H- P- Lovecraft

The tour guide's nightmare

There is a phenomenon called "the actor's nightmare". Every actor has had this same dream: they suddenly find themselves onstage or about to go onstage. What makes it a nightmare is that the actor in question has absolutely no idea what they are doing. In this dream, they have no memory of any rehearsals and may not have even the slightest clue what their role is or what the play is about or even its title. Christopher Durang even wrote a play about the occurrence, it's that well known. We all fear blanking out onstage and this recurring dream is that scenario taken to its most terrifying possible extreme. Perhaps confronting this ultimate humiliation in our heads is a coping mechanism to give us perspective at those inevitable moments when one of us blows a line or misses an entrance. For years, I've had this nightmare every time I'm in a show. Until last week, I don't remember ever having what shall henceforth be known as "the tour guide's nightmare". I think it all began on Monday, October 8th. I had not slept well at all for two nights before that, so my brain was a little off-kilter. Then, the Ballastone Inn called me up and asked if I could do a 1-hour ghost tour for a couple of their guests at 9:30 that night. I'm kind of the Ballastone's on call ghost guide. It's part of a "package" they offer their guests. Here's what puzzles me: I assume the guests purchase such a package at the time they reserve their room. Why then does the Ballastone never give me more than a few hours notice when they need me to do a tour for them? That strikes me as kind of foolhardy. What if I already had something scheduled? What if I was out of town? I guess maybe they have a few other guides on their speed dial, but wouldn't it make sense for them to call me and reserve a spot when their guests make the original reservation? Anyway, I had no other commitments and told the front desk it would be no problem.

I met my ghost tour people at the Olde Pink House where they had just finished dinner. They were a very nice couple who had gotten married in South Carolina only 3 days before. Honeymooning in Savannah and taking a ghost tour after a romantic dinner is a great idea... except that night was the first truly cold night of the season. The thought actually occurred to me earlier in the day, "They're having a fancy evening at the Pink House. How much you wanna bet the female half of this couple is going to be woefully under dressed for tonight's weather?" Well, as I feared, the newlywed missus had either been caught off guard by the unexpected cold or chose to sacrifice comfort for beauty. Her husband gave her his jacket, but that doesn't do much good when you're in a short dress and the Autumn breeze is lashing at you from the knees down. Nice try, but no cigar, husband. To the doughty lady's credit, she was game and toughed it out for the full hour. I even got a nice tip out of the excursion.

What does all this have to do with the very strange dream I had that night or actually Tuesday morning? I went to bed Monday night relieved I did not have to be up early on Tuesday and would be free to sleep in and catch up on all the z's I had been missing for two days. At some point in the wee hours of the morning, the nightmare began.

I dreamed I was downtown and the Ballastone Inn called and asked me to do a very special ghost tour for a pair of their guests- a newlywed couple. I copied down all the details in my book, like I usually do. The Ballastone staff also pressed some other details upon me, even handing me a few photographs of the people I was supposed to meet, which, of course, never, ever happens in real life. (And no, the people in my dream looked nothing like the people I had toured with earlier.) Also, I was not meeting them at the B&B, but at a resort called The Miramax Hotel. Yes, Miramax, as in the film distribution company. Do I even have to tell you there is no such hotel in Savannah? I don't know if there's any such hotel anywhere. And why would the Ballastone be making reservations for people who weren't even staying with them? Know what else was strange? I wasn't asked to give these people a real tour, but to meet them in their room at the Miramax and read them a selection of short stories by H. P. Lovecraft. Not any particular stories, I could just pick whichever ones I thought would be best. Now, H. P. Lovecraft is some very good Halloween reading, but story time for grownups is just not in my line of work.

However, this being a nonsensical dream scenario, I agreed without any objections. I passed the evening in a restaurant on Broughton Street. The night got colder and later and darker. Finally, I walked outside to go meet these people and read them some stories. I can't remember where I was when I realized I had forgotten my bag. This is where it gets scary for me. Missing a rendezvous with clients for any reason is a tour guide's nightmare scenario. Missing a rendezvous because of your own incompetence is even worse. My appointment book was in my bag, along with all the details I needed: who these people were, their phone number, where the hotel was, which room was theirs- everything! It was vital that I retrieve my bag. But I couldn't remember where I had left it! I began racing along Broughton and dashing into every restaurant. It was quite late and they were all beginning to turn out their lights and lock their doors, which only added to my panic. What if my bag was right there and I couldn't get to it because the place was closed and I had no way in? I ran and ran back and forth from one end of the street to the other. I have no stamina for running in real life and wasn't faring especially well in my dream either, but desperation kept me going far beyond my actual ability.

I checked the same restaurants once, twice, again and again because I knew my bag had to be there somewhere and time was slipping away from me. I was going to be late and I didn't even have these people's number on hand so I could call them and explain why. It was their honeymoon and I was on the verge of ruining it! Somehow, I ended up running through Yamacraw, which is just off the west edge of the Historic District. All you need to know about Yamacraw is it is no place for a lone white girl to be walking through at night. Or in the daytime, come to think of it. I must have been truly incoherent to have wandered that way without noticing. And why would my bag be there anyway? Whatever the reason, I was in Yamacraw about to start my run down Broughton Street again from its western extreme. And then I was on the concrete, reduced by pure exhaustion to crawling along the sidewalk, still determined to drag my prostrate self from one restaurant to another if that's what it took to find my bag.

Thank God some guy came along and picked me up. He pointed me toward an establishment that was just closing down. A skinny, sympathetic employee let me in and led me right to my work bag! Turns out, I had left it sitting in the seat of a chair, which had then been pushed under the table, completely hiding my bag from view. I had simply missed it every time I searched. I snatched my book out of it and dialed up my clients immediately. I was already late for our appointment and desperate to let them know I hadn't bailed on them. The woman answered the phone and I explained the situation and asked how I should find them. She gave me some directions about getting to the hotel and how to access the elevator to their room or something like that. The details have gotten fuzzy on me now, of course. Although she sounded nice, I do remember her snidely implying that I had lost out on any chance of a decent tip by being late. That's the kind of thing that can be left unsaid, ok? So, anyhow, I wandered in the dark to the Miramax hotel, which looked more glamorous in the Ballastone's pictures than it did face to face. The rooms opened directly onto exterior walkways like at a cheap motel. That's what it looked like, except much taller. I also couldn't help noticing a subtle layer of grime over everything.

That's when I woke up, right before finally achieving the object that had been driving me throughout the entire nightmare. Know what else was so frustrating about the whole experience? I had spent two nights not sleeping well, then spent the third night trapped in a nightmare that left me utterly drained! I woke up tired and worn out from all the running and panic! And I was too keyed up to go back to sleep!

I am so glad I don't have dreams like this before every tour.