As I look back on my time as a tour manager for Contiki I find myself forgetting the names of my nightmare clients.
This is funny because when I was on the road, they always seemed to dominate my time, attention and effort. Often to no avail.
As a tour manager I honestly believed that I could change the way people travel, that I could transform tourists into travelers. That notion may or may not have been misguided…but it didn’t stop me from trying to turn evil tourist Sith into stellar traveler Jedi. Perhaps if I had watched Episode III a few more times I would’ve realized that mentality usually ends with third degree burns, quadruple amputation and a breathing apparatus that can be heard from Tatooine.
All kidding aside, it did work…often. There are clients, who I still talk with today, who started a trip as a nightmare tourist, but then ended as a badass traveler bent on really seeing the world. But then there were the ones who wouldn’t turn. They’d bitch and whine and moan from Los Angeles to New York about anything and everything. They’d walk to the rim of the Grand Canyon and say “meh, it’s just a big hole mate.” They were a small minority, but I was always haunted by their presence while on the road. (and their ilk has driven many a good tour manager off the road)
Now I can’t even remember their names. I can see their snarling, sour faces…but names cease to be attached. I suppose that’s a bit of sweet justice. Because now I only remember the names of those who were awesome. The clients who deserved passports to begin with.
One terrible tourist not only had a passport…he had a J-1 student visa. Again I can’t remember his name, so we’ll call him Spitlips because he always had a glob of spit stuck to his lips. Spitlips had been working at a summer camp for the third consecutive year (campkids account for a disproportionate number of Sith tourists). He had been to America three consecutive summers and had thus been endowed with an encyclopedic knowledge of America superior to all(nevermind that I grew up in this country). Spitlips was traveling with a female companion, whom he ditched at our first stop in Boston for a local.
In spite of his obnoxiousness I hooked Spitlips up with tickets to a Red Sox game, a Montreal Canadiens preseason game and a White Sox game. It wasn’t for him specifically, I did the same for everyone who wanted to go. He was a “life-long” Red Sox fan (so he’d been cheering for them for about 6 months). It just happened that Boston was playing the White Sox in Chicago. During the game he managed to hurl abuse towards the fans and the players in a manner that would make people in my native Philadelphia blush.
Spitlips drank a lot every night…and then slept on the coach every day. Spitlips has still never paid me back for that Habs ticket. Spitlips would often fight with me over key points in American and Canadian history, which would have been cute had he not kept spitting on me. At some point he and his female companion resumed their camp romance…good for them. Except now I had two sets of evil eyes staring me down every day. Each waking moment was full of complaints…and spit.
But there was one thing. One that just got me above all the rest, and I didn’t even find out about it until the tour was over:
Our longest day of travel was from Yellowstone National Park to Salt Lake City…it was (arguably) the prettiest day of travel. The scenic crescendo always came at the same spot, barring cloud cover. Grand Teton National Park. It is my happy place on earth. The Tetons seemingly rise from Jackson Lake forming a 10,000-foot-tall granite wall hemming in the crystal clear waters of the lake. It’s one of those places with beauty so powerful as to evoke tears. Needless to say I would always give my clients some time to take it in. To take a short hike. And take some pictures.
Speeding through a place like this oughta be criminal.
After a photo stop along US-89 and then an extended stop at the Colter Bay Visitor Center we push on to Jackson for lunch. Now Jackson is an amazing town, and I’d give clients as much time there as allowed and cut all of our other stops by 10 or 15 minutes. I knew I was playing with the schedule like that…the clients never knew.
And so it comes to the end of the tour. I get an envelope with 87 cents as a tip (the standard base tip is $75) and then once I get back to the office I get to read a letter that’s been enclosed in the evaluations listing everything I’d done wrong on tour…signed by Spitlips. And for everything that I might have screwed up, he chose one thing above all others to underline and write in bold:
HE MADE US SIT AND STARE AT STUPID ROCKS WHEN WE COULD HAVE SPENT MORE TIME IN JACKSON HOLE
He also said I didn’t wash my hands…
I sincerely hope that Spitlips doesn’t have a passport anymore.
Don’t be a Spitlips…he really was the worst. I wish I had punched him in the Adam’s apple.