On Receiving Tips

I got stiffed on tips earlier this week. It did not do my mood any favors. I had several other things to do over the course of the afternoon, and while I did get some refuge from a quite delicious cup of cold-brewed coffee, the lingering feeling of tiplessness stuck in my craw while I attempted to go about my other tasks. I sort of trudged through them, going “grrr” to myself while I attempted productive ambulation.

On other days, precisely the opposite happens. Some days after a tour the fives and tens and twenties come out in something like a flood, and my wallet has a reassuring fatness to it afterwards. People not only compliment and applaud me, but give me money as well.

On those days, after making perhaps $150 over the course of a few short hours, I’m hugely happy. I’ll treat myself to lunch at a favorite food cart, and I know that the rest of the day will have a comfortable ease. My heart won’t beat as fast and I’ll know that I can look to that stack of bills as a reassuring affirmation that I am, in fact, good at my job. The fives and twenties and tens say “You are smart, charming, and fun to be with. You were worth the price of admission and more. People like you so much, that you made enough in a single day to pay for two week’s worth of groceries.” (I think that my internal monologue has used the term “baller” once or twice after particularly successful tours.)

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of when I’m on and when I’m not. After a fair amount of teaching, tour-guiding, and occasional stand-up, I like to believe that I can tell when I have a group of people and when I don’t. I’m my own harshest critic, though, and often I’ll be self-critiquing my own performance as I’m doing a tour. I’ll dwell on the tone of my voice, the meter I’m affecting, and the attention that people are paying to me, wondering if I’m doing it wrong or reading the crowd incorrectly. Then, at the end, they’ll tip me. When I’m hard on my self and then get tipped anyway, that’s a massive affirmation.

But, getting stiffed inevitably spoils my mood. I seldom think “Yeah, that was a lousy tour and didn’t deserve a tip,” though that has happened. Instead, I think to myself “What’s wrong with you cheapskates? You don’t like me? You don’t like the massive, personable knowledge-dump that I just gave you? You don’t like the map of Portland with restaurant recommendations that I just did for you? You don’t like my brilliant (though admittedly dumb) jokes? What?”

Sometimes it might just be because they didn’t know to tip a tour guide, or didn’t go to an ATM, or really couldn’t afford a tour in the first place and couldn’t do a tip on top of that. I suppose those are all reasonable. But still. A lack of cash makes me, as they say on the internet, a sad panda.

It’s nice to think that someone could be virtuous enough to not care about money, but I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that money makes me happy. Getting it, earning, feeling that I’m worth it and and not having to worry about it is a great feeling, and It’s somewhat silly to pretend otherwise. Money is one of those things (kind of like sex) that is seldom ironic, sarcastic, or bullshit. It’s a concrete backing to applause and thanks.

Ultimately, I would rather where prices and wages were a bit higher, and no one tipped. That would make things much easier, and my personal budget would be much more predictable. However, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying that high that I get from getting tipped.

Of course, the nice people who stiffed me wrote a pretty nice review of me on Trip Advisor later, so their lack of tip was probably just an honest mistake. Still, I dwell on it far too much. I love it and am exasperated by it, and the end of a tour when the wallets come out (or don’t) is perpetually a high or low part of my routine.

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