Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Just before I left for Ellis Island yesterday, the volunteer coordinator e-mailed to tell me that the person I was supposed to train had cancelled for the day. I'd be on my own at the desk, and my tour. Okay, no biggie. Originally I'd agreed to fill the day so this person could come in, but no worries. In fact, I reasoned that it would be better -- I'd have more time to focus on reviewing for my tour.

When I got to the information desk on the island, I noticed that there already appeared to be visitors walking around. I hadn't checked the schedule, but apparently they were running earlier boats in the expectation that there would be more visitors between Christmas and New Years. I'd been wondering what attendance would look like: it was a chilly day, but there are a ton of people in the city on vacation this week, and when you visit New York, the Statue of Liberty is one of the places to go. Tourists aren't going to skip it just because it's cold.

If the day was going to be hectic, at least it was starting out favorably. The first ranger at the desk was very chatty and friendly. She encouraged me to apply for a ranger job and gave me all kinds of helpful hints on making sure the application would get attention during the next hiring cycle. And when the park superintendent came by, she was sure to introduce me. Very nice overall.

I was also surprised by the appearance of another volunteer. While she wasn't on the schedule, some of her friends planned to visit the island and she wanted to show them around. We agreed that I'd handle the morning tour, and she'd grab the afternoon. I was also anticipating that Tracy and Roberta would be coming by, so I bravely offered to take both tours out if they hadn't made it to the island by the time the first one goes out at 11:30.

As more and more people came to the island, our sign up list for the morning tour grew longer and longer. Usually we cut it off at 25 people, but by the time we gathered everyone at the 3D map to start the discussion, 30 people had assembled. Wow. Huge. In a way, I was kind of relieved to do my first tour in front of a large group. There will always be someone who isn't paying attention, but if it's a group of three and two of them are bored, it's a bigger tragedy than if there are two distracted people in a group of 20. Thus I wouldn't take it personally if someone drifted. I quickly found a couple of friendly, engaged faces in the crowd and drew some energy from them when I needed it.

I'd told myself that as long as I remembered the basic flow of the talk, I'd be fine. While the Ferry Building exhibit offers great visual cues, the opening talk isn't quite as intuitive, so I made a couple of notes to refer to to make sure I covered some basic points. For the most part it worked out well, and surprisingly I got a few laughs in as well. And I was able to keep the full tour down to 45 minutes, including the transit time to the exhibit. Not bad, overall.

So I made it through fine, no butterflies, no disasters. Getting back to an earlier post, I think it comes down to doing something that's truer to who I am. I've always hated doing presentations, and following big ones at work I used to report back, "No one died, nothing burned down," but then those talks were usually about something I wasn't so interested in. This time, when I had the chance to tell an compelling story, I wasn't inclined to be so cynical about the outcome.

In the afternoon, Tracy and Roberta arrived about a half hour before the scheduled tour, so the other volunteer offered to take the 2:30 group while I gave my buddies a private tour, both through the restricted area to the Ferry Building, and then through the Registry Building. Once we were back in the museum I felt a little silly hanging with friends in my park volunteer getup, but fortunately nobody tagged along, expecting a tour. Now that would have been interesting.


  1. Sounds like you are doing great! Congratulations. I hope the new year is kind to you and all your health issues are small ones.

  2. Thanks, oldnorris. Best wishes for a wonderful, happy and healthy 2010.