NYC movie scenes in walking tours

Does this look familiar? Lyra Belaqua, played by Dakota Blue Richards, ran down this Manhattan block in the film The Golden Compass. The block of identical wooden houses is on my Washington Heights tour.

Same block in the movie!

This block is on my Brooklyn Bridge  & Brooklyn Heights tour. Why the studio decided to use the blue Brooklyn house as the Washington, DC home of Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep as the former owner of The Washington Post in the film The Post, is beyond me.

Riffing off Mystery Science Theatre 3000, I call these posters ‘moviesign.’  Printed by the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television, they warn car owners to stay away on certain days so that movie or tv trucks can park there. It’s a great way to learn what movie or TV show is filmed where and when. This one was for the 4th season of the TV show Power, in 2017.  Watch my @tourguidestan Twitter for #moviesign mentions.

Movie directors love to use icons as backdrops.Washington Arch is a New York City icon. Consider every ‘famous city’ movie you’ve ever seen. Are some scenes within sight of a famous icon in that city? You bet.  Because moviegoers will remember their own experience in that spot. That’s a big selling point, so directors use the icons. Washington Square arch has been used for many films. Here is a link to a short YouTube video of mine. In 20 seconds it shows you the exact locations near the arch where scenes in four films were made: https://youtu.be/8BHhRgjVeeI

McSorley’s Old Ale House was used in an episode of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. It’s one of my favorite bars in town, for many reasons, one being
MCSORLEY’S DOESN’T BLAST LOUD MUSIC.
I take customers here when we ‘do’ the East Village, and at the end of Mrs Maisel’s Marvelous Greenwich Village. https://youtu.be/zJQtj48uKT4

At the poet’s walk, or the literary walk, in Central Park, film Scenes have been shot here since at least 1979, when Meryl Streep stood by the statue of Robert Burns and Dustin Hoffman took up the opposite spot by Walter Scott. Kramer vs. Kramer.

But that’s only the earliest Literary Walk film scene I can think of. How about some more?

Enchanted

Autumn In New York

Home Alone II: Lost In New York

Icons, baby. It’s all about the icons! And New York holds sooo many icons that it’s the perfect city to shoot in. That’s why as many as 400 movies and TV shows are shot in New York annually. Take some of my tours and stand exactly where the stars stood. Go to http://www.isleofnewyorktours.com or write the email address in this video: https://youtu.be/SKTNhcJRjwQ

We Will Keep Teaching About 9/11

In 2001, September 11 was considered the great tragedy of the modern world. And so it remained right up until 2020.
The 9/11 story has to remain a part of our curriculum, although it pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the US, and the millions worldwide, this year.


There’s a significant difference. The deaths of Covid destroyed families and ways of life, but not physical things.  September 11 destroyed the neighbourhood around the twin towers. It engendered the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The upscaling of the US military. Years of anti-Iraq propaganda which led to general anti-Muslim hysteria and bigotry.

American kids assume that the hero worship and veneration of the military that they’ve grown up with are normal. They actually are outgrowths of the buildup of popular military support in the run-up to a war that went on for years.

Towns and cities nationwide have had generations of statues and memorials for military heroes. It was not until 2020 that the heroism of healthcare workers has been recognized and applauded to at least the same degree. It’s time they, as well, are venerated with statues.

Just a few blocks away from the National September 11 Memorial is Fraunces Tavern. It was there that General Washington held a farewell dinner after the Revolution as the military was disbanded. America therefore has gone from a nation that got rid of its military after war, to one that keeps a strong military.

Kids need to have this historical context to make sense of their lives up until this point. And to go forward, soon taking their places as adults in United States culture, and changing the culture by voting at each election.

So yes, New York City tourguides will keep bringing middle- and high-school students to the memorial, and giving them all this necessary background.

MY FAVORITE PLACES

MY
FAVORITE PLACES
A customer with whom I’ve kept up over the years asked me for a list of my favourite New York City places. I want to take you up-and-down the island of Manhattan.
Where to start?
The longer my career spans, the more places I fall in love with. So I’ll begin with the place I love most to work. A quiet, beautiful place without parallel in the city. Central Park.

This is Bethesda Fountain, the centrepiece of Central Park. It’s bricking is local but the stone all comes from the province of New Brunswick. The fountain is topped by an angel sculpted by Ms. Emma Stebbins, and modeled after her lover, actress Charlotte Cuthbert.

Central Park is 4.1 kilometers North and South, by 800 meters east and west. I give these distances this way because my customer friend is from Wales. In American, it’s 2.5 miles North and South by half a mile East and West.

Here’s the Poets Walk, or Literary Walk. This is the only straight path in the park. It goes North from here. There’s Robert Burns on the left, and Walter Scott on the right. To the right rear, out of sight, is Shakespeare. The walk is surrounded by Elm trees as you can see. Unfortunately in the early 20th century, Dutch Elms were planted world wide. Wherever Dutch Elms went, they carried Dutch Elm disease to the native Elms. Here at the literary walk there are – or were – 300 American elms. They have been infected with Dutch Elm disease and a few have died. Upkeep is expensive. In the foreground by the compass rose are many hexagonal stones. These were donated by wealthy people. $10,000 buys a memorial stone. The money goes to elm maintenance.
One stone was donated, it would seem, by a Welsh person. The stone to the left of the letter W says “In memory of Q.” Who was Q?

The late Desmond Llewellyn played Q in the James Bond movies from 1966 to 1999. It’s possible that in this case the compass W represents ‘Wales,’ not ‘West.’
Up Cymru!
Here is Bethesda Arcade, where John Wick shoots people. The arcade arches are of New Brunswick sandstone. The ceiling is made of 7500 patterned tiles from the Minton Potteries of Stoke on Trent.

