine was nearly deserted at dawn. Stars still shown as only the first glimmers of light arose on the horizon. A trinity of fishing boats were close to shore, facing land, booms out – embracing all. I’m going to work and it is a blessing.
Earlier this month I sat for the City of Saint Augustine Tour Guide test. Passing it (after lots of coffee and late-night studying – I thought those days were long gone) has given me more direct access to the historical records and the people who keep those records of this very complicated city. Saint Augustine is a city of peacefulness and charity. And it is a city that has seen incredible brutality. It is a city that gave shelter to refugees; it is a city that oppressed its own. It is also a city of tenacity, kindness and faith.
Studying the history of anyone or anything is like peeling an onion – even the sweetest of them can make you cry. On a recent trip to the St. Augustine Historical Society I asked the folks there what the most important thing a Tour Guide could do. Without hesitation their answer was: “Tell the Truth”. I’ll do my best to peel the onion.
My next field of study were the manuals to qualify for a Commercial Drivers (truck, bus, etc.) License. I took the written tests last week and will begin training on buses this week. Since the State testers don’t have trains, I have to qualify driving a vehicle commonly used by commercial drivers before I can drive a train. Buses are not exactly the same as 65 foot trains – especially when trying to navigate tandem trains through the winding Old Town section of St. Augustine – but being able to drive both are required. Who can I get to be my first passengers? Hmmm.
If things go as hoped, I will take the practical driving test in 2 – 3 weeks. After that, driving the trains and giving tours will begin. I’m told that the goal is for me to be ready to commence with tours in time for Spring Break. Now, if that isn’t motivation, what is? Yikes!
But, safely driving the trains, while very important, is only part of the process of being a great tour guide. Dates, names, places can become very confusing for visitors to a city. I’m thinking more along the lines of being a storyteller. Problem is, time will not be my friend. I’ll need to develop several narratives – short vignettes – for each point of interest and weave them into the journey through the city and through time. As any of my friends (and even some new acquaintances) know, short vignettes are not my usual way of telling a story. I love the road less traveled! I’ll have to fall back on some previous training for my narratives.
Back in my youth, as a young and inexperienced policeman, I had the very good fortune of having as my supervisor a tall, red-faced, Irish sergeant known as “The Tom-tom”. One evening, after making an arrest for what I considered to be the crime of the century, I submitted to Sgt. Tom-tom a considerable stack of 5×7 file cards detailing all the gory details of this arrest. Tom- tom looked at the stack, took note of the actual crime committed and then looked at me.
“What is this b.s., kid”?
“It’s my report, sir”.
“No, it’s not. This is b.s. Now, take this b.s. and cut it down to one file card – both sides – and no more. If you think I or the state attorney have the time or need to read your Great American Novel you are sadly mistaken”
I gave it great effort and returned with a much abbreviated account of the events in question – the stack was reduced to a measly 3 file cards.
“I told you, one file card! Take this back; get it right, even if it takes you until tomorrow morning to do it”.
It did. But, the final report contained all it had to – nothing less and certainly nothing more. Tom-tom taught me to cut to the chase when needed and fill in the details when requested.
So, developing a narrative for my tours to within the given time frame is possible. I think. But, I’ll need help from you to do it right.
If you have taken an historic tour, anywhere, what about it did you like most? The least? Please let me know!
Hope to see you soon.