Note: One of the first articles that I wrote for my Interactive Journalism grad program at American University. I had to do a quick turn-around story on memorial tours in DC. The weather was horrible (rain, sleet, snow) and I was woefully under-dressed.  Reading it over post-graduation I see what I would’ve done differently and better in regards to how I wrote the story and the media usage, but the experience alone made it worth the effort. It taught me persistence in regards to getting the story and to always have a back-up plan in case your story takes a different/unexpected turn.

December 5, 2009

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” This unofficial motto of the U.S. Post Office can easily apply to U.S. Park Service Tour Guide Brad Berger.

U.S. Park Services Ranger Brad Berger (Photo/Angelia Levy)

Mr. Berger has been with the U.S. Park Services for over eight years. As part of his job he provides bike and walking tours of the various Washington, DC monuments and memorials such as the Jefferson, Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and the Lincoln.

On this Saturday morning, Berger was scheduled to give a walking tour starting at 9 am, but the weather was not exactly tour-friendly. The temperature was in the low 30s and wind and rain was whipping across the area. Inevitably the rain turned into snow, which made for slippery sidewalks and muddy walkways. In Washington, DC when you have weather this bad everything gets cancelled.

The Tour Guide Awaits

Yet there was Berger standing at the top of the stairs of the Jefferson Memorial waiting to start the tour. When asked about why the tour wasn’t cancelled he said that if “you advertise something you should always show up – you should be there.”

Berger looks like a Hollywood-version of a park ranger. He is a tall, square-jawed solid-looking man with dark-framed eyeglasses. Dressed in a long green rain padded raincoat, green shirt, green tie, comfortable, weatherproof shoes and a beige ranger hat. He did not wear gloves nor carry an umbrella. Berger looked neat and ready to take on the elements and answer any questions.

U.S. Park Services Ranger with tourist Andrea Zanoletti from Milan, Italy (middle) and a tourist from Virginia. (Photo/Angelia Levy)

The tour group looked a little less imposing and a bit daunted by the weather. The group was a small one, consisting of four people of various ages. The group looked wet and cold yet determined to take the tour.

Andrea Zanoletti, 31, from Milan, Italy said that he “didn’t know much about American history” and thought that thetour would be informative. Christopher Sorrentino, 37, from the Thomas Circle neighborhood in DC has been on several DC tours. Sorrentino said that he wanted to know the “history behind the monuments.”

The Memorial Tour Begins

The tour started at the Jefferson Memorial and immediately Berger was in his element. He voice was crisp, his enunciation clear and his enjoyment of history was immediately visible. Berger said that he tries to leave “no stone unturned” in providing his tour groups with information about the memorials.

Berger went over the usual historical facts about iconic figures and events such as Thomas Jefferson, FDR, Abraham Lincoln, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He also talked about lesser-known memorials dedicated to George Mason and engineer John Ericcson.

However, he imparted interesting nuggets of information that would peak the interest of tourists or historians which included the following such as that the first cherry blossoms that were given to the U.S. from Japan were infected; that the statues at the Korean Memorial were the first to reflect the minority presence in war memorials and that the Lincoln Memorial had an engraving typo that had to be corrected

More Than Just A Tour Guide

Berger’s knowledge of history is not from being a tour guide. His love of history started as a youth. He said that when he was little he was always reading history books that he borrowed from uncle. Berger said the was a “weird kid.” Eventually this history buff went on to get a B.A. in European History at Shepherd University in Virginia and a Master’s in American Colonialism at Shippensburg State University in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Park Services Ranger Berger standing near FDR Memorial (Photo/Angelia Levy)

As the tour wound its way across the various memorials the temperature dropped and the snow came down harder. The tour group was getting cold.  Zanoletti said “It’s Survivor DC” as he kept his head down to head off the snow and rain. Sorrentino said that he was doing “okay” but he looked a bit wet.

Berger didn’t seem the least bothered by the weather nor did he let if affect his tour. In fact, Berger boasted that he used to “run in shorts” in this type of weather while stationed at the Air Force’s South Bavaria, Germany site.

Berger’s enthusiasm for his job is contagious and helped the tour group forget about the bad weather for a little bit. During the tour he said that his job is like a “hobby that he gets paid for” and that if you get a chance to “do what your love it’s well worth it.”