What happens here? Besides John Wick shooting people, it’s a popular spot for this:

In fact, the whole area around the fountain is rife with weddings and wedding photo sessions.
You should see it on a Saturday in June, when there are dueling weddings. Once I was here and there were four Weddings in sight.

The park is a product of the 19th century. Americans were very envious of Victorian England. This park was made to emulate the styles and landscaping fashions of that time. Very classic.

Manhattan is shaped vaguely like your right foot. Smells the same anyway. The Dutch colonialized the southern tip of the island in the 1620s, and slowly built northward. This means that, the farther North you go, the newer the area is. Central Park is right in the middle of the island. Another reason why it was built was that the ground is very rugged here, with mud flats, streams, rocky outcrops. They built the park too use these natural features. It’s the second most popular park in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
The park contains a little under 60 bridges, spans and arches. It’s built practically. Up above Bethesda arcade is 72nd St. Four streets were tunneled underneath.
Here’s Gapstow Bridge, in the southeastern corner of the park over the pond.

You would not believe the number of selfies taken here. About 100 meters or yards away is the Plaza Hotel. Gapstow Bridge is easily accessible by anyone entering the park. I think it’s terribly unfortunate, though, that so many step into the park, take a picture at Gapstow bridge and then leave. They have no idea the wonders in the 843 acres or roughly 330 hectares of the park. It’s like letting an ocean wave cover your feet, and saying you swam In the Atlantic.

Just beyond Bethesda fountain is the Lake. The only Venetian gondola in New York City plies that Lake. It’s named for a drink that a New York bartender invented in 1910: the Dry Martini.

Over the Lake in Central Park spans this bridge. Bow Bridge is made of a single piece of cast iron, manufactured down in the formerly industrial neighborhood known as Greenwich Village.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought an apartment near Central Park in 1971. He would walk to a nearby little spot in the park to write poetry. Then they would go down to the recording studio and record a song from it. He made several albums before his death by assassination in 1980. Yoko’s memorial to him is this quiet place named for the Beatles song, Strawberry Fields. The mosaic bears the name of everyone’s favorite Lennon song, Imagine. The black and white sections going outward from the word IMAGINE represent lotus petals, a Buddhist symbol of renewal.

One more small British note. These are the New York City Badassilisks (not basilisks) playing quidditch. I’ve never watched them play a whole game, so whether they fly or not is an open question.

Let’s go on.

Manhattan Island is shaped like your right foot. Smells about the same, anyway. The Dutch colonized the southern tip in the 1620s, while the Britons colonized the entire rest of the Atlantic coast of North America. The Dutch slowly moved northward in Manhattan, building as they went. From the 1620s at the South end, the North End of the island was built up by the 1950s.

This is the oldest wooden house on Manhattan island, dating from about 1795. And that’s the Brooklyn Bridge beyond it. The street here is paved with granite blocks that were picked up as ballast in Belgium by the Dutch colonial shippers. They would bring supplies to the settlers but needed more weight outbound because they were not heavily loaded. So they brought paving stones. Half of New York City is paved with these Belgian blocks. There must be a million of them.
Of course the ships went back to the Netherlands with riches in furs. The British noted that they could be making more money with one more colony on the Atlantic coast so they took it over in 1664. The Duke of York received all the taxes, which is why this place is called New York.

Knife and a fork
And a bottle and a cork
That’s the way
You spell New York

Things soured between the Crown and the colonies in the 1770s. The American Revolution took seven years. Afterward, all of the English and their sympathizers had to leave. They were given two years to settle their affairs. It was done very fairly.
The park at the southern tip of the island is Battery Park, so named because a Fort was built there in preparation for the War of 1812. It was to batter enemy ships. This little park has become sort of a military Memorial Park for the many wars that America has been in.

You’re looking through the fort’s doorway. The studs are doornails. They are beaten downward in back so they can’t fall out of the door. Thats where we get the phrase, “dead as a doornail.” They are insurance against battering rams.

Shown below Is a sculpture group of merchant Mariners whose ship was sunk by the Nazis in 1942. They called to have the submarine pick them up, but the submarine submerged, leaving them to die after its photographer took a photo on which this sculpture group is based.

That’s the Statue of Liberty about a quarter mile out in the harbor. She faces the ocean, lifting the torch. You could say she’s actually a lighthouse.
The island was known by Native Americans as big oyster island. The Dutch family Bedloe farmed it. Miss Liberty was built there in 1886. I go there so often that my wife calls her my girlfriend.
Here are some candid shots of my girlfriend.

She faces out to sea, waiting for immigrants, despite our 45th president’s hatred of them.

This ship probably bears no immigrants. She is the QE2, a real ocean liner. The photo was taken in Brooklyn just before sunset.

And now back to Manhattan.

Trinity Church was the biggest and oldest Anglican church on Manhattan island. It was first constructed in 1690 with help from a privateer named captain Kidd who lived on Wall Street. He was the first of the Wall Street pirates. It’s here that Nicholas Cage found an immense amount of gold in a movie called National Treasure. Alexander Hamilton is buried outside, as is his buddy Hercules Mulligan, and many other noteworthy early Americans, revolutionaries and statesmen.

Revolutionaries sawed a leaden British crown off the top of this fencepost at Bowling Green Park, on the very first block of Broadway. That night they also toppled a statue of King George lll, partly because they hated him and partly because it was made of lead. They needed the lead for musket balls and cannonballs. The date was July 9, 1776.
Things were patched up after the War of 1812. We became allied in World War One. 200 years to the day after the destruction of George 3rd’s statue, on July 9 1976, his descendant Queen Elizabeth II stood where this plaque now shines.

It’s right on the front steps of Trinity, where everyone can see it. We are proud that she came here.
Trinity is one of my favorite places because of my admiration for those early Americans. But it’s not just that. There are bathrooms in the back of the church, and I can sit on the park benches alongside the graveyard and eat lunch quietly. Those are good things.
It’s long been claimed that Americans are terrible spellers. It’s totally true. Look at this gravestone of a man who died in the 1660s. He’s entombed in a wall at Trinity.
Imagine how embarrassed he must immortally be, that everyone who stops by learns that he was born in ‘Oldingland.’

