Steal This Job

Motor Mouth: Tour Guide

By Danny Freedman
Monday, May 23, 2005; 3:16 PM


JOB: Lead tour guide at City Segway Tours in downtown D.C.

SALARY: $80 per tour; the rate varies depending on experience.

EDUCATION: Some college.

WHAT HE DOES: Simon leads packs of helmeted tourists through the city astride Segway scooters and reels off historical knowledge as they whir past national landmarks. The first 30 minutes of each four-hour tour is spent teaching riders simply "how to make it go" -- and, equally as important, how to make a Segway stop. Still, city sidewalks can be tricky, with obstacles like jersey barriers and street vendors, not to mention the gawkers. For Simon, Segwaying has become second nature: "Once you become good at it, you can almost make it go forward just by thinking," he said. "When you're walking you're not saying 'OK, I'm going to put my left foot forward now' -- you just do it."

WOULD YOU WANT HIS JOB? Simon's schedule follows seasonal extremes -- with three guide jobs, long days and seven-day work weeks aren't uncommon during the spring and summer. What does he do in the off-season? "Not much," he said. Soaking up pertinent trivia can be intimidating at first, unless you're an Americana buff like Simon, who says he could recite the presidents in order by age 7 or 8. Guides also need to be careful to weed out popular but inaccurate tales. "Totally bogus," Simon said of the rumored visage of Robert E. Lee in Honest Abe's hair at the Lincoln Memorial.

HOW YOU CAN GET HIS JOB: D.C. tour guides need a city-issued license. In addition to six character references and other paperwork, candidates must prove their knowledge of local sites by passing an exam. To soak up facts, Simon recommends reading books such as "On This Spot," by Douglas Evelyn and Paul Dickson, taking tours and studying maps.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has licensing details. The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, D.C. offers training information and, for members, seminars and guide opportunities.

This article originally appeared in the Express on April 25, 2005.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company