I work part time as a tour guide in D.C. This seems to be a pretty common way for theatre artists to fill in the gaps; about half of our staff are working actors in the community. Most of us are trying to avoid getting stuck in the food service industry. Personally, I lose half my gym clients in the summer to Europe or the beach, so I need something extra til they return. So I got my tour guide license (yes, you actually take a pretty thorough exam on U.S. history and sites).
Bike Tours: This is my main and preferred focus these days. I get to spend three hours outside on a bike, performing and talking to people. If you know me at all, you know this is sort of my heaven. It’s combining everything I love: fitness, people, performance, and the outdoors. Last week, another actor and I gave a tour to a group of 25 Norwegians. Delightful people, those Scandinavians. There was an elderly gentleman who flew down the bike lane and at every stop would light up an old-fashioned pipe. Who does that? It was great. I hear stories from all around the world. You know who are consistently the nicest people on the tour? Texans. Who knew? Good tippers, too.
Segway Tours: If I could avoid these, I would, but as it’s the biggest part of our business, I am required to do some. It’s not that I hate Segways – they are actually pretty fun and hilarious. It’s not that I care so much that I look like a huge dork. It’s that Segways scare the hell out of me. 90% of people who get on a Segway are fine, but the other 10% are injuries waiting to happen. Segways move according to how you shift around your body weight. In order to maneuver them properly, you need to have some sense of balance and coordination. I’d say roughly 10% of Americans are so badly in tune with their bodies that they can’t figure out how to lean forward properly. Sad. Also true. I’ve gotten pretty good at teaching and avoiding complicated areas, but no matter how good a teacher I am, every few tours or so someone falls. Usually they are ok, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they run into a car or a tree or each other, and end up in the hospital. Think of it like skiing – likely you’re gonna be okay, but you might get hurt. Every time I take a Segway tour out, I’m in constant fear that I might need to call 911 at some point. Luckily it’s only happened to me once, but some of the other guides have some nasty stories. I doubt the tour company wants me to write about these, so I’ll just say shoot me an email or ask me in person if you wanna know.
Learning the History of DC: I aced U.S. AP History in high school but haven’t touched it much since. I always loved it, I was good at it… but I forgot almost all of it. Oops. Relearning has been truly delightful. Do you know who the first president born outside of the original colonies was? Do you know what the Capitol Dome is made out of? ‘Cause I do!! So I’m taking you now on a little mini-tour. Here are just a couple of the sites my tours see.
The White House:
This was originally named the Executive Mansion and it was sandstone, not white. The British tried to burn it down in the war of 1812, but it was saved by a freak rainstorm. Unfortunately some pretty nasty scorch marks were left on the outside. In order to cover them up cheaply, we threw on a coat of white paint. This view of the North side of the White House is unique. Why? Look at the flag; it’s at half mast. The presidential flag flies high at all times, except in the wake of a great tragedy, such as what happened in CO.
Possibly the most grand of our memorials, it has 36 columns that represent the 36 states that were in existence when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He sits on his throne overlooking the Reflection Pool and stands just around 19 feet tall, the height limit for statues in D.C. The limit is based on the height of our Statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol Dome. She stands just over 19 feet, and no one can be taller than Freedom.
Eisenhower Executive Building:
This is where the Veep works. This picture is unique because I took it on the Fourth of July so it’s all spangled out with decorations. The architecture is very unique for D.C. in that it’s based on French design, which Americans hated. So much, in fact, they drove the architect Mullet (feel free to make a bad hair joke) out of town. We never paid him his commissions, and a few years after he finished it, he committed suicide. Nice story, I know.
Korean War Memorial:
Often overlooked as it shares a site with the Lincoln and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, this one freaks me out a little. The 19 life-sized statues of soldiers tromping through the landscape feels all too real. There were supposed to be 38 soldiers to represent the 38th parallel, but we ran out of money. Oh, well. So we put up a reflective wall instead, and the other 19 statues are implied by the reflection.
WWI: Soldiers from the District:
This little memorial is a hidden gem nicknamed the “forgotten memorial” because it usually is. It’s D.C.’s tribute to its own soldiers. It’s very basic, just a rotunda with Roman columns, but look at the architecture in the dome. I could stare at this all day. Only my favorite bike tours see this one.
Without question, this is my favorite memorial. It’s stunning. It’s not just a single structure, it’s a walking memorial with four parts that you pass through, each representing one of his terms as president: Great Depression, post-Depression recovery, WWII, his death. Each section has waterfalls, inscriptions, statues, and art work; it’s lovely. If you come to D.C., you need to visit this one. Most people don’t.
That concludes your tour of D.C.! There is much more to see of course, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this little taste of what we have to offer.