The summer of my 19th year, I got a job at a unique travel agency in Orlando called BTM Travel. At the time, it worked mainly with travel agencies in Latin America. They’d book groups to come to Orlando, and BTM would do things like pick them up at the airport, and give guided tours of the major theme parks such as Disney World, to help bridge the language gap.
It was a fun place to work as no two groups were the same, and their interests would vary dramatically. I was a reservations agent, and I mostly worked in the office, helping to coordinate these tours and assign tour guides to them. We used to joke that BTM stood for “Bad Tempered Mexicans”, but I loved it there.
One day, when business was booming, they had a tour guide shortage, so I was asked to do an airport pickup. I felt a bit of panic at this because at 19, I’d only had my driver’s license for a year or two, and now all of a sudden I was being asked to drive what looked to me to be the world’s most enormous 8 passenger van.
To make matters worse, I was also painfully shy and my Spanish skills at the time were rudimentary at best. I had no idea what I would say to these people while trying not to get us all killed. Oh, and did I mention this was way before GPS or cell phones, and I wasn’t very familiar with the Orlando area? Talk about flying solo.
By some miracle I made it to the airport and managed to find my party. It was a large family from South America, and they were very excited to be in the US for the first time. It must have been a long flight for them, and I was their first impression.
So off we went in my ginormous van, with me doing my best to project lighthearted confidence, even though I didn’t know where the heck I was going, and couldn’t understand half of what they were saying. I smiled a lot, and nodded.
At one point, for reasons I still cannot explain, I wound up driving us through the parking lot of a huge industrial complex. My mortification grew with every speed bump we went over. I kind of laughed nervously and told them it was a shortcut. But I’m sure they didn’t buy that when we exited by the same road that we entered.
When we finally made it to the office, they all smiled weakly at me and seemed to be relieved to be on solid ground once again. No tip was forthcoming. I was never asked to play tour guide again. I don’t know who was more relieved, me or the tired tourists who got the guided tour of some random parking lot.
Those who can, do.
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