Tours should be lots of fun! Piling on endless facts, statistics and dry, “canned” information is exhausting to listen to for four hours or more. Tours should not be marathons for the guide to show-off all their knowledge. That’s not what you’ve bargained for.
Tours should be fun, engaging, social and responsive to your interests, preferences and whims. It is a joy to pass along fascinating thoughts and ideas, humorous relevant folklore, cultural oddities, stories historical characters that amuse and amaze.
The following stories are samples of some of the unusual, fun and memorable experiences during a few of our tours.
Spontaneous Fun, Laughter and Song in Harlem!
While touring with ten ladies recently we came upon a piano on a Harlem sidewalk that was being moved. I on of the women started to play a tune and we all jumped into song, laughter and fun! Its moments like this that cause me to feel what I do is not a job but rather a joy! As with all my clients, I know that you too won’t be disappointed! Click on the link and share the moment!
White Folks “Hip Hop Roll” in Harlem
Breaking down visitor’s misconceived notions about New York City, and having fun at the same time always makes a visit here more special. Last week, I had the pleasure of touring with a group of nine guests from Coca Cola Corp. They were top execs with their wives from California. During lunch one of the ladies suggested that we spend some time in Harlem. They all agreed and off we went, up to 130th Street and 5th Avenue to see Astor Row, a Savannah, Georgia style row of townhomes, which are unique in Manhattan. As the stretch limo pulled up they began to freeze not from cold weather but fear! A few of the ladies did not want to leave the limo! When they saw the locals, black young men and boys with their pants worn below waist level, black “do-wraps” binding their hair, they became visibly nervous.
“Look, I’ll get out first and watch how I walk” I told them and then I proceeded to do the “Hip Hop Roll” snapping my fingers to the rhythm of my “gate.” I saw two black Opening the car door, I viewed the entire group laughing hysterically as two of the teenaged local boys opened the card door saying, “Yo, come on, get out of the car!” I had given them some money to do so. After they emerged, I lined them up on the broad sidewalk and instructed them, as though they were in dance class.” At the count of three, ‘One, Two Three’ you start with your left foot, snap your fingers with each snap take your left foot, step, loosen your legs, move together in rhythm. “Voila! A total of ten whites, Hip Hop walking up Fifth Ave in Harlem!
The locals were bursting with laughter! “Dat’s great bro!” “Have a Jesus day!” Their laughter and smiles was an embrace. We not only had a blast and my guest’s notions about Harlem melted away. They returned to California with a “Genuine New York Experience. ”Surely, it was a day they’ll never forget!
Six Singing Maltese Rock a Limo
While relaxing in the back of a stretch limousine with the CD of Mama Mia, the Broadway hit show they’d seen the previous evening. I asked my guests, three couples from Malta, if they knew what was the most frequently listened to song performed in the English language. With my less than perfect ability to carry a melody I began singing:
“You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you, you’d be like heaven to touch”, etc. Suddenly, they joined in and together we burst into song, spontaneously with ever-rising volume:
“I LOVE YOU BABY! AND IF IT’S QUITE ALL RIGHT I NEED YOU BABY. JUST LET ME LOVE YOU”
With hands clapping, smiles and laughter we traversed the Brooklyn Bridge and their tour became even more energized and enthralling. Unexpected, instantaneous joy and fun makes a tour a wonderful and most memorable experience. Frankie Valle would have been flattered, but I’m sure that we’re not a threat to the singers of the Broadway super hit show, Jersey Boys!
Viva La Graffiti!
Responding to a request for a tour, I greeted my clients: a French businessman and his fifteen-year-old son at a midtown hotel.
“Where would you like to go? What are your areas of interest?” I had inquired. “Graffiti!”
