Paul enjoyed his job. There was no gossip, no politics, no deadlines or performance reviews. He found both solitude and company on the side of the mountain. The tourists who filed onto his bus each day were always in a good mood. You don’t take a sightseeing tour to be miserable and grumpy. The groups bonded quickly over their shared temporary interest in snapping photos of nature. After a pleasant day together, they parted ways without any messy breakups or accusations.
People take vacation snaps in a futile attempt to capture the mountain and the moment so they can take them home to flat states like Indiana and Kansas. There is something in our DNA that makes us want to hold onto the transitory.
Photographs give us the pleasing illusion that we can. Yet the image never quite evokes the experience…. “The picture doesn’t do it justice. You had to be there.”
People also take photographs so they will not feel lonely. They take them for the absent friends they wish were there to share the view. There are few things more melancholy than looking out on a truly sublime landscape and realizing you are experiencing it all alone. This was something Paul knew quite well.
The ritual of being a tour guide appealed to him. What was for the tourists a singular experience was for Paul a repeating experience. Each day he would unlock the bus, jot notes in a couple of logs, and fill the gas tank. At 10:00 a.m., the visitors started to file in with their passes and take their seats. Some privacy-loving folks went straight for the back. The ones who liked to ask questions sat near the front. In the middle were the social ones who hoped to meet their new neighbors during the ride.
Paul rounded a familiar curve in the road and heard the expected sighs and murmurs as the tourists saw a spectacular view for the first time. He had developed an act of sorts over the course of two years. He knew what guests always asked, and he told them before they had the chance. He knew what jokes and lines made people laugh. He had his share of inspirational and thought-provoking observations too. And if that wasn’t the group’s mood, he could ply them with trivia and hold a contest, awarding a T-shirt to the winner. At the end of the day his pocket was always stuffed with more than his share of tips. He would never become rich on his mountain proceeds, of course, but he had everything he needed—regular meals, a small cabin with a spectacular view, and time to gaze at the mountain and reflect on life.
Throughout his tours, Paul liked to make references to burning out on his old job. Inevitably, toward the end of the tour, someone would ask what his old job had been. He loved their reactions when he said, “A minister.”
–Angel by Laura Lee published by Itineris Press, release date September 27, 2011