Cambrian: Slice of Life

Let’s keep the giggles going: Here are a few more ‘inquisitive idiots’ stories for you

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

Are you as laughter-starved as I am, desperate for something happy and upbeat to counteract all the tragedies, grumpy news and political grandstanding these days?

Maybe you want to lighten up, too.

Many of you thanked me for my May 27 gigglish column about dumb questions people ask those of us who regularly deal with the public. Some of you even shared your own experiences.

For instance, Claudia Freitas told me about standing alongside a tourist couple on Cambria’s Moonstone Beach Drive. Claudia said, “I noticed a group of dolphins playing in the waves right offshore.”

She told the couple, “Look, there are some dolphins out there!”

The woman replied, “I love dolphins! Are they sitting on the rocks?”

Linda Nakamura, a former Hearst Castle guide, remembers a wealth of goofy questions visitors asked her there, such as “When they set the tiles on the floor of the Neptune Pool, did they use scuba gear?” (Only if they wanted to look really silly. The pool was empty. Or as Linda might have replied, “No, they held their breath.”)

Jeff Miller, another former Castle guide, recalls being asked such head-shakers as:

• “How much does the Castle weigh?” (Lots!)

• “Why did W.R. Hearst build the castle so far away from the Visitor Center?” (also mentioned by Sandy Rakestraw.)

• And even, “How did Hearst make so much money from renting cars?” (Um, I think that’s Hertz, no relation.)

Which brings me to a note I got from another Castle source, a longtime friend from Cambria who worked as a security guard there, but who wants to remain anonymous. In the note headlined “Questions from the Informationally Uninformed,” he wrote that during his years of listening to guide presentations, “I heard some amazing questions from visitors. I was having the time of my life, standing back and keeping quiet, watching and listening.”

Some of his favorites (and, in some cases, the responses he wished he could have given) include:

• “Which tour was Mr. Hearst’s favorite?” (Ummm, W.R. Hearst died in 1951, seven years before the first State Parks tour was given. But maybe his ghost has a preferred route?)

• “Does that elevator go up as well as down?” (No, it goes in a circle.)

• “May I look at things?” (No, we’ll blindfold you.)

• And my personal favorite, about those priceless antiques: “Since Mr. Hearst had so much money, why did he buy used furniture?” (Speechless.)

My friend also kept a list of tongue-tangled bloopers by those well- trained, talented Castle guides, noting that it’s easy to hilariously misspeak while giving long presentations for five or six tours a day, especially when you’re walking around in a closed building with no air conditioning, sometimes in 110-degree summertime heat. Here are some gaffes, again with responses that would have been such fun to give:

• A guide rattled off a list of celebrity guests who visited during the Castle’s heyday: “David Niven, Cary Grant, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Airport.” (Good word associating, I guess, but wrong name.)

• Another guide said Charles Lindbergh “was here for dinner, right after he swam the Atlantic Ocean.” (Who needs a plane? And Lindbergh didn’t swim the English Channel either. That was another famous Castle guest, Gertrude Ederle.)

• When a tour-taker asked, “Are there any bidets in the house?” the confused guide (who perhaps thought the question was about 17th Century Dutch artists Cornelis Bega or Abraham Begeyn) replied, “No, but we have several Tintorettos,” referring to paintings by the 16th Century Venetian painter.

• Another guide described “the butler’s pantry, where the liquor was confiscated.” (No, I don’t believe that was ever part of the party plan, even though Hearst didn’t serve liquor on the hilltop.)

• A guide said the vibrant silk Palio di Siena banners from Italy that hang in the Castle’s Refectory were “the inspiration for Jockey shorts.” (No, my friend, it was for jockey colors, the name for the brightly hued signature jackets the jockeys wear when they ride in races.)

• Another guide was meeting a tour bus at the traditional “Hello 1” rendezvous site at the foot of the stairs up to La Cuesta Encantata, the Castle’s main mansion. The guide greeted the incoming guests by saying, “Hello, and welcome to La Cuesta Enchilada!”

• And again at Hello 1, a guide asked tour-takers to “please turn off your cellphones and your vibrators.”

Answers? Responses? Often, they’re just not possible.

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