“Sure, let’s do it.” and off we went. There’s terrific graffiti, the height of visual and visceral expression that had evolved in the depths of New York’s economic and crime-riddled society of the 1970’s. An underclass of deprived youth of the city claimed the public domain as their canvas upon which to express and release their artistic energy. This young man had passion and verve, capturing images that had inspired him, much as Monet and Seurat had over a century ago. Was I participating in a new wave of impressionistic or surrealistic art? We ventured into Harlem, Alphabet City and the South Bronx. While edging deeper and deeper into the South Bronx, the haunt of Jimmy Carter’s Charlotte Street public relations campaign to expose the depths of urban decay. We sighted some ruins, evidence that art lives in the ghetto. On Boston Road, where most New Yorkers wouldn’t dare go, a building wall, over 150 feet long, adorned with a spectacular spread of talent and expressive graffiti was barely in view. I looked around and found an old wooden soda box. I stood upon it, up ended, and we each took turns clicking our cameras, capturing images of a work of art! The unnamed artist(s) had expressed their passionate palate extending their experience, their life in an urban landscape, void of museums, government sponsored art or private enrichment. The creation is a howl, a cry of the expressive aptitude of the forlorn, the underbelly of this city shrieking, “We’re here and we will emerge from the rubble. Look at us!” A Young boy from France came to document their emotions and perhaps spread their message to the world. Next time I get to Paris I’ll be looking!
Heartland Granny Needs Ellis Island Shot Glass
A cane toting 84-year-old fragile grandma, whose hardscrabble life in Iowa along with her two middle aged daughters, didn’t prevent her from adding countless bursts of energy to our tour. First stop, Ellis Island where her daddy had arrived a century ago.
After conducting the tour, answering numerous questions, watching the must see 20-minute film at Ellis Island, we stepped outside and found her father’s name on the wall of 700,000 names, the world’s largest viewable list of names!
I took out a fresh piece of tracing paper and with a #2 pencil I etched his name upon it. I have no doubt that it’s still a treasured possession in grandma’s Iowa homestead. Upon our departure, she insisted that we visit the gift shop, but the ferry was due to arrive.
“What are you looking for grandma?”
“I need a shot glass.”
“Why don’t you all get on the line for the ferry, I’ll buy it for you and meet you there, okay?”
I grabbed a shot glass, went around the back of the store to the other register, that no tourist was aware of, without a line, made the purchase, removed the ubiquitous “Made in China” label and handed the glass to her joining them on line.
One of her daughters told me that she’d get good use out of it. Apparently she likes her “cups”!
I remarked, “Granny, come back again and next time I’ll bring the thermos, vodka and my own glass and together, we’ll all bend our elbows. A deal?!”
“Yeah, you got a deal!” Her smile was as wide as Iowa’s open spaces.
Tulsa, Oklahoma Couples Learn About Hicks in the Big Apple!
Without cornhusks or overalls, four savvy and well-dressed heart landers stepped into the nine-passenger Mercedes van with grace and style, a far cry from what I had expected! I was geared up for a group that I had expected to crave the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and familiar tourist sites, but no, they wanted to see Alphabet City, Soho, Tribeca and Harlem! Well educated, affluent, fun and engaging, we rode and roared as we glided down the Westside Highway in our luxury van without a tractor or bailer in sight!
While in Brooklyn Heights, I pointed out Hicks Street; telling them that much of the property in the early 1800’s in this area had belonged to the Hicks family, farmers! They brought their produce to Manhattan, by boat, and upon nearing the shore on the other side, the shout from awaiting vendors was often heard, “Here come the Hicks!” They howled and laughed. From farm towns they came and had learned that the origin of the word “hick” originated in New York City!
After a five hour tour that included lunch at Katz Deli and visits to Avenue A, B, C and D, Striver’s Row, Brooklyn Heights, the North Woods of Central Park and more. I was told that they’ll be back next year and that I will hear from them for a redox.
“No! I’m going to Tulsa and want to see the wide open spaces, get my hands dirty and smell the . . . the . . . the . . . roses?”
The following morning, a Sunday, I appeared in front of their hotel at 8 AM to “send them off” to the airport with a bag of New York black & white cookies, a New York City creation.
“Have a safe and pleasant trip!”
“Thanks Cliff! How come you took the trouble to come here so early and give us these Black & White cookies?”
