In April of 2020, I’ll have been a San Francisco tour guide for seven years. That’s longer than I’ve held any job, so I must like it or something.
I usually get bored and move on to something else, often in a whole new arena. I only spent an entire four-year hitch in the US Navy because they wouldn’t let me out after a couple of years and, trust me, I pulled everything short of a full-blown Corporal Klinger to escape that racket.
Jaime Farr portrayed the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger on the long-running TV show, M*A*S*H
There was just no way I was going to swoosh around the ship in a vibrant yellow chiffon with matching hat and white gloves. Being a military combatant full of salty sailors, those fellas would have tossed me overboard and that’s pretty much the worst way to get out of the Navy.
I landed the tour guide gig by answering a Craigslist ad in April of 2013 that read:
Tour guides needed to host tours on an open-topped bus. Must have experience in audience presentation and a working knowledge of San Francisco history. Apply at *ACME TOURS in Fisherman’s Wharf.
You’ll get what I mean about changing things up when you know that my previous job was security guy and Manager-On-Duty at a Hilton resort hotel, which is not nearly as interesting as it sounds.
A person can only take so much of shutting down noisy room parties and being yelled at by disgruntled guests, so I wasn’t terribly sad when they laid me off in 2009.
Dorian and I moved to a city we had plenty of experience with and loved with a passion. San Francisco, the shiny city by the bay. We came here with two cats, scant belongings and not much money to speak of, but we had our dreams.
The San Francisco skyline at dusk / Photo by DW Rhodes
We arrived in 2010 and, by 2013 those dreams had become borderline nightmares, as we discovered it’s not the greatest idea to be a couple in San Francisco with no income, nowhere to live, and not much in the way of friends and support. A scant unemployment check every two weeks landed us in a few residential hotels but we were never allowed to stay long.
I’d worked a few odd and temporary jobs until I walked into the tour office in Fisherman’s Wharf one day, carrying with me a few decades of playing to an audience, be it in radio, on stage, or in front of a camera. The only requirement I fell short on was the area of San Francisco history and current knowledge of the city.
At that time I was aware there’d been some big earthquake in 1906 that nearly burned down the whole city, and another one in 1989 that I actually remembered really well, but not much past that. I knew San Francisco had been a gold rush port in the mid-19th century, but I sure didn’t have enough material to fill two hours of touring on a bus.
So I’d have to study, and that I did.
I saw the ad late in the week, so I decided to go in and apply first thing Monday morning. That gave me time to read an entire book over the weekend on San Francisco history in case I was going to be quizzed on it during the interview.
The guy who hired me said I’d have two weeks of training to learn all I needed to start out with, and then I could build my own personal learning from there so, even this many years into it, I still try to read at least one interesting thing about the city every day to incorporate into my tours.
I have almost seven years of that stuff accumulated now so, these days, I find myself dropping material I don’t have time to talk about on my tours and changing things up about once a month to keep it all fresh.
Along with almost seven years of studying about this (San) Frantastical city, I also have a pile of things that have happened during tours over the years, and I’m going to dig up one or two of those every so often and post them here.
So this category — ‘Dave The Tour Guide’ — will share posts about the city of San Francisco with its amazing architecture, weird people, and colorful history, along with stories from the bus about working in the tourism industry here.
But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Stay tuned.
Crossing the Bay Bridge on a tour bus into San Francisco / Photo by DW Rhodes