Nighthawks

I actually cannot reveal where I am.

Or rather I suppose I could of course, but it would not be professional. Certain colleagues and without doubt the establishment itself would not approve. But, in many ways it is irrelevant anyway. This is really just an insight into the life I lead as a Tour Guide. A little shout out to all those who think I am constantly swanning off on holiday. I am not complaining; I love my job and I also do not pretend anyone could possibly know, what it really entails. I am also not depressed. In fact I am happy. In love, but right here, right now in this music filled room, let me try to set the scene…

It is eight minutes past one in the morning. That means I have just entered the nineteenth straight hour of work. In two hours when I will place the last of my clients in a taxi and myself jump in the final of the five we will require to fit us all and get back to the hotel, I will be on less, much less, per hour than minimum wage.

The day began by taking a group of tourists to a museum – one that happens to be my personal favourite in this city – on the way to which one comment to me was ‘you know, no one is going to be interested in this after we just walked past all those shops’.

Little everyday occurances on tour, such as dealing with a stolen wallet – not mine, 3 out of 34 choosing to come to visit my favourite part of town, the remainder opting for shopping, only added to the tiredness I feel currently. And before I can sleep there are still two hours to kill. The wake up call, will be three after that…

There Really Are Moments When I am That Man…

As I type, I am sitting on a bar stool, by an old computer provided free of charge to us guides. The desk light which would make typing this all the easier, is broken, or rather I suspect no one has bothered to change the bulb in years. So each time as I look from the bright screen to the dark keyboard, it takes my eyes a few seconds to adjust, before I can start typing. The words come fast, but their correct shape is executed slowly as the light makes typing errors frequent.

The feng shui of the room is such that I am right next to the toilet entrance, from which a faint scent of upset tummy is slowly diffusing past me in search for an escape into the cold, wet night I know awaits me and my taxi search soon. Beneath my feet, the blue carpet is sticky, dark and unwelcoming.

The staff are arguing. It seems one waiter is being asked to serve three floors. A security staff, presumbaly none of his business, takes it upon himself to chip in. Does he rank higher? The waiter swears at the boss when he eventually turns up and threatens to quit. Earlier I waited literally one hour for just a simple coke as I was so thirsty. Part of the ‘deal’ is that I do not have to pay to be here or drink that. Perk of the job.

Two Chinese guides are asleep on a couch behind me. They got here early and took the only seats that permit one to sleep. There was a third spare next to them, but they are snoring and the personal space was just too little, despite my desire to set my alarm for 2.00 a.m and join them. Tonight we will all finish late.

I could have had a cheese salad, just as my Indian colleagues at the table in front of me are tucking into. I declined. It was after midnight when they asked for my order. After one when the food arrived. Four Spanish guides are having dinner beneath a huge TV screen which shows 24 hour news. As I look towards their table, they are counting out large bills and dividing them, in four piles. I see green flashes. Hundreds. They call the attention of the over-worked waiter and complain about something. I look at my watch.

An elderly French guide, a lady, by far the most elegant in the room, sits by herself in a corner. She smiles to me and nods. We know. We both know, we know we are tired; we know guests can be tough; we know we are not paid enough – or feel we are not – we know we feel too old for this, for these small hours, we know we could strike up a conversation, but we already know what we would each say and we know we will probably never meet again after later we get on our separate buses and back to room 245, 874, 564 etc. Most of all we know we can never really expect anyone who does not share this dark blue room with us to understand.

And yet we do it. For years, me now 12, we do it. We have long since realised that it is all we really can do. Despite the hours, the stress, sometimes ungratitude and perhaps hardest of all, the lack of empathy and a real feeling no one will ever understand what this is.

If my life sometimes feels like that famous Hopper painting, Nighthawks (1942) with me the character sitting by himself, then it is also a life I have chosen. A lifestyle to which I have become an addict. But unlike the man in the hat (I assume) at 1.48 a.m my phone rings. L calls. She can’t sleep, she is missing me… So outside, in the rain, from far away the voice of the person I love reaches out and gives everything meaning again. Time speeds up once more and then…

Suddenly, finally…

It’s over, the clients emerge; drunk, but happy. They spot me at the ‘meeting point’. I smile, escort them to taxis and together we ride ‘home’ through the dark empty, wet, streets. Room 510 awaits with it’s haven of three hours sleep…

(Written in Europe one night and finished one morning two days later)

~ by 2ndcupoftea on September 24, 2012.

5 Responses to “Nighthawks”

  1. I enjoy your writings and musings, I really get into the “mood/scene” of what is going on in your life at a given moment. I think that you should collate all your stories and write a book, a memoir sort of style??? I read a book “Titanic Survivor: The memoirs of Violet Jessop Stewardess”, which is an excellent read by the way, and presume it might be something similar.

    Glad you are “flying”.

    Colin “et les chats”

    • Colin, it is always great to hear from you. I think you deserve the 2nd Cup of Tea reader of all time award for putting up with my ramblings. I especially thought of you whilst writing this as you once said you thought I must be a spy. In fact the opening line was a dedication to you. It means so much to know you read it. I too am delighted to be flying again I can tell you. I would love to write a book one day and will now look for your suggestion… I hope my flying brings me to your island soon…

  2. Not all groups can be alike! This was a brilliant piece of writing. It almost felt like poetry. Stop in Chicago on your travels and we will go to the Art Institute and see that Hopper painting, then we will go down to lower Wacker and go to a bar with the same feel.
    Glad you are in love, makes it all better.

    Alex

  3. Thomas, thank you for the insight to the “behind the scenes”. Your efforts did not go unappreciated with our group. I am truly sorry for asking for vegetables so much 😉 It makes me feel like a spoiled American….. You are an amazing guide!

  4. Ha ha, no problem Gwyn. Nothing wrong with vegetables and nothing spoiled in asking for them. Thanks for the kind words about my guiding. Come back and see us sometime… 😉

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