“Never forget, New York City is a black and white town, the melting pot, a place for all who embrace one another and accomplish so much together. You’ll come back now you hear!”
“9 Pack” Stretch Limo with Three “6 Packs” Gulp the Big Apple
With a rolling metal shopping cart, I had purchased at a hardware store, not stolen from a super market, I had entered a plush midtown hotel lobby, suited, with the cart laden with ice, chips, M & M’s and three six packs of America’s delicious Miller beer! This was going to be a mouth-watering tour. The most triumphant Miller distributors, from Alaska, Utah and Seattle, together with Miller’s national sales manager from Milwaukee were celebrating their success, “on Miller beer” of course.
New York blew their socks off! The “High Life” of the tour was the attentiveness and inquisitive nature of our American “brothers and sisters” who have, in mid-life, taken their first foray into the capital city of the world. Like youngsters glaring with wide-eyed amazement they were bursting with enthusiasm, as if they landed in FAO Schwarz from Mars. The volume of activity, the energy and vibrancy of it all mesmerized them.
With or without the beer, it was New York City together with their embrace that provided the buzz. It’s another slice of the Big Apple taken away to points west. They’re sure to return for another Next time, I’ll bring the apples, and they’ll bring the beer!
“Red Coats” Invade the Bronx
This time, without musket balls, cannons or marching orders, four dapper Brits were besieged as we “invaded” The Bronx. Not the usual request for typical friends from “across the pond,” to visit The Bronx. These lymies were fascinated as we luxuriously glided up the Champs Elyse of The Bronx, The Grand Concourse, of course!
Two couples, intent on learning about our only coterminous borough, the size of Paris, brought their notions about The Bronx with them: “The Bronx is Burning”, “Fort Apache”, “Bronx Tales”, the birthplace of Hip Hop, high crime and grime, guns and not roses. They now know why there’s a THE in front of Bronx, why the first Yankee Stadium reduced its seating capacity by 7,000 seats when it had been renovated (seats were made 3″ wider!) eyed the impressive Lewis Morris building, sighted the art deco adornments on numerous apartment buildings, viewed new private single family homes, couldn’t believe that Mayor Koch placed tin, covering bare window frames with painted flower pots and curtains on buildings destroyed but still standing beside the Cross Bronx Expressway in the 1970’s to provide a favorable impression for those motorists who passed through The Bronx!
The more they saw, the greater their fascination and interest levels became elevated! The changing ethnic landscape over the years, the post World War II migration to the suburbs, the influx of Africans, Hondurans, ubiquitous Synagogues that now serve communities have provided use for other sultry purposes. Mott Haven, one of The Bronx’s poorest neighborhoods, where hundred-year-old homes are approaching seven figure price tags, they were mesmerized and bewildered by that.
When their ancestors had been defeated in 1783 by our rag tag army, little did they know that they would lose a wonderful piece of property, affectionately now known as “The Bronx? Yes, “the red coats are coming” and returning across “the pond” with a bunch of Bronx tales, no The Bronx is not burning but thriving and growing! The best is yet to come.
26 Great Danes Roam the Streets of Manhattan
Having completed my research, well in advance, I was prepared to receive an extended Danish family of 26, boarding a mini-bus for our overview tour of Manhattan. From age 5 to 84, these folks from Denmark were eager to take on The Big Apple, and I knew a thing or two about Denmark to make their tour of New York more meaningful and entertaining.
All well versed in English, the five year old asked, “How big is New York City?”
“Well, you’ve got 5,500,000 people living in your entire country and that’s the same number of the ridership on the New York City subway system on an average weekday!”
“Amazing, unreal, incredible!” were the retorts from 52 wide eyes.
The level of questions, amazement and attentiveness was special. This well educated and engaging family saw a city like no other. They took in the Brooklyn Bridge with wonder, even though they’ve got claim to the second longest suspension bridge in the world (longest is in Japan); they marveled at the diversity. They’re from a country that shielded their own Jewish population during World War II by following their King’s example, all wearing Jewish Star arm bands in order to thwart the Nazi’s efforts to identify their Jewish countrymen. They shed tears at ground zero shaking their heads in unison and expressed their admiration and awe for New York City and America, it’s growth, accomplishments and diversity; a refuge for the poor, persecuted and afflicted.
