By Barney Blakeney
After some 17 years Charleston tour guide Al Miller’s interesting and informative book “Tourists Can Say The Darndest Things! Exploring Historic Charleston, South Carolina” has been released and now is on sale. Miller began writing the book in 2001 shortly after becoming a full time tour guide in Charleston. He’d been performing the service he describes as a labor of love part time since 1987. When he started working in the industry full time in 2000, he quickly realized he needed to share his experiences.
An intuitive writer whose career in the tourism industry was preceded by a 22-year stint as a clerk in the maritime industry, the Mullins native has interwoven his cultural and artistic passions into a lifestyle that combines his love for people, places and the things they do. His roots in South Carolina’s ‘tobacco belt’ was fertile ground to grow aspirations that extended from the farming communities of Ariel Crossroads-St. James and other communities Marion and Horry Counties. Trips to Charleston as a teenager heightened a proclivity to delve into history and culture.
Coming to Charleston to attend the Baptist College at Charleston, now Charleston Southern University, began an unintended adventure that would bring him full circle encompassing an array of experiences and opportunities. First completing a double major in English and Speech/Dramatic Arts within three years with intentions of becoming a writer, after graduating Miller landed a job as a clerk for a shipping company. His passion for history still burning, Miller was introduced to the tourism industry by a friend in 1986. The next year he became a licensed tour guide.
Working part time as a tour guide offered Miller additional income and somewhat satisfied his interest in history and culture. In 1993 while he worked part time as a tour guide he bought a touring van and started his company, Sites and Insights Tours, Inc. When he got laid off from his full time job in 2000 it became an opportunity to invest his passions in a profession that would pay multiple dividends.
“I love touring,” Miller says describing his work. “I look forward to it every day.” Getting laid off allowed him to fully engage the work. And he engages it fully!
Miller takes his work wholeheartedly and personally. In addition to providing a unique Afrocentric perspective about local history and culture, Miller embellishes his tours with stories and interesting insights. Possessing an extensive Afrocentric art collection, Miller often invites his sightseeing guests views of the collection. And he sings! Miller is the Business Manager for Charleston’s famed Choraliers Music Club, Inc. “We have a good old time, especially with church tours,” he exclaims with explosive laughter at the thought of those experiences.
Humorous comments and candid observations are some of the experiences he shares in the new book. “In the 1990s I started paying close attention to the hilarious comments that folks made – comments and reactions to various sights and attractions, shared stories, jokes, responses to each other – and I decided to write a book about it.”
The book is as informative as it is entertaining and includes lots of photos and information about Charleston history and culture. After 17 years compiling information and anecdotes, he’s found he has too much information for one book, so he plans to release two more books – “Tourists Continue to Say The Dardnest Things! Exploring Historic Charleston and James & Johns Islands” and “Tourists Will Always Say The Darndest Things”. In the first edition Miller escorts you through sections of the Charleston peninsula such as the Eastside, Ansonborough, South of Broad, The Battery, and the French Quarter; he introduces you to the area’s vibrant Gullah Geechee culture; and he shares reflections on his personal loss resulting from the 2015 tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME Church.
The book also includes humorous comments and candid observations made over the years by by Miller’s sightseeing guests along with vintage and modern photos, historical documents, discussions of historical figures, events and landmark sites creating a unique view of a fascinating city.
The timeline for the release of the second book is expected by this summer and no timeline release yet for the third book. But the first edition in the series can be purchased from several local venues that include: Hyman’s Seafood, The Powder Magazine Museum, The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, Chuma Gullah Gallery in the City Market and Edna’s Lowcountry Taste of Charleston in the City Market. Also, you may contact Mr. Miller directly for an autographed copy: Al Miller, Sites and Insights Tours, Inc., P.O. Box 21346, Charleston, SC 29413, Website: www.sitesandinsightstours.com, or call 843-207-8336 or Cell 843-696-8933.