08 August 2009

Penitentiary Life, Weeks 17, 18, and 19

Yeah, I know - I'm behind on posting about life at Eastern State these days. Suffice it to say that things have been busy - now that summer is well underway, there are lots of people showing up every day of the week, not just on weekends. Besides just people on vacation, we are still seeing lots of groups (adults and children) who are coming for a guided tour. It doesn't seem that many people decide to change plans for a visit, even if/when it's raining, or hot and humid. (Which I totally understand, when I'm on vacation. But when I'm at work, I always think, "Why would you come here on a day like this??" What can I say, I'm very complex.)

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I had an experience that surprised me. You know how there are some people that are memorable for one reason or another, even if you have no clue who they are? I can usually remember faces, even if I never know someone's name, but usually that's because I am not necessarily spending time with loads of different people. But now, every single day when I am working, I am talking to scads of new people, some of whom I remember throughout the day from place to place, and others who just fall into the category of the rest of the universe. For example, all of us who are tour guides remember a guy who visited on a weekend a couple of months ago, 'cause he was dressed in black, with slicked-back black hair, and a long black coat - when it was about 72 degrees! (We agreed that he looked kinda like a vampire.) I'm sure if he showed up again dressed the same way, any of us could pick him out of the crowd.

So I was at at the Gatehouse (which is the main entrance and first greeting area for visitors) a couple of weeks ago, and a group of 8-9 year-old day campers arrived for a tour. I announced their arrival, and then all of a sudden:

Excited Kid: Hey - Miss Bridget! Do you remember me! You gave my class a tour in the school year.
Me (in my brain): ??????!!!!!!
Me (in reality): Um, sure ...
Excited Kid: It's me - Xavier! I read some books about prisons after your tour, I really liked it.
Me (in my brain): Xavier? Hm.
Me (in reality): Oh, yeah ... Xavier, I'm glad to see you've come back for another visit.

He was so pleased. I was pleased that he had apparently enjoyed my tour, etc., but spent the rest of the day thinking, Oh God, am I *supposed* to remember things like that???

Better than looking like a vampire, I guess ...

Last weekend was Prison Break Weekend, and that brought even more visitors to the place, for a chance to hear actors portraying Willie Sutton and Clarence Klinedinst debate who was the brains behind the design of the escape tunnel in 1945. They presented their cases, took questions from the audience, and then the audience had a chance to vote. It was a lot of fun, and people really got involved in why/how they voted. I had at least one or two people tell me that it took them a long time to decide who they believed, and why.

The debates took place both days of the weekend, and the weather played all kinds of tricks. Saturday, for instance, was hot and very humid. People were fanning themselves with their maps of the grounds, and the gift store did an excellent business in soda and water sales. But Sunday - well that was the real killer. The weather reports were calling for severe thunderstorms and local flooding in the area for the whole day. I managed to make it to work in the gloom, but without getting caught in any rain.

We opened as usual at 10 a.m., and for the first hour, it was threatening, but nothing happened. Then at around 11 o'clock, the skies opened up and buckets of water descended! Everyone was busy moving things around to try and keep dry, and to be able to continue with the plans for the day, while visitors were doing anything to try and stay dry. (It was raining too hard for that to be really possible, though.) As the torrent continued, some people started to complain that it was ruining their day. Then a young boy came up to me and said, "This is the BEST TOUR EVER!"

Clearly a person who makes lemonade out of lemons, no?


Then, just today, something happened that made me laugh out loud. A man and his son arrived to take the audio tour, and the boy (maybe about 10?) seemed pretty excited. I offered the son one of our Kids' Guides, which allows children ages 7 to 12 to check off things as they take the tour, based on clues in the guide.

Tourist Dad: What do you think, do you want a Kids' Guide?
Tourist Kid: Yes! (jumping up and down)
Me: We also have a topic tour coming up, where a tour guide will talk about escapes.
Tourist Kid: Oh, that would be so fun, will anyone be dancing?
Me: Um, not as far as I know.
Tourist Dad: He likes to dance.
Tourist Kid: That's OK, I'll just dance in my head.

(BTW, I totally identify with this kid. I live large amounts of my life in my head.)

So later, I ran into them again, and asked how they enjoyed the tour.

Tourist Dad: It was wonderful.
Tourist Kid: I loved it. (Followed by a Fred Astaire-style slide across the cellblock hallway floor.)
Me: I'm glad you had a good time.
Tourist Kid: When I grow up, I'm going to be a dancing tour guide! (Followed by a brief leap into the air with jazz hands.)

I sure hope I can track him down wherever he is leading tours. That would be something to see ...


SissySees said...

I really do enjoy your snippets of humanity as glimpsed via your job.

Bookfool said...

It's apparent to me that I need to become a 10-year-old, again. They have all the fun.

Lisa said...

Life would probably be more fun if I punctuated it more frequently with jazz hands....think I'll give it a try!

Brigitte said...

That kid cracks me up! A brief leap in the air with jazz hands, huh? Heh...

Marie said...

I dance in my head sometimes. It's because I have in reality two left feet and no rhythm.

Carrie K said...

It's your complexity that makes me love you.

That's too cute about the two kids! I think that since he's only seen one tour guide at the prison (presumably) he's as memorable as you are. And a kid that dances in his head and uses jazz hands? Priceless.

Lisa said...

Bob Fosse would be greatly pleased.

Geek Knitter said...

"I'll just dance in my head!"

Totally stealing that.