Turn off and tune in

I had a ghost tour tonight with 8 people on it. It wasn't one of my own, but for another company I've begun freelancing with a little bit. The last two people to show up, first of all, got there late, and secondly, the younger woman had her cell phone out and was texting several times during the tour. I do not text. Everyone keeps assuring me that text messaging is a useful function on a cell phone, but I do not see the point in typing words on a device that is meant to be spoken into. I guess I'm just old-fashioned that way. This also means I cannot relate to people who do regard access to their text messages as a vital necessity or even an inalienable human right. They also seem to think that because the process makes no noise it is therefore unobtrusive and there is nothing impolite about texting in any circumstance at all.

Allow me, if I may, to present the scenario from the tour guide's perspective: I show up at the designated starting point for the tour (on time), greet everyone cheerfully, and get down to the business of telling ghost stories. I stay on my feet, walking backwards, trying to entertain people for the next 90 minutes. I have to concentrate and work hard to create and maintain the right atmosphere for the entire group and deliver the details of each story in just the right order and in just the right manner for maximum impact. I've got to orchestrate an experience that appeals to a diverse (and sometimes large) group of people. I am already discreetly navigating around other tour groups, watching out for traffic, and trying to downplay distractions. It might look like I'm just walking and talking, but there is a lot of subtle work going on. I am doing all this for the benefit of the people on this tour, yet I am not supposed to be personally offended when someone casually ignores me to play with their cell phone? And why would anyone pay money for a tour, then not pay attention to it?

This segues into the issue of cell phone manners on tours generally. I have had many people pause or interrupt a tour so they can take a call. Sometimes they answer their cell just to tell the person on the other end of the line that they can't talk right now because they're on a tour. Do you know what else would have communicated the exact same thing? Hitting the IGNORE button and returning the call later! I know I don't get to complain about it when I'm conducting a private tour because it's the customer's tour and they can stop it for a phone call if they want, but it still irks me and derails my flow. I'm still working hard to create the experience they asked for and show them the things they are interested in. And, once again, I don't understand why anyone would pay good money for a tour, then not focus on what their guide has to show and tell! I simply do not understand the population's inability or unwillingness to simply turn off their cell phones for a couple of hours. Do they think something really, really important might happen during that time? Are they expecting to win the lottery? Are they waiting for a rich uncle to die? What could possibly be so important?

My feeling is: if you are not a surgeon or a secret agent, you are not on call 24/7. You can turn that cell phone off for a little while and no one will mind. People come up with all kinds of reasons for taking calls during a tour (usually explained with an apologetic tone), some of which make sense to me. "I run my own business," "We're selling our house," "I have to give my relatives directions to the hotel." I mean, all of these things still irritate me and I still think they are not so important they couldn't wait a while, but I do understand the impulse. One I've heard a few times that baffles me, though, is "The kids are calling," or "I have to check on the kids." You do? Why? Did you leave them with a chimpanzee? Will being unable to talk to mommy right now cause them to have night terrors and wake up in a cold sweat later tonight? I do not have kids, but I assume that parents leave their children with caretakers they consider qualified and capable (aka: grandparents) when they vacation on their own. If so, why is it so hard to go 2 or 3 hours without checking in? Or is there some kind of parental guilt at work that prevents people from ignoring a phone call whenever they see it's from their own children?

However crass it may be of me to point this out, you came on vacation without your children, without your business partners, and without your realtor for a reason. Your escape is brief and you will miss an awful lot of it if you haul around all these distractions in the palm of your hand. The best friend any tourist can have is the OFF button.