The financial district surrounds Trinity. Wall Street is right in front of the front door. The first block North of Wall Street, Pine St, holds a skyscraper that once was the headquarters of Citgo Oil. It’s being converted into apartments now. Built in 1930, it is lavishly decorated in stone and nickel, in the art deco style. That’s its lobby above.

At the corner of Broadway and Pine St is this impressive lobby. Currently it’s a pharmacy. Years ago this was the Bank of Tokyo.
Computerization led to the diminishment of the amount of space needed to store paper, and the number of people to work with all that paper. 70 Pine St once was an office building. Now it’s apartments. The same is true of this building. Once Upon a time it was a big banking firm, but now it’s apartments. Many big shot financial firms of the late 19th and 20th century have closed their doors. And now people walk through those doors to their apartments.

The East River separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens. You’re not supposed to catch fish in the East River because decades ago polluters dumped tons of metals and chemicals into it. But it is becoming cleaner. Check out this yardlong striped bass or ‘striper’ that someone pulled out of the River a few blocks from Wall Street.

Continuing North, let’s go to everyone’s favorite ethnic neighborhood in Manhattan, Chinatown. Trinity Church is at Wall Street. The wall was built after African slaves were freed to buy or rent land North of the Dutch city. The city’s wall was at Wall Street. For 200 years this free black community lasted, until the Irish came. After the potato famine or great hunger, my people started showing up. They came in such numbers that the Black people moved away.
Germans started coming in just a couple years after the Irish. Followed by the Italians and the East European Jews, then the Chinese. Each wave took over this neighborhood just North of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Chinese have stayed here for over 100 years, although things are changing now with West Africans and Bangladeshis coming in to operate stores. They may settle here as the Chinese have.
I have been in love with Chinatown for decades. My first wife was Chinese American. Her mother was brought up here and her father was a ‘fixer’ for some of Chinatown’s professional gamblers, meaning he found them locations where the police were unlikely to bother them.
My wife clued me in that I was a ‘low-fon’ or white person in Cantonese. No matter. I love to just hang out here, although practical matters often take precedence.

Chinatown has wonderful little hole in the wall restaurants where you can fill up on dim sum cheaply.

There are also some extraordinary shops. My favorite one has Japanese cosmetics on the upper floor, a Chinese grocery store on the 1st floor and an awesome display of lacquerware and ceramics, as well as Asian cooking supplies, in the basement. It’s not easy to get a rice cooker in this country, but the store has various different brands. Along with Szechuan hotpots, and beautifully decorated Japanese and South Korean bowls, plates and saucers, often hand decorated.
I’ve been getting my haircut here For 30 or 40 years. The cheapest Barber shops in town are also some of the best. Why don’t more people come to Chinatown for $9 haircuts?
Last year I was getting my hair cut and I met two Tibetans in the barbershop. Turned out they lived miles away in Queens, but loved coming here for the cheap haircuts and dimsum, just like me. Good thing I’m a tour guide. I can say hello in Tibetan!

Wing On Wo Is the oldest, longest operating shop in Chinatown. It’s on the main drag, Mott St.
Just down Mott from Wing On Wo is Wo Hop. EVERYBODY who has gone out dancing In Manhattan on Saturday nights for three decades knows about Wo Hop. It’s a 24 hour restaurant. The dance clubs close at 4:00 AM. This place is open and receives a generous helping of sweaty, dressed up young people who come here for breakfast at 4:30 Sunday mornings.

My wife has the T shirt!

Every weekday afternoon at 2:30 the kids get out of school and form a long line to get into Chinatown ice cream Factory. They make their own ice cream in the basement in exotic flavors like lychee, sesame seed, black tea and others. You can also get chocolate and vanilla. Rupert Grint would love this place.

This year is 2020. The dim sum restaurant in the photo above dates from 1920. It’s been in the same family for 100 years. The man who runs it now is grandnephew of the original owner. He is a good marketer. He is New York savvy. He has gotten the restaurant into movies such as The Other Woman, Premium Rush and one of the Spiderman movies. Notice all the white people waiting for their turn to get in. They’re here because it’s famous. I’m here because my barber is here.
I don’t eat at this Restaurant. I’ve been unemployed all year because of Covid. The food is just as good as any other place in Chinatown, but they charge double for it because they can get away with it, because they’re famous. That’s why there aren’t any Chinese people waiting to get in. Everyone In the neighborhood knows better.
I’m fairly well informed for a low-fon.

Note far from China town is the lower East Side. A 100 years ago this was the most crowded place in the world, all immigrants. At that time apartments often had no plumbing. This Public toilet building engendered the comparative phrase, “it’s built like a brick shithouse.”

GREENWICH VILLAGE

Residents of New York and Connecticut are apparently the only Americans who can pronounce the name of this place correctly. Connecticut because there is a Greenwich CT.
Everyone who lives there calls it ‘the village.’ It’s a quirky part of town. There is a street grid that corresponds to the Hudson River nearby. Another one corresponds to the rest of Manhattan. And there’s a third that grew outward from a hub in the center of the West village. This makes for difficulty trying to figure out where you are at any time. For instance, West 4th St starts out going East West but turns to the North and, at its northern extremity, it is a North South street. You can stand at the corner of W 4th and W 10th.
Remember those Belgian paving stones? Many streets in the village are still paved with them, giving a very old-fashioned heir to the neighborhood. That goes with the houses that date from the 1820s too early 1900s. Most of them are brick, but there are a few old wooden houses.
Here is the oldest pharmacy in the United States. It saved the lives, literally, of many Village residents on a November night in 1964. That night there was a major power blackout. All the pharmacies but this one shuttered.

