The adventures of a tourist information officer

Mary Clifford at her World Trade Center kiosk

Mary Clifford at the World Trade Center kiosk

As I prepared to retire from IBM in 2005, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a tour guide. Happily, my wish was essentially granted.

I found a job with the Downtown Alliance as a tourist information officer at the visitor kiosk adjacent to the World Trade Center site, one of three kiosks the organization runs. I also work at the Downtown Alliance’s World Financial Center kiosk.

I meet and help people from all over the world, and I have been privileged to watch the rebirth of the World Trade Center site.

When tourists come to a kiosk, they need information about the site—as well as data about the city’s subways, buses, museums, restaurants and more.

The most interesting questions often deal with an attraction or restaurant that someone visited on a prior trip to New York. The visitor might want to return but can’t remember the name or exact location. That’s when I get to play detective.

I’ve also helped bring some urgent dilemmas to heartwarming conclusions. One Sunday afternoon, an elderly English gentleman approached the kiosk at the World Financial Center. He said he’d been with a cruise ship tour group but had been separated, and didn’t know where the ship was docked. It was set to sail in a matter of hours.

We contacted the harbormaster and discovered that the ship was docked on the Hudson River near Midtown. But the man didn’t have enough money to get there, so we escorted him to South End Avenue and loaned him $20 for a cab. We made sure the driver knew to drop him off as close to the ship as possible, and I gave the visitor my address so he could return the money. The following week, a letter came in the mail. It contained $20 and a thank-you note.

Another time, I saw a disabled youngster standing alone by our kiosk. I struck up a conversation and discovered he’d been separated from his family while they were visiting Battery Park. He said he was waiting for his father.

We made a flurry of calls. The Port Authority police hadn’t received any missing-persons reports that fit the youngster’s description. But a call to the 1st Precinct brought results. His family had just filed a report. The NYPD drove the parent over to our kiosk so father and son could be reunited.

The job brings new adventures daily, and I still love my work just as much as when I stepped into my first kiosk five years ago.

I think I’ve found my dream job.