They gathered in the hotel lobby, about a dozen of them from Maine, Pittsburgh, Michigan and England, strangers in a strange town, yearning to learn more about the beauty and charm of Charleston.
Wearing a big summer hat and sundress, the smiling face who would lead them on a two-hour walking tour was Joyce Sauls, a 20-year veteran of talking to tourists and giving them a glimpse of our magical city.
When they're done, they would no doubt remember how rice and indigo built Charlestown into a powerful seaport, the dark history of slavery, and other tales of wars, earthquakes, fires and hurricanes.
Like any tour of any place, there are lots of dates and names that form the basis of our story. But when visitors return home and start flipping through their mental scrapbook, the one thing they will remember is Joyce.
Face of Charleston
Here in the Holy City we are blessed with hundreds of licensed tour guides who make a living knowing facts, figures and local lore, not to mention the volunteers who work at plantation and garden venues around the Lowcountry.
These are the people who represent us to the world. They are the face of Charleston. The voice of Charleston. Quite often the first, last and only locals many tourists will encounter during their stay here.
"Here in Charleston we have four distinct seasons," Joyce said as she led this group down Meeting Street to a shady spot South of Broad. "They are Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer and Christmas."
The group enjoyed her humor, her accent and knowledge of the little things even those who live here often don't know.
Y'all come back
"I do feel responsible for them getting a good impression of our city and the South during their short time with us," Joyce said after leading her group down to the Battery, explaining Rainbow Row, sweetgrass baskets, piazzas and earthquake rods.
"Most of our visitors have already formed an impression of the South. Some don't think we have indoor plumbing."
So Joyce and other tour guides make sure they understand our past, present and future.
"I want them to have a good time," she said. "Sometimes it helps when we can laugh at ourselves."
Before the tour was over, our new friends fell in love with our city as well as the pretty lady in the big summer hat with the sweet Southern accent.
As always, she bid them farewell by saying, "Y'all come back." And because of Joyce and all our other wonderful tour guides, they probably will.