Bigelow’s happened to have gas lights that still worked, and a hand cranked antique cash register. So they alone stayed open all night. They supplied prescription drugs to many people who couldn’t get along without them, the night of the big blackout.

The photo above technically is outside Greenwich Village. It’s one block North of the northern edge, 14th St. This is the holiest of holy places in the world. The letters NBC do not refer to the broadcasting network up in midtown. They refer to the National Biscuit Company, which built this building around 1910. It was here in this beatific location of glorious majesty, in 1914, that they made the first Oreo cookies. If there’s any place more sacred in this world I want to know about it. Oreo cookies have to be New York City’s greatest invention.
After the transistor.
And the elevator.
By the way, the elevator was invented here. So stop calling it a lift. This is New York, my friend. Use big words.

MIDTOWN

Midtown is the central business district. More than 100 skyscrapers, some of the very distinctive and made and designed by big name architects, dot the blocks. The bigger the building, the more people can work in it. Some of these places are so huge they have to have restaurants on the first floors because otherwise their workers can’t sit down to have lunch. There are just too many people. Food trucks line the side streets offering Ethiopian, Indian, Arab, Ukrainian food, pizza, you name it.

Rockefeller Center is a complex of 18 buildings, one of which is about 70 storeys tall. Roughly 30,000 people work in this one complex that’s one block wide by three blocks long. In the basement you can find a burger place, a Starbucks, three chocolate shops and a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop, a pharmacy, a shoe shine, and a few other places to eat.

This photo has the tall one in back. It was originally owned by RCA, then GE, then NBC, then Comcast and now I think it’s Universal. Rockefeller Center buildings fronting on 5th Ave are named for countries. Of the two that you can see, the left one is la Maison Francaise. The right one is the British Empire building. Remember, this Complex was made in the 1930s when there was an empire.
Way in the background is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. What are all these people photographing?
This:

The Christmas light show on the exterior of Saks 5th Avenue. It’s really quite impressive.

This one also shows the Comcast building but it’s taken later in winter, after the tree has been taken away. You can see the ice skating rink. It’s about 25 feet Below the street level. The Golden statue is Prometheus. He’s shown flying down from heaven bearing the gift of fire that he has stolen for humanity. However up behind him is an angry Zeus with lightning bolts coming out of his fingertips. He sees Prometheus. The fire God is going to be in trouble when he gets home.

And here’s one more iconic Rockefeller Center photo. I didn’t take this one. It was made As 30 Rock was being constructed. These men were bribed with doughnuts, to sit on a girder and pose for the camera.

A few blocks away is Grand Central Terminal. I’m sure you seen this view before:

But how about this one? This ticket window was in the film North by Northwest, by Hitchcock. Cary Grant stops here to buy a train ticket.

And how about the exterior? The terminal opened in 1913, when flowery expressions of stone or concrete were still in vogue. Above the Tiffany glass clock, representing speed, is Mercury. To his left, manning a pump, is Hercules representing strength. The woman touching a finger to her temple is Minerva, goddess of wisdom. What this frieze is saying is that it takes speed, strength and wisdom to operate a huge railroad network.

Developers started designing buildings in the 1840s around 42nd street where Broadway crossed 7th Ave. The area was called Longacre Square. It was one of the best places in Manhattan to buy a horse. Lots of stables, lots of auctioners. Horse rental, carriage rental, sleigh rental for winter, etc.
Longacre Square was given a new title in 1904 after the New York Times newspaper built its headquarters skyscraper there. It was now to be Times Square. Dozens of theaters came to the square, on its side streets. Now every night, when there’s no Covid, roughly 50,000 people go to the theater.

SUBWAY TRAINS
Although I wouldn’t call them my favorite things to do in New York, I spend a lot of time on the trains. The network of trains runs more than 700 miles, occasionally over but mostly under the streets of New York.
As a guide, I need to learn as much as possible about every interesting thing in the city. The trains are very interesting to many people. There are artworks in some of the stations. Where there is no artwork there is at least beautiful décor.

Not all the trains are below ground. The number one is above ground in northern Manhattan, where I live.

Hudson River Greenway
I’ve fallen in love with this last section of Manhattan only this year as I discovered it. I haven’t been able to ride a bike for quite some time, but my wife got me an electric bike which allows me to explore the city once again.
The Hudson River Greenway runs the length of Manhattan’s 13 miles. It’s a collection of parks with the bike path running through them all, from Battery Park all the way up to Dyckman Street, which is also called 200th St. I live nearby.
The Greenway has only been open for about 10 years. Parts of it have been open for decades but it’s only been complete for 10 years.
Let’s have a look.

Amazing, right?
That bridge is the George Washington bridge, between New York City and Fort Lee NJ. There are 300-foot cliffs on the far side, known as The New Jersey Palisades.

A selfie of me and several tour guide friends on the George Washington bridge. I’m wearing the helmet. The views of and from the bridge also are great.

And this leads you finally to my neighborhood, where there’s a clifftop park named after the last British Governor General of the province of New York. It’s Fort Tryon Park, once a 60-acre private estate.
The previous owner built an immense gate house to impress people. Now the gatehouse is part of the park. The park runs from the River up about 27 stories to gorgeous clifftop views.

END

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point originally was just a clifftop overlooking the Hudson in Northern Manhattan, at roughly 190th Street. It was right alongside the northern extension of Riverside Drive. A Greek temple was built at Inspiration Point in 1925. The temple was upstairs at the clifftop.  Below were restrooms.
Inspiration Point is mentioned in the last verse of the song I’ll Take Manhattan. Miss Ella Fitzgerald:


The northern extension of Riverside Drive was replaced by the Henry Hudson Parkway in 1937, cutting off Inspiration Point from almost all visitors.
The Hudson River Greenway, a riverfront park with a bike lane running from Battery Park to Dyckman Street, opened fully in 2010. Once again, people are able to stop at Inspiration Point, but only on foot or by bike. No train, car or bus comes here.
Hope you enjoy my singing!
https://youtu.be/bcu-0r6AuAQ

COVID Time: Preparing For Tourism’s Return

“It is a dark time for The Alliance.” — Star Wars

My first tour this year was the morning of January 2. A Brooklyn Bridge/Brooklyn Heights tour.  The company that hired me asked me to repeat this one until January 6. So January 6 was the end of my 2019 season.

