I'm into my third year as a tour guide-I lead New Orleans tours. I can't sing, I ain't pretty, and my legs are thin, but folks laugh at my jokes and listen to my information. I know my stuff and have a great sense of humor. I have a license, carry a sign, wear an orange shirt; I work for a company named Destination Kitchen/MustDoNola, owned and operated By Julie Barreda-Cavignac-a chef and seasoning alchemist who is top drawer. Monthly, I text Wanda my available working dates and, at month's end, after emailing hours worked to Rachel, money magically appears in my mail box.
Winner, winner-chicken dinner.
There are half a dozen of us guides, and we do everything including food, history, cocktail, walking, Garden district, and custom tours from two to two hundred people. Tours can be tailored, or we have pre-structured jaunts about town that cannot be beat. Tours range from two hours and up. The culinary tour lasts three hours and is a walk of about two miles around the French Quarter, with stops for eating, hydrating, and rest facility use-for folks that need to facilitate their bodily functions. This is my forte-the Food Tour, not bodily functions.
It's kind of like doing a stand-up performance that includes wit, history, education, facts, and idiosyncrasies. This being New Orleans' 301st year in existence, guides have been quite active on the street. People are interested in learning more about our city and my tour-guiding has turned into active employment.
Each trip out, I am given a number of people to lead, and I never know who my people are until I see them. They are of all ages, from across the spectrum of the world's societies-folks like you and me. I arrive fifteen minutes before the departure time and collect my flock. Meeting at various places around the Quarter, I start by introducing myself, size up my audience, and hit the pavement. I get all kinds: couples engaged in PDA (public displays of affection), kids giving attention to electronic devices, students, older folks, women in tight clothing, and men with powerful hangovers. There are also the eleven types of dietary restricted folks that we're happy to accommodate. Just when you think you've heard every aversion, you're surprised with yet another sensitivity (pretzels?).
I warn them of treacherous walking conditions, explaining the alluvial soil that we'll be traversing, ready to trip the unaware stroller. Having someone hit concrete is one of the scariest things that any tour guide can experience; losing people is another. Usually people are interesting and interested: the shy, the gregarious, BFFs, fast-walkers, slow-eaters, weak bladders, or those craving another cocktail. We accommodate them all. I have a set schedule of places I need to be and when I
need to be there, but, by and large, hard as I might try, it rarely works out with precision.
We go with the flow.
Occasionally there will be an overly impatient person, a couple who would rather talk to each other than listen to me, and/or the husband that can care less because it was his wife that made the reservation, and he's just along for the ride. There is also that person that wants to make sure that they get their money's worth, the ones who want to eat right away because they didn't stop for breakfast, guys who need to sneak a smoke, or those lingering for selfies or photo ops. These are my children, and I love each and every one of them.
"Are we there yet?"
Our purveyors, the food and drink outlets where we stop, are gems of perfection and patience. We are blessed with being able to show off the best of our local foods and locations, and my tourists always leave the tour knowing more about the city than can be gleaned from just a map.
I start by telling my group my name (and getting theirs), where I come from (and where they are visiting from), explain my credentials, and give a word about our company and Julie. I tell them that we will be on a three-hour tour, but I have thirty hours of information, and how I'll be talking about food, culture, food, history, food, architecture, food, legends, and facts (and food).
And we're off!
You can be sure that no one on the excursion knows where we're going. I take them up streets, down alleys, around in circles, and back again. I could be kidnapping the whole bunch, and they'd never blink an eye. Once they start following you, they'll go anywhere. I suspect that if we stopped for an espresso, I could walk them to Abita Springs, especially if there was beer on the other end.
On any given tour, I walk about five miles, from parking to parking. I could go on forever. After I've exhausted our time together, I still have only let them glimpse the tip of the iceberg that is New Orleans. Probably, what will make me a great tour guide instead of just a very good one, is my love of this place that I have chosen to make and call my home. The addiction that I have for all things New Orleans-all of the stuff that makes living here so much more preferable to other places, as well as all the things that I love not to love about her.
The funniest thing that I love about New Orleans is how we all know what's dysfunctional about it, and, with each election, we pin our hopes on being able to change things. New Orleans laughs back at us. What fools we mortals be.
Onward. "Let me tell you about our food and culcha! C'mon, ya gonna love it!"