At tour’s end the elder – the grandfather gave a brief but poignant speech thanking me for the tour and inviting me to visit them in Denmark. I remarked, “I’ll bring the Danishes and thank God that no armbands will be needed for any of us. Thank you Denmark, you’ve raised the bar, just like New York City; we’re all human, brothers and sisters who join together for the common good of mankind. Safe journeys!”
Honeymooners Find Energy to Walk Six Miles
From the great state of Georgia, two loving and energetic newly weds ventured into Central Park. Not the southern part, where all tourists go, but rather, we started in the northern sector where the park is the most bucolic, natural and spectacular. Without the abundance of statues, vendors and crowds, we strolled, quick paced, through the North Woods, under the Glen Span bridge, viewed the waterfalls and experienced the mirror of the Adirondack Mountains here in mid Manhattan. The gush of the loch, the stream that is fed by the “pool”, the sound of 25% of all the bird species sighted in the United States, the paths that meander past maple, oak and elms, the tropical brush that provides the refuge from the urban grid eliminated the notion that we were in the center of the greatest city on earth.
These Georgians from Atlanta, honeymooning in The Big Apple, exhibited bursts of energy and enthusiasm that may have been left over from their enthusiasm for each other as newly weds; but then, history, themes and the beauty of the park enhanced their affection for each other! The focus on the North woods, the loch and the conservatory gardens, places where tourists just don’t go because they just don’t know, was a highlight of their honeymoon.
Our walking tour was more like a jogging tour, as their thirst for the park was increased by their knowledge of the drama, players, construction of the park that was built by the hand of man (20,000) with the material provided by the hand of God. More explosives used then at the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle on the North American Continent. Hundreds of thousands of square yards of soil were imported from New Jersey; millions of tons of Manhattan schist (rock) removed and moved to build walls and bridges, technological marvels that lay beneath the surface made them fall in love with Central Park.
No, the park is no threat to their budding love; rather, it’s one that they embraced and will both share together for years to come.
FAO Schwarz In Doubt While Father Takes Deposition
Babysitting is not typical for a licensed tour guide, however, exceptions do happen. A call from a five star midtown hotel compelled me to take on an assignment to spend a full day with six children ranging from age 9 to 17 while their father, an attorney, was taking depositions.
I willingly accepted the assignment, being a parent and former school teacher here in New York City, to spend the day with the children. Good, wholesome and well behaved (for the most part); I did my thing; entertained, informed and kept them safe.
We went to “Top of the Rock” and viewed the Statue of Liberty. I answered their numerous questions and built a rapport with them except the 9 year old son who was somewhat of a challenge. Climbing rocks, scaling walls and dodging pedestrians, his safety was a concern and distraction to me.
“Evan! If you hurt yourself, I’ve got a big problem and your dad is not going to be happy with me and I can not let that happen! Got it!”
“Sure, yeah, I’ll be good.”
The final stop of the tour was to be FAO Schwarz, and the nine year old, Evan, was “picking on his sister”. “Drawing from my own experience as a parent and former school teacher”, I said.
“Okay, Dario (the driver) let’s just go back to the hotel and leave out FAO”.
The disturbance ended immediately and off to FAO Schwarz we went.
The wonder and joy was feverish. All were in heaven and they selected their best choices leaving with a piece of happiness that made their tour complete.
I received a call from their father, an attorney, who told me that he had wished that the deposition was as successful as the tour. I considered that as good news and bad news but he was delighted that his children tasted and more over swallowed an indelible part of The Big Apple in a big way and took it all the way home to San Diego, California, not to mention the gifts they bought at FAO!
Billion Dollar Family Goes Topless
Armed with Luna Bars, Terra Chips, Evian and Vitamin water and two wheelchairs, I greeted a “Fortune 500” family who flew in to New York City on a family member’s Gulfstream jet, several round trips from the mid-west. This “10 figure” family, swimming in wealth, was one of the most unpretentious and engaging groups that I ever had the pleasure of touring.
