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Tourists have no common sense

Originally published September 3, 2010

Everyone has a summer job story.

Some of you may have had a mindless internship, making phone call after boring phone call all day, all summer.

Or maybe you were a nanny, or worked in retail, or actually spent your summer doing something interesting and relevant to the kind of job you eventually want to spend your life doing.

Well, my summer job may not be what I want to do for the rest of my life, but interesting doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I have spent the last four summers working as a tour guide at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

For those of you who maybe haven’t been to the Arch, I’ll give you a bit of an overview of what I do there.

When people come to the Arch in the summer, most of them do it on a whim. “Oh look, I’m driving through St. Louis, let’s stop at the Arch!”

Big mistake.

Wait times in the middle of July can be as long as three hours. Not including the time you wait to get through security. Or the time you wait in line to buy your tickets. So you can be looking at five or six hours from the time you look up at that big silver thing and say, “I want to go to the top!” to the time you’re actually on your way up.

So after you’ve waited your four hours, and I’ve told you about 20 times to go away because I can’t let you in until the time on your ticket, I finally take your ticket and you join yet another line to wait some more.

It can take up to 40 minutes from when I take your ticket to the time you get into your pod, and patience is not very high on many tourists’ lists of priorities.
After I tell you a list of facts that no one really cares about or listens to, even though they should, the angry tourists are finally on their way to look out the windows.

That’s when the fun really begins. For me at least.

Because over the past four summers, I have learned that people just turn off their brains when they go on vacation. Things that should be obvious just seem out of their intellectual capacity.

So here is a list of the best (or worst?) things I overheard at the Arch this summer.

“I can see Germany from here!”

So I can maybe let this one go, because the person who said it happened to be a 9-year-old boy.

But it is incredible that even though we tell people visibility is only about 30 miles on the clearest days, they think they can see whatever large city happens to be closest to their hometown.

Chicago? Absolutely. Kansas City? Sure thing. One woman was pretty convinced she could see Ohio.

Sorry folks. That’s just not happening.

“Which way is the Arch?”
This question is one of those unanswerable ones.

People stare at the horizon and get so disappointed that they can’t see the Arch anymore.

“So tell me about these buildings.”
A woman asked me that this summer, in all seriousness.

When I asked her which one she would like to know about, she said, “Well, all of them,” like it should have been obvious.

Then she got angry at me when I didn’t know what to say to her.

“Look at the capitol building! I have to take a picture to show my students!”
The Old St. Louis Courthouse stands about two blocks from the Arch grounds, but St. Louis is not, and never was, the capitol of Missouri.

It makes me wonder what state that teacher was from. And worry about what she is teaching our youth.

You better believe I saved the best for last. It’s less something I overheard and more a conversation with a guest.

A woman told me she read online that the journey to the top of the Arch didn’t actually take you anywhere.

“I read it’s just like a ride at Disney World. It’s all simulated, it just takes you to another room where they have screens shaped like windows and they have cameras at the top to show you what’s going on outside.”

And of course, the customer is always right. I couldn’t tell that crazy woman about how I have walked down all 1,076 stairs from the top of the Arch to the bottom.

I just had to shake my head and smile at her, leaving her to her stupidity.

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