Today is Juneteenth, and the 2020 season hasn’t started yet. Travel to and from most of the world is still banned. Unemployment was at an all time high in May.

What have the world’s tourguides been doing? Planning.

There are many tourism and travel groups now, exchanging info. Scheduling webinars. Teaching and learning new skills. Professional Development Programs.

The future of tourism may soon be quite different.  Professional guide associations now are planning to make demands of the big tour companies. We guides have always been somewhat at the mercy of companies. The numbers of pax per group has slowly risen.

But, for our own safety and the safety of the pax, now we must work with smaller groups, spread farther apart. This means, if a school trip sends 100 students to Philly, DC or NYC on two 50-pax buses, there will no longer be just one guide snaking 50 students through the narrow lanes of old historic districts.

The consensus is heading toward limiting group sizes to 10, including the guide. A group of 50 must, in order to hear the guide, crowd together.  And that’s no longer safe. Groups of ten allow everyone to make some social distance.

Groups of ten are great for several other reasons:

The guide need not wear out their voice screaming to be heard in the back, or have their loudspeaker turned up to ’10’ in a quiet neighborhood.

It’s far easier for the guide to get 10 people safely into and out of the Subway, than 50.

10 people can walk on a meter-wide sidewalk much more efficiently than 50. (Walking tours move at the speed of the slowest person.)

Most importantly, every member of a small group feels they’re getting a better experience! The bigger a group gets, the more some pax feel ‘lost in the crowd.’ We want the experience to be safe, memorable and easy for both customer and guide.

Hiring more guides per group will cost tour companies more. It remains to be seen how they will deal with this change. Perhaps we can all work together, to make a safer, happier tourism industry.

The Week NYC Tourism Died

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, usually the biggest day of the year for New York City bars. This blog post documents how much devastation the New York City tourism industry has endured in just the last 17 days. Most of us are independent professionals. This is our only line of work. We are mostly not employees but contractors. Tourist guides depend on our customers’ air travel and on tourist venues, all of which are drying up. This comes at the end of our traditional off season of winter, when we make virtually no money at all but prepare for groups coming in for the season. The season should start on the first of April.

Today is March 17, St Patrick’s Day. As of March 16, every bar in New York City is closed. Here’s how it all came down:

March 1

Tour guides spoke of their gig work scheduled for this year:

“Solid so far.”

“I’m heavily booked.”

“Never stops, but sometimes slows at [a boat ride company].”

“A lot better than the disaster that was Winter.”

“My bookings seem to be coming with less notice.
I recall January being the booking month.”

“We’ve got hundreds of student tours booked and no cancellations so far but we are bracing for the worst scenario.”

“I just hope the coronavirus would be contained.”

March 2

GANYC, the Guides Association of New York City, holds its annual celebration of New York and New Yorkers, The Apple Awards.

A cruise company going up and down the northern Pacific coast is looking for tour guides.

A double decker bus parked in its Brooklyn lot caught fire.

BuzzFeed posts this photo essay on worldwide tourism losses over the past week due to COVID https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/gabrielsanchez/photos-impact-coronavirus-travel-health-virus-tourism-world?origin=web-hf

Skift posts article saying that 90% of American travelers have not postponed trips so far.

March 3

First COVID patient in New York State is in New Rochelle, just northeast of the city. Governor Cuomo instituted a partial quarantine.

March 4

An independent guide said that she had $3,500 worth of touring cancelled over the past two days. Another guide replied that she also had just had a cancellation worth $3,000.

March 5

European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations statement on worldwide tourism losses from COVID so far: https://www.feg-touristguides.com/post.php?i=feg-statement-on-covid-19-virus

11 COVID cases in New York state.

March 6

The Gap closes New York City office after one worker tests positive. (What if they’d closed a week earlier?)

The Guides Association of New York City, GANYC, creates a Google doc for the entire New York City tourism industry. Companies and independent professionals can log their monetary losses, dates and numbers of cancellations, and number of potential customer totals lost. (Addendum: this would later run to over 15 million Dollars.)

US Travel Association video urges Americans to keep traveling and to keep safe and healthy. https://www.ustravel.org/fci/friday-check-march-6-2020

March 7

33 cases of COVID in New York State.

March 8

NYC & Co creates a survey for tourism, hospitality and travel companies to detail losses so far.

New York University switches to remote classes.

Columbia University closed next Monday and Tuesday.

March 9

Port Authority top executive and husband of Elizabeth Smith (see below) Rick Cotton tests positive.

Elizabeth Smith, head of the Central Park Conservancy, tests positive.

Governor Andrew Cuomo press conference announces New York State hand sanitizer, made right here in NYS.

March 10

Most Broadway shows will offer tickets for $50.

The United Nations closes to the public.

New York City Half Marathon, another source of tourism income, is canceled.

Hilton Midtown now has rooms for $82 per night. (Addendum: it closed in October 2020.)

New York City tourguides lament and share photos of empty Liberty Island, empty boat cruises, empty Metropolitan Museum, etc.

Vox.com published its soon-to-be-a-classic ‘flattening the curve’ graph.

March 11

Cable TV station NY1 report details hits to the tourism industry so far https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2020/03/11/city-tourism-dips-due-to-coronavirus-spread

The new Hudson Yards observation deck Edge debuts, opening at 8 am. A staffer at 1 p.m. says they are sold out.

