Some readers here will know that my vocation of late is as a DC tour guide. I work for a company that assigns me to incoming groups who are here to see the sights. I have not enjoyed working this much since I was a firefighter. Curiously, the jobs have much in common. I am outside walking most of the day and every group and itinerary is different. As with the FD, you never know what to expect.
And, Washington is an endlessly fascinating city if you enjoy history. In the area around the White House, bordered by 17, 15, H and Constitution streets, there are 30 buildings, memorials or sculptures of note. Art, architecture and history seemingly sprout from every crevice.
Most of my groups are students and a goodly portion of those are middle schoolers from all over and as far away as India, though most arrive by a chartered coach. They are typical young teenagers delighted with themselves and obsessed with what passes for fashion and modern culture.
Some of them are quite bright and know their American history enough to keep me well up on my toes. I have had several Asperger’s boys who could answer any history question they were asked. Imagine a child of ten years blithely naming all the Japanese carriers sunk at Midway or a 12 twelve year old discussing the similarities between Hitler’s attack on the USSR and Napoleon’s failed march on Moscow. Amazing.
But it can be very funny, too.
This year, on at least four occasions, I have walked groups over to the presidential memorial to Thomas Jefferson located on the Tidal Basin. After confirming with them where they were, I asked what Jefferson was best known for. Each time they answered, “He’s the guy who invented the light bulb.” As I am a bit slow on the uptake, the first time I didn’t even get it but it later dawned on me [light bulb pops on] that they were talking about Thomas Alva Edison. I guess the Jefferson Memorial does look a bit like a light bulb and perhaps this subliminal connection is the cause.
A few days ago on a superb Sunday evening I was taking a group on a leisurely after dinner stroll around President’s Park. We had stopped at the US Army Second Division Memorial and were now in front of the beautiful building that is the headquarters of the American Red Cross. I asked the students who founded the organization. There was a brief pause and one boy confidently called out, “Betty Crocker.”
The teachers and chaperones were laughing hysterically and I told the fellow that while he was incorrect it was the best answer I had ever heard.
And then, it was off to the White House.