I rented a topless double decker tour bus, and on a warm sunny August morning, we glided down New York’s premier boulevard, Fifth Avenue. Passing Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Empire State Building, The Flatiron and on to Union Square Park, venturing into Greenwich Village. It was difficult for me to grasp what they were thinking. From their perspective, all that they saw were available to them for the taking, and I mean owning! Bergdorf’s, Cartier, Gucci, DeBeers and all the rest were like candy stores for them, the magnificent townhouses, luxurious condo buildings with views and cavernous duplex rooftop condos, for which they simply could have written out checks.
But no, one could never imagine that this wonderful group had income exceeding $1,000,000 per day in interest from their investments! With all the wealth on board and here in the city, you have to think that it all comes back to one thing. The wealth of New York City is its diversity, its glorious palette of people whether rich, poor or in between, it is the respect, courtesy and consideration that we give to each other that makes this town what it is. Built by people from the lowest level of the economic ladder (20,000 men built Central Park for $1 per 10 hour day, 1857-1861) and the work of this town continues from those of all walks of life. Without our laborers, construction trades, police, fire, sanitation, teachers, subway and bus workers, Gotham would not be available for anyone no matter how great their wealth. We salute you, our fellow citizens, we respect you and appreciate your contribution building and keeping our wonderful city moving forward! Thanks all for building the greatest city on earth with the sweat off your backs, long hours cleaning our streets, saving lives, heroes, one and all!
9 Dubai Drug Dealers Pack Black Van
Crack, heroin, cocaine and marijuana were not on board as these pharmaceutical sales managers and their clients, doctors, from Dubai, came to see what they consider their competition, New York City as their vision for Dubai reaches for the sky; just like New York City began over 100 years ago.
Naturally, prideful regarding the outstanding and impressive explosion of construction of magnificent skyscrapers on their coastal Persian Gulf hometown, they were intent on awing me with statistics and facts about Dubai; such as The Palm Islands, The World Islands and other landfill projects, actually sand fill, that provide intoxicating excesses for wealthy speculators on a global scale.
“Hey, you guys must be on drugs!” I retorted with a childish grin.
“The use of “fill” whether it be soil or sand or rubble has been a New York City concept before a shack stood on Dubai; Canal Street once boasted a forty foot wide canal, landfill; the 722 mile subway system, The World Trade Center site and countless other building projects have expanded Manhattan by 17%! Ellis Island was 2.3 acres now it’s 22 acres. And finally, much of the FDR drive is sitting on rubble from the World War II London bombings because our barges that brought goods, machinery, food, etc., needed ballast to return here from across “the pond” and that rubble was dumped on the Manhattan side of the East River!
Admittedly, they were thoroughly impressed with New York City. It’s number two in the world in the total number of skyscrapers behind Hong Kong by eleven. (A building in excess of 500 feet is a skyscraper; New York has 183 and Hong Kong, 194). These numbers will change going forward no doubt. They insisted that Dubai will be number one some day.
“Good luck!” I told them.
They agreed and fully recognized the problems and challenges that they will face.
Certainly those challenges will turn into a lot of business for pharmaceuticals, and for them, being on drugs is a good thing!
Numbers Men Provide 15 Figures. “Go Figure”!
Safely on board a super luxury mini-bus, I provided the wives of the Board of Directors, fifteen ladies, whose husband manage what is perhaps the world’s largest accounting firm.
Fifteen beautiful, well-dressed ladies had expected an informative tour however the fun and laughter were not, what they had expected. The New York Stories had them in “stitches,” setting a tone not likely for those whose lives were shared by hardworking CPA’s!
They were quite funny too, for example: The CEO’s provided the perfect answer to my spontaneous question: “What have you ladies learned about money after being married to the world’s most successful accountants?” The CEO’s wife responded: “I’ve learned that the husband is supposed to earn more then the wife can spend and the wife is supposed to spend more then the husband can earn!”