World Health Organization announces COVID a pandemic.

National Basketball Association suspends the season.

Broadway League curtails the practice of granting stage door and backstage passes.

Governor Cuomo announces 212 COVID cases in NYS, up from a single one just eight days earlier. Charges that the federal government should “at least get out of the way. The horse is out of the barn.”

Cuomo and Ancient Order of Hibernians officials announce that the NYC Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which has marched every year since the 1750s, is postponed.

President Trump bans air travel from most European countries. The UK and Ireland are exempted.

March 12

Mayor de Blasio declares a state of emergency in New York City.

Chelsea Piers, a sports complex, closes.

Broadway theaters close. This means around 40,000 fewer potential clients daily.

Fred Dixon of NYC & Company posts a COVID resource page, with links to business groups, business travel groups, convention groups, and events groups. This list is updated daily. Good work! https://business.nycgo.com/coronavirus-information-and-resources/

TV talk shows made in New York City will not have studio audiences for the time being.

The Metropolitan Museum closes all three branches: Fifth Avenue, The Cloisters and The Breuer.

The Metropolitan Opera cancels everything until March 31.

Carnegie Hall suspends visits and concerts.

New York City Small Business Services releases a form for small businesses to detail how they have been affected by COVID.

March 13

Edge, at Hudson yards, closes.

Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn closes to living people, until April 15th, tax day.

Mayor de Blasio says schools will remain open, despite calls from all sides to close them now.

March Madness basketball tournament is postponed. 

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group closes all 19 restaurants. 

March 14

Statue Cruises is to go on a 4-boat schedule.

A major double-decker tourist bus company in New York lays off most guides.

Mayor de Blasio on radio reiterates schools will remain open.

Trump extends travel ban to UK and Ireland, as well as most of Europe.

One World Observatory closes.

March 15

City Council speaker Corey Johnson demands that schools, restaurants, bars and all non-essential businesses close now.

The other large double decker bus company laid off most of its guides.

NYC schools, bars and restaurants will close.

Central Park Zoo has closed.

THE STATUE OF LIBERTY IS CLOSED

March 16

THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING IS CLOSED

Circle Line and Water Taxi cruises are closed.

High Line Park has closed.

Big Bus and Gray Line have stopped all tour buses.

We guides renew our licenses with the Department of Consumer Affairs, which is closed. Online only, but their system sucks.

A Wall Street journal article about the Fed response to these and other losses quotes guide and GANYC officer Michael Morgenthal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-takes-emergency-steps-as-virus-pushes-economy-toward-recession-11584310776

The Met Gala has been postponed.

Centers for Disease Control recommends no groups of 50 or larger. That means no more 50 to 55 passenger coaches.

March 17

A subdued, ‘guerilla’ parade of Ancient Order of Hibernians members marched, staying apart from one another, quietly in the rain this morning at 6 a.m. on 5th Avenue. This keeps the parade tradition unbroken after all.

All the bars are closed on what would have been the busiest day of the year. But happy Saint Patrick’s Day, anyway, to you and yours.

When it becomes safe to travel again, PLEASE HIRE ME! I’m an 18-year member of GANYC and a graduate of its certification program.

Tourguidestan@yahoo.com or http://www.isleofnewyorktours.com

Some New Yorkers ignore the COVID-19 pandemic

I often have to go to Midtown Manhattan to see doctors. My home is in far northern Manhattan, so I usually take the train to the doctor’s offices. But now we’re in the beginnings of a vast coronavirus outbreak, so I have to protect myself, given my lowered immunity status. I donned purple nitrile gloves and an N95 breathing mask. I filled a little spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol, and got started.

The MTA promised 2 weeks ago that they would have all train and bus surfaces cleaned every 72 hours. In the past 14 days they have lowered that time frame to 24 hours. Personally I don’t think the trains are safe from contagions yet, and may not become safe at all. I don’t plan to ride them unless I must. So I drove my car down to Murray Hill, with a plan to walk to the doctor on 56th Street, (where it would have been very expensive to park the car). I found a free spot on East 32nd and started walking North. It isn’t unusual for me to walk this far, given that I conduct walking tours! It’s only a mile or so.

March 13th was 10 days since the first known case of COVID-19 in New York State: a man from nearby New Rochelle who worked in the city. On the 5th we learned we had 11 cases. On the 6th, 33 cases. It has been rising steadily. Today the count is over 700 cases in New York State, a true exponential increase. I had predicted a thousand by April 1st. Looks like I was wrong.

Today there are CNN reports that indicate that people get COVID and are able to spread it to others after only two and a half days. They themselves come down with symptoms after 5 days. COVID can remain alive on surfaces for at least nine days. So it’s under the radar, going undetected by people who simply trust others who look healthy. They simply trust others.

This is akin to how STIs and AIDS spread: people without symptoms hook up with other people without symptoms and trust them.

Here’s what I saw on my way up and down through Midtown Manhattan:

A young man walk down the street wearing the surgical mask. I thought, great! Then he pulled it aside to spit on the sidewalk!

No children wore masks or gloves.

No teenagers. One 20-something, the guy who removed his mask to spit the virus right onto the sidewalk, for others to step on and walk into their homes. Stop spitting, New York.

Office workers in their 20s, 30s and 40s casually sneezing or coughing into the air around them as others walk by. Nobody ducked or changed course.

The only age group of which significant numbers wore masks and or gloves was people roughly my age, in their 50s or higher. We know better. We are the ones most likely to be hit and killed by the virus. We are protecting ourselves, and, if we have the virus, we are protecting you.

I feel that there was less car traffic and that it was moving faster than normal, but I’m not sure. If true, it indicates that there are fewer cars in Midtown. (An Uber driver came down with symptoms this week.) Roughly the same numbers of cyclists as usual, though none except professional food deliverers wore gloves. No one on Citi Bikes wore gloves. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 60s.

