I still got it.
I spent this morning giving school tours at my old museum, because – as the current director (a friend of mine) put it – they were getting desperate. They have some big school groups coming through, and the pool of volunteer school tour docents is thin and getting thinner, unfortunately, since that is the way of the world. Those two things don’t really go well together. And since the majority of paid summer docents are high school kids who are still in school for another few days, well, that’s when you set the Wayback Machine for “people who used to do this” and drop a note to the old director.
Send in the reserves!
I ran that place for five years, and afterward I would go back and give tours as time allowed. I got along with my successors – good people, after all, and it probably didn’t hurt that my basic position was that if I still wanted to be in charge and telling people how to run the place I wouldn’t have left – and after a while Tabitha started working there as a summer docent as well. The place kind of gets in your blood that way.
Giving tours was my favorite part of the job, really. It was as close as I could get to teaching, and it didn’t involve fighting with regulatory agencies at any level of government – something I spent far too much time doing while I was there. The kids were almost always fun to work with. I never had to throw a kid off my tour. I can’t say that about the adults, to be honest.
It’s been a while since I last gave a tour, though. Time and tide and other obligations and all that. Life gets busy. But it worked out that I had today open, so sure – why not?
Of course, this meant that I had to go back and try to remember precisely how that tour went. That’s a two-part process (three if you count what are, for all intents and purposes, classroom management skills, but those I can still do – once a teacher, always a teacher).
First, I had to remember the material. When was this place founded again? How did that story go? What happened here to make it important enough to become a museum? Who was that guy? What’s the deal with that, um, thing over there? Seriously? That's the deal? I'm so glad I live in the modern world. Except for that thing. We could use more of that thing. Someone should start manufacturing them again, I say.
This all comes back with surprising ease, it turns out. The first tour was a bit rocky, but by the second time through I pretty much had the old routine down and could rattle off the stories as if I had never left. Well, almost. As if I had left quite a bit more recently than I had actually left, let’s say.
Second, I had to remember the blocking. Things have changed in the museum since I left, as one would hope they would, and that means that artifacts that were once integral parts of my spiel are either missing or in different places on the tour. After you do these tours for a while you get a pretty good sense of where to stand, what to point to, where to move next, and so on. Recreating that on the fly with a new set of artifacts is a bit of a challenge.
Also, apparently they lock one of the doors now and you have to go around through the new building to get to that particular room. Pulling on the locked door will not work!
I know! I tried!
The kids today didn’t get to go to the gift shop, so I was spared the task of trying to figure out how to use the new cash register (the old one from my time there is now literally a museum piece – it’s an artifact that I pointed to while giving the tour). The chaos of several dozen schoolkids in a gift shop on a field trip at the tail end of the school year is a sight to behold. Perhaps another time.
It was a fun morning. I got to hang out with some old friends and walk through the museum a couple of times, and the kids seemed to enjoy it. Some of the chaperones even got a few of the jokes I put in there for my own amusement.