First there was Carl, the twenty-something tour guide at the Johnson Space Center in Houston TX. He was straight from central casting with his lank, dark hair and pale white skin. His shirt was short-sleeved and short on natural fibers. Carl spurted space statistics at speed and demonstrated his biblical story-telling powers: he mixed details of astral adventure with poetry about man’s place in a spiritual universe. With him, we would have gone to the moon and back. You should definitely ask for him if you ever get a chance to tour Mission Control yourself.
William Hogarth was next. He carries his Brown Bess Musket over his shoulder as he walks home down Main Street, Annapolis. Nobody messes with him. He is a tour guide at the Hogshead House in Pinkney Street and his job is to help visitors understand what life was like for settlers to the town in the 1700s. He takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.
William smokes a clay pipe and breaks off the damp end and throws it in the fire before hanging the bowl and stem, ready for another smoker. He makes his own buttons from cow horn and indeed his own combs and teacups, sealing the vessels with beeswax. He has endless supplies of furs, although these were presumably not bought from native Americans in return for a twist of gunpowder. He will make you a cup of tea, shaving a tannin block once wrapped in indigo paper. He wears leggings of hessian and a burlap vest covers his cotton shift. He can show you how to curl your wig–indeed he insists upon it for once you enter the Hogshead, you are his. It’s a great tour, but you slightly sense that Mrs Hogarth is glad when it’s William’s day to work for the Historic Annapolis Foundation and she can clear away the buttons and beeswax and butt ends of clay and spend an hour or two in the twenty-first century. She probably dreads seeing the barrel of the Brown Bess advancing up her hall.
Eccentric number three was driving a cab I hailed in Georgetown this week. He calls himself Sir Bob F.O. Ukachukwu, although I am pretty sure he hasn’t met the Queen. Sir Bob is cabbie, an author and an educator, he says. He has a particular mission to stop people smoking, although he also has some very strong views on drinking and on sex before marriage. His book sells on the internet for $45 (well, it is for sale at that price, and he seems to be the one selling it. I could see no evidence of buyers) but he could let me have a copy for $20, he told me. I paid up. You can learn more about Sir Bob here–watch this and watch out if you see him on your street. He is a very persistent poet.
Oh, and then I was at a dinner with the President of Mexico. I will admit that I wasn’t quite close enough to get a really good photo of Felipe Calderon…
…but I did manage to cuddle up to the Ambassador from Peru to the United States. Let’s face it, it’s not every day a girl gets to party with a plenipotentiary.
And then there was the man who bought me a glass of wine on the train from New York, and the man who carried my book from a board meeting, and the man who stopped to give me advice on how to remove calcium stains from my car when I went to pick it up under a leaky limestone overpass in Philly. Really, if it hadn’t been for the policeman who stopped me on I95 and made me cry in a late-night dispute involving a blown headlight bulb and failure to stop before entering the Baltimore tunnel, I would be feeling quite good about men I met along the way.