My route was up Park Avenue, through Grand Central, the Pan Am/ MetLife building and the Helmsley building pedestrian corridor, and then up Park Avenue again. Grand Central definitely had fewer people than there should be at that time of day. I stopped to ask a professional photographer who he was photographing for. I saw he was a pro because he was wearing the NYC press badge. He said that he was photographing for the New Yorker. The subject: how people are preparing – or not – for the virus. So Grand Central was a perfect location. I let him take my photo, which I hope will be in the next issue: the guy wearing khakis, plaid shirt, gloves, a mask and sunglasses.

At the doctor’s, no one at the front desk wearing gloves, and in a lobby around 100 feet by 30, no one sanitizing chair arms or table tops. Or the coffee machine. At a medical office, two of the four nurses I saw wore gloves and masks. The only doctor I saw didn’t have anything protective on.

Have you been to the dentist recently? Full gowns, blue gloves, clear plastic face masks. They are ready for anything. Protocols like theirs should be in every doctor’s office now.

Walking down Park Avenue afterward I ran into two women doing what I called the ‘tourist phone circle.’ That’s when they hold their phone horizontally, bend over it and slowly circle to determine which way they’re facing. These friends had come down from Toronto and were taking in the sights. I asked if I could help them with directions, and they asked where Grand Central was. I took them down through it and told them a lot of stuff along the way, since I’m a tour guide with nothing to do for the next several months. I left them in the terminal and exited via the Jackie Kennedy corridor to 42nd.

Saw a fellow tour guide along the way, giving a tour to a couple. She was quiet, so they walked close to her.

By chance I met Fred, a tour guide and longtime friend, standing on the corner. We chatted for a while. It was good to see him. We parted and I walked East on 42nd until I got to the arch. I glanced over at the line of cabs in passing.

Then I noticed: It was rush hour, and no one was waiting for a taxi in the taxi line. The line of cabs went from Vanderbilt, all the way East on 42nd Street, to the Grand Hyatt. I have never, never seen that during rush hour before. Does this indicate that people don’t want to take taxis? Our taxi drivers are at their wit’s end trying to make ends meet as it is. If so, this is a very bad sign for them! I photographed the scene for posterity.

Mayor de Blasio said recently that New Yorkers should prepare for staying in their apartments for two weeks. On my way back downtown I shopped at the supermarket at Lexington and 40th. All the toilet paper except the cheap brands was gone. People had taken all the good toilet paper but left the low-quality stuff. This means they had a choice. They chose to oversupply themselves, without a thought of leaving any but the worst for all their neighbors. Not desperation shopping, but calculating.

Cashiers wore purple gloves. No masks. I asked if there was a one toilet paper or one hand sanitizer per shopper rule in place…yet. Nope!

But at the pharmacy a few blocks away, several signs taped over the empty toilet paper section: “STORE #14318 ONE PAPER PRODUCT PER CUSTOMER, PAPER TOWEL AND TOILET TISSUE PLEASE SO EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY CAN ALSO SHOP FOR THESE ITEMS.” Excellent!

Returning home, my wife pointed out several ways in which I possibly spread contagion around the apartment before I got rid of all my cleanliness supplies. For instance I had touched elevator buttons with my sleeved wrists or elbows. But I was still wearing my shirt. I had touched a few things, like the microwave oven buttons and door, after entering the apartment. And I had sat in the doctor’s office. So I turned away from her and she sprayed the seat of my pants. She loves me.

One more note: NEW YORKERS! the people who deliver your packages and food make less than $20,000 a year. They need your help. A man came to deliver dinner. He gave me several bags. Then I asked if he would like a pair of nitrile gloves. He accepted them and thanked me profusely. He was very, very grateful.

Maybe he can’t afford to get his own pair or maybe he works so many hours that he can’t get to a store. And the stores may now be out of purple gloves. If you have a pair to spare, that your delivery people need, give it to them. They will be grateful. And you have started on the path to protecting others.

And when this crisis is over, please start taking walking tours. Learn about New York City. Your tour guide will be very, very grateful.

New York City cannot be stopped.

Isle Of New York tours, LLC

http://www.isleofnewyorktours.com

http://www.youtube.com/tourguidestan

“Tashi delek!”

I got my haircut in Chinatown yesterday, as usual. I sat down in one of three barber chairs facing a mirror. I made several surreptitious glances in the mirror in front of me, at an old woman sitting next to me with her eyes closed.

She was not getting a haircut. She didn’t exactly look Chinese. I thought she looked vaguely like a North American Native American, but more Asian.

Her hair was parted down the middle and pulled back tightly into a bun held back with a piece of leather with a stick through it (I’m sure there’s a name for this thing, but I’ve forgotten what it is).

My haircut done, I stood up and looked down on the old lady. “Oh,’ I suddenly realized, “she’s wearing a long skirt with mismatched horizontal stripes of various colors on it. She must be Tibetan.” Actually I said the “Oh” out loud, as I was so surprised.

Her eyes opened and she looked up at me. I looked down and offered, “Tashi delek,” with a head bow.

Her eyes opened wide, as did the eyes of the young woman on the other side of her, getting a blow-dry. They both said the proper response at the same time, “Ta-SHI delek,” in surprise.

Then we chatted for a few minutes. The younger woman spoke English but the older lady did not. Had I been to Tibet? I hadn’t, but I explained that my first wife was Chinese and she introduced me to some Tibetans. One of them had taught me to say ‘tashi delek’, just so I could be friendly if I should meet Tibetans on the streets from time to time.

Did I live in Chinatown? No, I live way uptown. I come here because the haircuts are good and cheap.

Do you live in Chinatown? No, we live in Brooklyn but come here because the haircuts are good and cheap.

Do you make the annual march from the United Nations to the Chinese mission? And when is that?
Every August. I march but my mom can’t anymore.
The Chinese are taking over everywhere in Tibet. It’s harder to live there. More people are leaving.

