Archive for September, 2011
For six months now, I’ve had to learn never to be truly “off-the-clock.” Everywhere I go, in over thirty cities throughout Europe, dozens of clients, former and present, are traveling around. For six months now, I’ve learned to dread the phrase, “I know it’s your day off, but…” Yet for six months I’ve felt a bit like a celebrity just walking around in everyday life, at least in the dictionary sense of the word (“celebrity: the state of being well known,” according to New Oxford American Dictionary).
Ordering a take-away pizza in Madrid a few weeks ago, a beautiful woman walks by the window. She sees me and her eyes light up. She changes direction to come chat with me. But of course, it wasn’t to talk to me. She recognized me from taking her from Rome to Florence weeks earlier. She wanted to ask if I could change a booking of hers. Damn.
In Paris I actually had a man run half a block down the street to catch up with me after he saw me walk by the laundromat where he was washing his clothes. “What do I do if I lose my travel pass?” he asked breathlessly.
In Munich a client knocked on my bedroom door at 10pm to ask me when the bus departure time was the next day. She was taken aback when I answered in my underwear. That’s what you get when you disturb me after hours.
There is no being anonymous anymore. Yet, that’s and awfully nice way to travel. People ask me what city I’m based in. “Nowhere and everywhere,” is the best answer I can give. Of the dozens of cities I travel to though, I never feel alone. I always run into a familiar face somewhere. It’s as if I’m simultaneously living in thirty-three cities.
When I need a break from it all, there are methods I’ve discovered to becoming anonymous. I’ll hop on a metro line to the other side of the city and find a bar that’s not listed in any travel book. I’ll go to the beach by myself — no one’s really looking around at other people at the beach. I’ll go to the cinema.
Last week, in an attempt to regain that anonymity, I took a group bike tour of the Palace of Versailles. No one will know who I am, I thought. I can say my name is Bob and I’m candlestick-maker, and then maybe people will ask me about the best wax to use in candles instead of the cheapest bar in Alexanderplatz.
Then a funny thing happened. To get to the bike tour I needed to navigate Paris’ complicated metro during rush hour. Jammed into the back of the train car filled with hundreds of Parisian commuters, no one needed my help. No one needed to know the best way to get to Beauvais Airport. No one needed the name of an English speaking doctor. I was nobody.
“So what do you do?” a girl asks on my bike tour asks me an hour later as I start my bike tour.
“Me? I’m a professional tour guide,” I say proudly.
“Wow!” she says, obviously interested in my answer. Then: “Can you tell me the best way to get to the Louvre?”
Ahhh, that’s better.