Tour guide Jimmy Ogle enlightens, entertains, and enjoys every minute.
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“Nobody does the variety I do.”
Last fall, a new event was launched: the November 6th Street Tour — a street whose name commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphians voted in favor of the Tennessee Valley Authority power system, This tour, with 27 turns over 17 streets and a few alleys to boot, drew 116 people. “We were within eyesight of all tall buildings and major thoroughfares and could see parks and plazas, the river, statues, urban art pieces,” says Ogle, “so it’s a wonderful way to learn about downtown.”
Another urban feature that appeals to Ogle, though it’s not included in his tour lineup, is the Gayoso Bayou. Made up of slippery tunnels beneath the city, the “bayou” was a natural drainage canal when Memphis was founded in 1813. Though it’s generally off limits except to city engineers, Ogle holds lectures about the historic waterway and describes it as “the last great downtown adventure.” And that 11-year-old cell phone he owns? “It survived being dropped in the Gayoso Bayou.”
Often Ogle is invited to be a step-on guide downtown for motorcoach tour companies visiting from out of town. And while he gives credit to other guides or groups, he takes unabashed pride in what he offers: “Nobody does the variety I do.”
Asked if a question had ever stumped him, Ogle shrugs and says, “Yeah, but that doesn’t bother me.” What bothers him is people who are too lazy to look up answers to questions themselves. “And some will actually say, ‘Will you give me a copy of your notes?’ No. They can take notes from my tours or lectures, but I’m not handing mine over.” He explains that it took 15 hours of walking city streets and 300 hours to build a PowerPoint presentation for a continuing education class he has given at several institutions: “That’s a lot of work, and I’ve got to be protective.”
“It’s a real honor to talk to people about Memphis.”
Ogle’s favorite tour is on the American Queen Line. Readers may recall the vessel’s arrival at the revitalized Beale Street Landing in April, when the Great American Steamboat Company established its home port here. The American Queen, billed as the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built, makes several voyages each year from such cities as New Orleans and St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. “It’s a real honor to talk to people about Memphis,” says Ogle. “They come from the West Coast, the East Coast, and whether it’s about our history or music, I can really get into it. And I wear a double hat with them, “he adds, “because when they land, in my role with the [Riverfront Development Corporation], I’m in charge of their docking and operations on the ground.”
Ogle credits the RDC for allowing him to continue his speaking engagements and tours while developing new ones for riverfront parks. “I can make my own bookings,” he says, “but still be available for the RDC business” — like the 43 Hard Hat tours of the Beale Street Landing construction site he gave earlier this year.
Another big plus about the American Queen, he adds, is how Ogle rewards himself after a tour. “The boat has a 24-hour snack shop and my room is just seven doors down from the self-serve chocolate ice cream machine!”