I thanked them for the conversation, and they thanked me for being polite in Tibetan.

It’s about 20 years since Tsering taught me how to say that greeting. In that time I have shopped at a camping store that recently went out of business. Every worker there except the owner was Tibetan or Sherpa. I greeted them and they greeted me, every time I came in.

And roughly 15 years ago I got into a taxi. I looked on the driver ID. His name was Tenzing. Through the partition I said, “Tashi delek.”
He responded, “Tashi – WHAT??!”

New York Rocks!

Geologic info about NYC structures:

From Canada: The first floor exterior of the Chrysler Building is faced in labradorite, a very shiny dark stone with large greenish black crystals.

All the stone around Bethesda Fountain, except for the stairs themselves, is New Brunswick sandstone. Unfortunately sandstone is a porous, soft rock, and it was badly eroded before they rebuilt Bethesda Arcade 10 or 12 years ago. The third arch in on the right side coming from the stairs has a big hole in it!

Massachusetts:

I think the stairs at Bethesda Fountain are Massachusetts granite. I think also that the steps at the 6th Avenue entrance by the Jose Marti statue are Massachusetts granite as well. I haven’t researched either of these. Does anyone know?

Maine:

The Brooklyn Bridge is mostly steel, but the towers are Maine granite and Essex County, New York, limestone. The blocks are held together by Rosendale cement, a natural cement made of dolomite, from Rondout Creek up in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Indiana in Midtown:
17 of the 18 structures in Rockefeller Center are faced with Indiana limestone, specifically Bedford limestone, as seen in the movie Breaking Away.
(The Switzerland building is faced in Swiss marble.)
A cool thing to do with student groups is to have them aim their phones at any wall of the limestone above the granite, and photograph it up close. Then ‘unpinch’ the photo and see actual fossils from the bottom of a shallow ocean that covered the whole region around where the Great Lakes are. Those creatures lived around 250 million years ago. The most recognizable ones are bryozoans, which look like miniature coral.

The Empire State Building is also faced with Indiana limestone. The various kinds of marble in its lobby come from different countries. Swiss people and Irish people swear up and down that it’s Swiss or Irish. And we Irish, by the way, really know how to swear.

Speaking of the Irish, St Patrick’s Cathedral was begun in 1859 but construction was halted when most of the workers went to fight in the American Civil War. As a gesture of healing when construction resumed, the Gothic arches of the windows and doorways are of Tennessee marble from the South. The exterior walls are of Indiana limestone from the North.

Long Islanders:
Tens of thousands of houses were built in Nassau County after the Second World War. Long Island is made of pebbles pushed down from Quebec and Ontario, by 2-mile-high glaciers, during the four ice ages. Most of the pebbles are yellow or white quartz.
There are still a few sidewalk slabs around town that are made of the gravel dug up to clear space for the basements of all those houses on Long Island.
There’s a good number in Brooklyn Heights, for instance on Orange Street right outside the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. But really, they’re found all over town.

Ohio in the financial district:

Besides the Society of the Cincinnati plaque at Federal Hall, the Federal Reserve is faced with Ohio sandstone.

Connecticut provided most of the brownstone that was used for townhouse facades between 1840 and 1900.

Has your area contributed to the rock of New York City? Please tell us about it in the comments section!

Find my tours at the Tourguidestan channel on YouTube.

Follow on Twitter, @Tourguidestan and @IsleOfNewYorkTr

Can I create a tour for you and your group? Sure I can. Write me at tourguidestan@yahoo.com for terms and more information.

New York City overtourism solutions

The topic of overtourism is much discussed in the tourism business. Things have gotten out of hand in several places throughout the world, generally small locales that are suddenly handling 20 times their local populations:

• Two ships collided in the harbor of Venice in May 2019.

• Climbers are making long lines to ascend Mount Everest.

• The once secret City of Machu Picchu is now overcrowded with tourists. New rules have been established to mitigate problems there.

Here in New York City:

The Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian path had to be closed twice in December 2018, when tens of thousands of people crowded it.

There’s been massive overselling of access to the Statue of Liberty, yet we sightseeing guides are being blamed for the overcrowding and have been banned from parts of Liberty and Ellis islands.

In early June 2019, the line to get into the Empire State Building was a whole block long. A 400 foot long block. Assuming 2 to 3 people per group, that’s around a thousand people!

GANYC (ganyc.org), the association of professional tourist guides in New York City, is looking into ways to mitigate overtourism in our city. Many of us members have created new tours in parts of the city that have until now rarely seen tourism. This is to lessen the impact of overtourism from Midtown Manhattan down to Battery Park.

Manhattan is 13 miles or about 21 km long. The south end of Central Park is at 59th Street. A number of people tour Central Park each day, winter and summer. And large numbers of people are in the lower half of the Island from 59th Street down to Battery Park. Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Grand Central, Times Square etc have more people visiting them than ever before.

Then there’s a jump over the Upper East and Upper West sides to 125th Street, the main street of Harlem.

The northernmost numbered street in Manhattan is 227th Street. Virtually no tourism has historically taken place between 125th and 227th, a 102-block stretch.

But that’s changing. There is growing interest in tours of Washington Heights; in visiting Morris-Jumel mansion, the oldest house in Manhattan. Or following winding paths down to the Hudson River shore to see “the little red lighthouse and the great gray bridge.”

Branch out, visitors!
Experience Fort Tryon Park, former private estate for a Wall Street tycoon:

Secrets of Fort Tryon Park

Take a tour from Brooklyn to Manhattan:

Abolitionist Church to African Burial Ground

Or from Manhattan to Brooklyn:

Over The Brooklyn Bridge — To Pizza!

Colleagues have branched out into Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. You can find all these by searching the ‘find a guide’ feature at ganyc.org .

Welcome to New York.  #iony