Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

My summer on a boat

The job that forever changed me
Photo courtesy of Asha Baron.
Photo courtesy of Asha Baron.

“All aboard, canal boat tours, 10 a.m.!”

A phrase that quickly became my favorite way to start each day.

When I went home the summer after my sophomore year, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had no jobs or internships and all my friends were in different parts of the country. It seemed like everyone around me had a work experience lined up.

I was already in a rough headspace, and I knew I had to do something to get me out of the house and moving around each day. My mom was sending me any job application she could find, and I was furiously applying to any retail company that was hiring.

One job my mom sent to me stood out: “Canal Boat Tour Guide.” It sounded interesting, but it was never something I pictured doing. I had heard of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, but I knew absolutely nothing about it. To make my parents happy, I applied for the job, but figured I probably wouldn’t be selected. I have never been so happy to be so wrong.

The day I got hired, I went to a job interview at a movie theater and was convinced that I would be selling popcorn for two months. Receiving the hiring email was a relief, but I was hesitant. Being thrust into a world of performing was intimidating. I had never done any live theater before, let alone guided tours. I knew nothing about the history of the canal. But the job sounded fun, and I knew I had to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I woke up at 6 a.m. on my first day of work to make sure I got to the Visitors Center by 9 a.m. I was nervous I would get lost, as I had never been there before, but it was hard to miss an 80-foot-long canal boat in the middle of a historic city. The job required me to give two historic tours a day, which featured information about the history of the canal from the start of construction through the present day. When I wasn’t giving tours, I would sit in the Visitors Center and help customers.

After my first day of training, I was hooked. Though all I did was watch my boss give two amazing tours, I knew I found the right job. I fell in love with Georgetown, DC, the community at work and every aspect of the tour guide job. I left that Thursday ready to wake up at 6 a.m. and do it all over again.

I went to New York City the week after I started training, and all I could think about was getting back on the boat. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with “Saturday Night Live,” but that week, not even going to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, home of late-night comedy and my favorite place, was enough to keep my mind off work. I spent the entire first half of the trip drafting an email to my boss practically begging him to let me come in over the weekend.

After my first two weeks, it was clear I had fallen in love with my job. I found myself rehearsing the tour script before I got to work. In between tours, I poured over our FAQ guide and memorized answers to make sure I could answer guests’ questions. My friends and family no doubt grew tired of hearing me talk about “life on the canal,” a saying I grew fond of over the summer.

I spent my days off eagerly waiting for Friday when I got to go back to work. I tried to figure out any way I could pick up extra shifts and go into work on my days off – much to the confusion of my friends and family. Having this job also motivated me to get out of my house and explore the city, if for nothing else just to distract myself from not having work.

I couldn’t find a single thing I disliked about my job. Things that others would likely dread, such as working weekends, waking up early for the hour-long commute or wearing historical outfits in 100-degree weather, I enjoyed. I also liked the change I saw in myself. My confidence slowly grew as I became more comfortable giving tours and speaking to visitors. I started coming out of my shell when talking to my coworkers. I even learned how to project my voice, and surprised many visitors when I shouted to gather them for their tours.

Leaving work was one of the hardest parts of the summer. Over the course of my last week, I probably said goodbye to each of my coworkers five times. I woke up crying my last day at home as the realization hit me that it was all coming to an end. As I walked around in the office on the last day of my summer break, taking pictures of everything I wanted to remember, I was reminded of the wise words of Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

I spent my 20th birthday, the Fourth of July, my last day at home and many other amazing days on the canal, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I am extremely grateful to have had such great coworkers who always made me feel so welcome and made me look forward to going to work each week. I always looked forward to times between tours where I could sit and chat with my fellow tour guides and my lunch breaks when I would go upstairs and talk to the crew. There was truly never a dull moment.

It is hard to express how much this job means to me. This article barely scratches the surface of all the memories I have on the canal. I still occasionally find myself rehearsing the script in my mind, making sure I still remember every word or coming up with any excuse I can to text one of my coworkers to check in on everyone.

Though I’m happy where I am right now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss life on the canal. I feel like one of the luckiest people to have found a job that I loved so much with people I loved to work with. Historical performance was never a job I thought I would have, but it was the job I needed – and it is a job I would go back to one hundred times over.

It will never cease to amaze me how much this job has helped me grow as a person. Last year, I wrote a satire article called “Please don’t ask me about my summer vacation.” Now, that’s all I want anyone to do. To anyone reading this, please ask me about life on the canal – but be warned, I will probably never stop talking.

Asha Baron can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ashajbaron.

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