Once upon a time, I was not a fan of the MKE. I was planning on moving to Miami Beach, living in a high-rise condo with a view of the ocean and walking around in six-inch stiletto heels whilst getting my tan on. I despised winters, I despised our height challenged "skyscrapers," and I despised that Milwaukee was not Miami.
I was delusional.
Ten years and one divorce later, I'm back to loving my fair city with gusto. I love the crossword puzzle of neighborhoods and how easy it is to hop, skip and jump my way around town. I love that I can wear my Chuck Taylors anywhere at anytime, and I love nothing more than seeing the seasons change. The fact that our skyline is perpetually skimpy? That's something I will always stick my tongue out at.
Milwaukee is my home, and I can't imagine myself anywhere but here. Neither can Kay Collins, the owner and operator of KBC Tour Company. She spends her days showing people from all corners of the globe how amazing our little slice of metropolitan truly is. Milwaukee won the tour guide lottery with Kay as she is a winning ticket with her combination of a sunny personality and contagious enthusiasm. Milwaukee is certainly well represented with KBC Tour Company as its champion.
OnMilwaukee.com: When did the "Ah-ha! I will start a tour company!" moment happen?
Kay Collins: It actually goes back to when I worked at the Greater Milwaukee CVB (now Visit Milwaukee) when a tour operator told me they were going to drop Milwaukee from their itinerary because the local guide they were using was really bad. Ouch! It took me quite a few years after that to start my business, but that comment was always stuck in my head.
OMC: Have you always lived in Milwaukee?
KC: No, I grew up in the small town of Lena, just north of Green Bay. I have a degree in hotel/restaurant management from UW-Stout and worked for Marriott Corp. in Vail, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. before I moved back to Wisconsin. I've been in Milwaukee since 1990.
OMC: What are some of your favorite things to show out-of-towners?
KC: The Milwaukee Art Museum is always a must-see as well as the Basilica of St. Josaphat followed by a drive along the lakefront. Lake Michigan is beautiful.
OMC: How often do you hold back saying "I told you Milwaukee is cool!"?
KC: Pretty often. People are always telling me how surprised they are with Milwaukee -- in a positive way.
OMC: Do you only show off our fair city or do you travel the great state of Wisconsin?
KC: I've been adding more parts of the state including Door County, Kohler, Madison, Bayfield and have also been the tour director on several around Lake Michigan tours.
OMC: Have you had any odd tour requests?
KC: I had a group of ladies who asked me if "I was cool" and didn't realize what they wanted.
OMC: Are your guests mostly local folks or do people travel far and wide to check out Milwaukee?
KC: They come from all over the U.S. and the world. I've toured with people from China, Germany, South America, Russia and Belgium this year. People come here for all different reasons.
OMC: What is the most requested tour in Milwaukee?
KC: People are in Milwaukee, so they want to see a brewery.
OMC: Tours via Segway: dorky or really dorky?
KC: I haven't done the tour myself. I think they get a nice look at the lakefront, but not very much of the rest of the city. I'm sure the real draw of the tour is to get on a Segway and I'm happy to see people of all ages giving it a try.
OMC: How many pictures of the Bronze Fonz and smiling tour patrons have you taken?
KC: Not as many as you would think. I get more people asking for Laverne and Shirley. People seem to relate Laverne and Shirley with Milwaukee much more than the Fonz. And they want to go to Shotz Brewery.
OMC: If you could only do one type of tour for the rest of your touring days, what would it be?
KC: I'd love to walk back and forth across the United States.
OMC: The president of the United States is coming to Milwaukee and he is considering moving the White House here ... if you can show him a good reason to. What would you show him to convince him Milwaukee is worthy?
KC: Hmm. I'd have to show him that great, relaxing view of Lake Michigan. I worked next to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Our traffic here is nothing compared to the mess in D.C.
OMC: Have you met any famous people during your tours?
KC: We run into professional athletes every so often, but I'd say some of our local brewmasters are pretty cool to see, and are much more approachable. I had a girl from England get weak-kneed when she saw David Hobbs. We tend to think of him more as the car dealer, but to her he was the famous Formula One race car driver -- so you never know who is "famous."
OMC: When is the mayor going to grant you the key to the city?
KC: Should he? If not, I know how to get in through the back door.
OMC: What's coming up next for KBC Tour Company?
KC: Just want to keep showing off Milwaukee and Wisconsin to more and more people. I would like to get more locals out to see all the great things happening in the city as well as throughout the state.
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