“The town is full of FIPS,” I said when we got to the part in the tour about what kind of people live in Port Townsend. “FIPS?” “Formerly Important People.” Always got a laugh. Who else? Retirees, artistic people, aging counter-culture (don’t say hippies) folk who moved here in the Good Old Days when the downtown was half empty, real estate was cheap and the dreams were big.
In the past, if you asked me to list my five most unlikely jobs, I would certainly have included tour guide, mainly because I hate repeating myself. And to be brutally honest, I do have a reprehensible but indefatigable contempt for dumb people, of whom there are many among the touristic herds. I do not approve of my contempt and so I compensate graciously—reining in my natural wise guy self. (Example: Tourist: (aggressive tone) “What exactly do you mean by wooden boats?” Even a regular person would be tempted to reply sarcastically. So how much more laudable that I, generally a slave to impulse, owner of loose lips and blurted indiscretions, should bite my feisty tongue and reply in a neutral voice, “I mean boats made out of wood.” But it is a strain.
Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, I was a solid C student in a Catholic high school run by militaristic nuns. But sometimes the prison– I mean school– ran out of nuns and had to hire some “lay” teachers. That’s their word for normal, civilian teachers. So along came 10th grade and Miss Schandler, who was pretty and witty and stylish. She made European History come alive. I seem to remember her describing Disraeli as having beautiful brown eyes. I never forgot that, but, not surprisingly, forgot all the rest. What French Revolution? Where this digression goes is that Miss Schandler chose me for her Most Improved Student. The award was a wee little copy of Peter Rabbit , the only school prize I ever received. In that stolid world, the gesture was radical, earth shaking. After all, the rabbit wasn’t a martyr, not even a saint! I was so impressed by Miss Schandler that I even considered going to college and becoming a history teacher myself.
Well, that was the 6os. Life took a left and westward curve. I never did graduate university.
Jump ahead about 50 years and I live in a lively, lovely seaside town full of interesting and creative people (and FIPS). One day I hit on the absurd- seeming idea of starting a taxi company using all electric, cool looking wagons of some kind to take people, especially tourists, around the historic districts and ports.
I dragged my mate, Myron, into the notion. We sat down with yellow paper, pencils and calculator trying to figure out what it would cost and what fares we could charge and how much we could possibly make. At long last we came up with some (as it turned out) completely preposterous predictions. What’s a spreadsheet? Meanwhile as we were trying to invent this business our friends asked, “So you’re going to have a tour company?” Aghast, I would sneer, “Never! I hate repeating myself.”
Time rolled along. We ordered two trolleys from Florida and proceeded through a hellish bureaucratic and business labyrinth – including a change in an obsolete state regulation. We came up with a name, logo, insurance, licenses, lawyer, CPA, marketing, incorporation, financing. That’s a whole lotta lotta for a couple of aging slightly funky artists with no remotely related experience.
But at last, in April 2016, we drove across the start line in our hot red trolleys, bedecked in all our new techno gadgets. PTeRider hit the streets.
We named the stretch golf carts “Jack” and “Jill” even though they don’t go up the hill so well. People smiled and waved when they saw us. Children went bonkers.
But hardly anybody wanted to pay for a ride. And what tourists want, it turns out, are tours. On our very first day on the road people were asking for tours. Luckily we knew enough local history and landmarks to make up the first few tours on the fly. Then we buckled down with books and websites about our fascinating local history and created a script and a route. We changed the lettering on Jack and Jill and printed some banners explaining what the heck we did — tours AND taxis. We were making transportation history!
First surprise: We did way more tour than taxi business. Thank goodness. And tours were mucho more profitable. I learned to repeat myself hundreds of times.
Second surprise: Myron, my dear introvert, turned out to love talking when he’s had a theme and an audience. He was funny and engaging and a hit. He didn’t mind repeating himself. Let’s just say I never got a $100 tip.
We thrived. We helped the town. We had fun. And then in the third year Kate got too dingy to keep up with all the details and new technology and could not stand to narrate the town’s history anymore. Myron just got tired. We both turned 70, a serious marker. We decided to sell the business, which was something else we knew nothing about.
Third Surprise: I became a history teacher after all. On wheels in cocky outfits and cowgirl boots, but still, a species of history teacher. Miss Schandler would be proud.
Kate Dwyer is a Landscape Designer in Port Townsend.
She currently runs Kate Dwyer Designs