Here in Washington, D.C., we are mid-way through the spring season as droves of students, mainly eighth-graders, happily take the city over, an occupying legion dressed in the ubiquitous bucket hats and with wraparound sunglasses popular 30 years ago, thus proving that nothing really changes.
The U.S. Army still requires a security screening to enter Arlington Cemetery where, at 8AM, there will likely be 1,000 kids and their chaperones arriving en masse to overwhelm the system, such as it is. By the way, students are not the problem — they leave their bags on the bus — it’s the adults with their various satchels, purses and backpacks, all of which are scanned or searched, which can add 40 minutes to a visit there.
I was with a group from the mid-west last week who had traveled by bus and the driver readily admitted they knew nothing about the city and apparently weren’t interested in learning anything, either.
GPS was optional and they had opted out.
When I started guiding 14 years ago, I was taught to treat bus drivers with kid gloves as they can be a prickly sort, likely to behave as divas-on-wheels.
Just a week ago, a tour director commiserated with me that they were fatigued by “prima donna drivers with nothing to back it up.”
I felt his pain.
Most drivers are splendid and a delight to work with, however, when you are dealt the bad hand, it can be very tough going, indeed.
Though we spend as little time on the bus as possible, walking most of the sites, you still have to get to a starting and ending point.
Over the years I have written down directions, drawn maps and talked drivers to my location usually starting with the question “Can you see the Washington Monument?”
In the case at hand, as we would be dropped off at one spot and picked up at another, I elected to drive by the pickup spot first so that the driver could eyeball it.
(On the way to the drop-off spot the driver complimented me on my ability to give clear and concise directions — a compliment, safe to say, which was later withdrawn.)
I then walked with the kids for ninety minutes confident that I had a surefire pickup plan.
At 10:52, I texted saying we would be ready for an 11:05 pickup.
About ten minutes later, I saw our “ride” headed north on 17th street, the wrong direction.
What followed was a series of phone calls during which I guided the driver through the five turns necessary to be headed back in the correct direction.
They finally arrived just about 30 minutes late and as I stepped on I was met with a verbal barrage from the driver blaming me for the lateness.
During this rather tense exchange, the tour director held a notebook up to me where I could see she had written the words, “I tried” rather like a kidnapped person covertly showing their predicament to a convenience store clerk.
It all ended with the driver ordering me to “get off my bus.”
Off the bus I got.