Updated: Jul 4
If you receive a call from your boss on a day off it’s wise to be suspicious, as it's probably not good news. In my case, the impromptu chat was regarding the termination of my employment as a tour guide following a particularly salty review from a guest. While it’s not unusual for guides to receive the odd bad review, it was unusual that the owner based in the US happened to stumble on mine. When my boss delivered the blow I was indignant, “it seems a bit off to fire me over one review,” I retorted, “they’re subjective.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s out of my hands. The owner is adamant I fire you,” he said. “If it makes you feel better he fired another tour guide for reading a Newspaper.”
Not really mate,” I replied.
I think we can all agree that quitting a job is the best, it makes you feel in control of your life. If you’ve never been fired before I’m sure you can imagine it feels the exact opposite, especially two weeks before Christmas. It‘s the kind of life event that makes you want to speed down the highway listening to poignant ballads. In my case a Rodriguez song called ‘Cause,’ particularly hit home as I sang out, “CAUSE I LOST MY JOB, TWO WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS!’ (Que wicked instrumental to tap on steering wheel too).
I remember what I've coined as ‘The Tour of Demise’ quite vividly. The group had collectively decided that I had failed in my attempt to entertain them and perhaps quite rightly felt entitled to make that feeling known. It probably didn’t help that when it started to rain I whipped out a series of plastic ponchos that possessed the strength of a wet paper towel. The group looked at me expectantly for a solution, “it appears the boss made some budget cuts” I said, “don’t worry, we’ll be back in two hours” as the rain pissed down. One guest, dressed ludicrously for a bike tour in a tight dress and wedge heals looked horrified.
Despite the rain subsiding their discontent had not and by the tours end it was borderline mutiny. I noticed an increasing reliance on their native language to communicate just how pissed off they were. Which in retrospect, makes me quite flattered that the guest who wrote the review took pains to write it in English. Now that my career as a tour guide is well and truly ended, I feel quite free to be open about the tour I should have gotten fired from.
In November last year, I was given my first private tour with a young professional couple from Detroit. The great or terrible thing about private tours depending on your perspective are that you can take guests anywhere. “Anywhere?” I questioned the store manager, “so I could take them on a tour of the Inner west.”
“Technically"…she responded, “we try to encourage them to stick to the CBD.
“Right, of course,” I said.
Deciding not to go too rouge I took the regular route. When we reached the Walsh Bay Wharves I was midway through my spiel about Luna Park when the man said, “you keep leaving your bag open, aren’t you worried someone will steal your stuff?” he said. “Don't be silly,” I replied, “we’re not in Detroit.” It was clear from his expression I’d just cut my tip in half so I quickly changed the subject, “If you get the chance you should check out Lavender Bay across the water, it's really beautiful.” Knowing I was on the back foot, I suddenly remembered what the store manager had said, “you can take them anywhere.”
“Since you’re on a private tour I can take you there right now if you like” I offered. I instantly regretted it, recalling that route was reserved only for electric bikes, but it was too late I'd already flexed their paid privilege. “Great, lets go!” they responded excitedly. “OK, follow me” I said thinking to ask, “you guys have travel insurance right?” but didn’t want to cause for alarm.
Luckily, the pair were solid riders. I tried to keep to the shade as much as possible but the sun was relentless. There was no hiding we were undertaking the Tour de fucking France, it also probably didn’t help that I couldn’t remember any of the facts from a sheet I’d lazily read once, so I made it up on the fly which I can assure you was not historically accurate or interesting. Making our way along the waters-edge of Lavender Bay towards Wendy’s Secret Garden I shuddered at the essentially vertical hill that would follow. As we approached the hill I said to my guests “after you.” Eventually hitting the full brunt of the hill we began to slow at which point I made a weird transition from tour guide to a personal trainer. Dropping motivational seeds like; “WE’RE ALMOST THERE! “YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE FIRST COUPLE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD TO HOME BACK FROM A HOLIDAY SHREDDED!” etc.
It reminded me of the time mum and I went for a bike ride in King’s Park in Perth. I had convinced the poor woman that it was a great idea to lug our bikes up five flights of steep stairs which was fucking stupid. Despite her best judgment, she for some ungodly reason continued to listen to me. As the guests and I reached the top of the hill our faces red and chests heaving, I realised it had happened again. However this time it was worse, unlike my mother these poor folks thought I knew what I was doing. In retrospect I've realised the obscurity was not being fired as a tour guide, it was being hired as one.