The Tour Guide: How Curt Found His Road

Curt Upton of Foods of NY Tours
Tour Guide Curt Upton (center) from Foods of NY Tours explores the heart of Greenwich Village with a flock of out-of-town foodies. Photo by Josh Gosfield

“My first tour was nerve-wracking. I was at Cornelia and Bleecker, looking at all these people as I tried to memorize all the facts and scripts in my head. I just came out and told them, ‘I’m feeling very nervous.’ They were very welcoming to that. Now, I can go up to a group and have them giggling in 3 minutes. They deserve it. They’ve spent good money on the experience, and for many of them, coming to New York is the trip of a lifetime. How did I get here? My father died in a car accident before I was born. My mother was very difficult to live with, so at 16, I left home. When I was 17, I quit high school. I wanted to be a comedian or an actor so I bought a 1-way ticket to London. The plan was, become a model and get an agent. I modeled in London and Milano. I was only 20 and I had no family support so I had to keep swimming or I’d drown.

I moved back to Vancouver, took acting classes, did some film work, theater, improv, and stand-up. But unless you want to do children’s theater, the ceiling for actors in Vancouver is very low. Quentin Crisp, an old British writer I met, convinced me to move to NYC when he said, ‘The streets are paved with happiness.’ I got a job at Lola’s restaurant and was suddenly making $1500 a week. But I’m Canadian and I had horrible problems with my papers. My casting director couldn’t cast me in anything. By then I was working in a restaurant run by psycho freaks. I was drinking bourbon in the morning thinking, ‘This couldn’t get any worse.’ That’s when these local tours started coming by. Being a tour guide isn’t something you go to school for but I thought, ‘I’d be very good at this.’ The people on these tours want to feel special. And I’m looking for a genuine connection, too. Unless the person’s a horrible jerk. It’s important that people are nice to each other. That’s all we got.”

You’ll find Curt leading highly entertaining tours @foodsofnytours & plotting his dream TV series “On the Water” where he sails along the Hudson River, stopping in towns for local food adventures.

Join the community and follow @Find.Your.Road_ for more stories & strategies of how people find work they love that pays the bills. 

The Hat Lady: How Linda Pagan Found Her Road

Linda Pagan from @TheHatShopNY “Hats! There it was, right on top of my head.” Hat-lovers and the hat-curious can visit Linda’s shop in Soho in NYC. Photo by @Josh_Gosfield

“When I graduated college in 1980, there was a recession. I went to a temp agency, took a typing test, and they sent me down to Wall Street to a reinsurance broker for Lloyd’s. I started off as the receptionist and worked my way up to being a broker doing million dollar deals. I had a great night life and great boyfriends, but after 10 years of looking forward to Friday every Monday, I stopped pretending. I was 31. They had no choice but to fire me. My boss cried when he let me go saying, ‘For 10 years you’ve been a square peg in a round hole.’ I took an occupational test. It came back I’d be great in the army. Oh my God, I love uniforms, but I don’t like to be shot at! All my artist and musician friends worked in restaurants so I went to bartending school. I landed a great job at an elegant bar that brought back the martini. One night, behind the bar, a light bulb went off in my head. I said I really love bartending, but I’m 35. It’s a very demanding job. You need to be physically fit and I love people but there’s a lot of alcoholism. I asked myself, ‘What else do I love that I can I make a living at?’ I made a list of my hobbies: Reading, writing, meeting friends for coffee, second-run movie theaters, going to Turkish baths, history, travel. A Turkish bath-style spa? It was beyond my means. A second-run movie house? Same thing. Then I thought about hats. Hats! There it was, right on top of my head.

I’ve always loved hats. I still have my first hat from primary school when I lived in England. See, it’s beautiful. It’s sueded felt and top stitched. It’s got a fine French grosgrain, an embroidered emblem, and a finished bow. In the 70’s I wore a red hat with daisies. In college, a bowler hat. On Wall Street, a beret. At the bar, lots of hats. Hats became part of my identity. Let’s get Linda hats for her birthday! The baseball cap came back in 1985, I figured now it’s 1993 there must be a certain percentage of people who want a nicer hat. I asked around and everybody thought it was a great idea except for two people. My parents. But I did it anyway.”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

Follow us on IG @Find.Your.Road_ to join the Find Your Road community.

The Motivational Speaker: How Jae Found Her Road

Jae Scott @JaeScottStyle shares stories on how to find your purpose with groups around the world.

HOW JAE SCOTT FOUND HER ROAD: “After both my parents passed (Dad, when I was 3 months old, Mom, when I was 7), I was raised by my grandmother in Washington D.C.. She had 10 children and I have roughly 30 first cousins, and we called her Gangsta Grammy cause she would tell us stories about when she was a girl in New Orleans and she wouldn’t get into a fight with another girl, she’d say, ‘Girl, I’m not going to fight you. Go get your brother.’ Grammy would fight the brother and win. Here I was this nice quiet girl with a high-pitched baby voice, really into fashion, but that was by no accident. My grandmother would have me looking all fresh. She prided herself in up keep. We both would get our hair done every two weeks. That didn’t sit well with the other girls in school. They would just get jealous. I had a tough time. There was a lot of confrontation. At night I would sit up in Grammy’s room with her. She’d sit on the edge of her bed and I would roll her hair and tell her about my day and what was going on at school, and she’d say, ‘If you don’t learn to stand up to people now and speak your mind, you’ll be running for the rest of your life.’ Grammy was fierce. She didn’t back down. She told me if someone came after me and I didn’t stand up for myself, she’d be the one to show me tough love. One day in school, there was this girl. She was big. I mean really big. The girl said something to me in the hallway, after bullying several people. I thought about backing down. Then I just made up my mind. I said, ‘Here we go.’ I took off my boots with little chunky heels and started hitting her with them. After that, the girl stopped bullying me. Eventually, we became friends. I’ve always been a fashionista so after college, I studied fashion merchandising and specialized in fashion show production and personal shopping in grad school. I got a fairy tale job as an assistant to a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. Some of my heroes shopped there. Cicley Tyson, Diana Ross. I learned a lot as an assistant. Then I moved to a new department and became one of the youngest personal shoppers. I learned there, too, but the people were cutthroat and territorial. The focus shifted from me helping my clients define their style to me defending my turf. I realized, life’s too short. As tough as Grammy was, she was big on us sticking together as a family. I saw a way to bring that type of sticking together kind of thing into my work. Ever since I was a young girl I’ve used my voice to make my mark. I realized the most powerful way to use my gifts would not be to style people, but to share those lessons I’d learned from my grandmother about the essence of realness, the core values of faith, the power of consistency, the power of love, the power to follow my heart, and the power I have within myself to make sure I’m equipped to grasp whatever I want in this world. That’s what I do now.”

You can find @JaeScottStyle going to places like South Africa and Dubai to speak and organize events to encourage, inspire and challenge women to stand up, stick together, and find their purpose.

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us @Camille_Sweeney on IG to see more, and share with the community there in the comments what valuable lesson someone in your family’s taught you.