Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top Of The Rock, then Empire State Building

Saturday, October 2, I took a private family tour up both the Top Of The Rock (TOTR) at Rockefeller Center, and the ESB, in the same day.  First, TOTR, at the GE Building.  TOTR maintains that there is rarely a wait of more than ten minutes to get to its observatory.  At the ESB, by contrast, the wait can be between ten minutes and two hours, depending on the season, day of the week, and time of day.  Nights, for instance, are usually slower than days.  The charge at TOTR is $21 as opposed to the ESB's $20. 
We had prepaid tickets.  I showed them to the personnel, and we headed upstairs to security for metal detectors.  That done, we took an elevator with a transparent ceiling, on which were projected images of the GE Building through its history, up to the top.  Elapsed time was 11 minutes.  Not bad!
TOTR takes you to its 67th floor, as opposed to the ESB's 86th floor, so you're not as high up, even when you account for Rockefeller Center being atop a plateau and the ESB being halfway down Murray Hill.  The parapets are lined with clear walls that protect people from the wind, while offering great views of Manhattan, its rivers and bridges, and surrounding lands and islands.  We stayed up there for about 20 minutes, until my guests indicated they wanted to get on to our next view from the heights, the ESB.

Here's an almost-straight-down view of the Roman Catholic cathedral of Saint Patrick, which is across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center. 

Since my guests had prepaid tix to the New York Skyride, we were already committed to enjoying it.  On a hunch, I called the Observatory to find out how much time the wait was that day and hour, without The Skyride.  The voice said the wait at that time was about 90 minutes. 

The Skyride plays every 30 minutes, in a small theater of roughly 50 seats.  The seats are on a platform held up by hydraulic jacks that lift, tilt and lower everyone at once, in response to cues from the screen.  For instance, part of the Skyride shows a helicopter ride.  At every sweeping turn, the seats lean this way or that.  Wonderful. 
We arrived there at 11:32 AM, just a little late for the 11:30 show.  We escalated up to the second floor, showed our tickets to a lady at a popcorn-and-snack counter, and had to wait for a bit, as there was some snag with the tickets.  Finally we were escorted ahead, to the Skyride area. 

One of my charges was an 80-year-old man with a back problem.  I earlier had had offered him my cane, but he refused it.  We, along with many other customers, were taken to a standing-only area outside the theater itself.  I was concerned about my customer's back pain.  He found a shelf just to the left of the door and sat on it, and I sat with him, there being no seats in this anteroom. 
We were there treated to about fifteen minutes of wraparound videos showing, among other things, the top ten things to see in New York City.  At 12:00,  we entered The Skyride, strapped in, and enjoyed the show.  Kevin Bacon's image hosted.  The Skyride really is a fun show. 

At the close of the ride, we and the other customers went on up to the Observatory.  I looked at my watch when we got there: over an hour, nearly 75 minutes, had passed.  The Skyride had not saved us much from the projected waiting time, after all; less than fifteen minutes.

The Empire State's Observatory is on the 86th floor of the building, some 150 feet higher than TOTR's.  It features a four-foot limestone wall topped with inward-curving steel fencing.  You can poke your camera--or your head--through spaces in the fencing to look straight down, if you want.  The views are breathtaking: roughly 45 miles in every direction on the day we came.  We could see from the woods near Stamford, Connecticut, practically down to Snooki and The Situation on the Jersey shore. 

An impromptu treat was in store for us all: an NYPD helicopter hovered for a moment, almost touchable, some 30 feet from the Observatory.  It occupants waved at us, and we all waved back. 

Look for me on and on as TourguideStan.  I give free advice, which is worth every penny. 
Hire me for a bus tour of NYC, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Or for a one-hour pedicab or group walking tour of Central Park. 

Free tours for wounded warriors through

Stan O'Connor

licensed sightseeing guide

member, Guide Association of NYC

member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The proposed "Ground Zero" mosque is farther away than a Fox News viewer thought

I have a framed advertisement from the back pages of an engineering book dating from the 1890s.  The ad is for a store selling "Rackarock," a high explosive for destroying rock in tunnels.  The explosive was sold on Park Place, just a block or two from City Hall.  There was no need to keep a seller of high explosives away from such a sensitive political target.   The store's location, on Park Place, was a non-issue. 

Two blocks means a lot in Manhattan.  A lot of difference.  West Fifteenth Street is in Chelsea, but West 13th is in the Village. 

There's a liquor store on 40th between Eighth and Ninth.  Two blocks north of it is Holy Cross, Father Duffy's old parish church.  It's the oldest building on 42nd Street, dating from about 1882.  Should the liquor store be moved because it defiles the sanctified space of Holy Cross?
Should the peep shows and porn shops on Eighth Avenue be moved?
No and No.  Though the two concerns are not compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church, no one calls for their relocation to an area farther away.  It will remain a non-issue until some fanatic comes along and starts pestering people and yelling about it. 

The following was sent my way through a newsgroup that serves NYC licensed sightseeing guides.  I don't know the original poster and can't verify the accuracy of the statement.  But I do know that the proposed mosque is to be on Park Place, a good two-and-a-half blocks from the WTC site.  It was right about there that high explosives were once sold, a stone's throw from City Hall.  It's printed verbatim. 

"I received the following from a friend who is an official, licensed by

the city, NYC Tour Guide.
I've done a few tours lately for a southern based Christian
travel company.  They always want to see the World Trade Center site on the tour to pay their respects (although it bugs me when they say "Will you take us to 911?" - as if I had a magic time machine.)
Anyway, I had a group the other day ask me to walk them over to the
site of the proposed mosque, which I did.  About three blocks into the trip to Park Place, they started complaining "why do we have to walk this far? We thought the mosque was right where the towers were, this is nowhere near it at all!"
Therein lies the myth. They were not so vocal about opposition after
that.  In fact one lady even told me that she's completely changed her
position and felt she'd been lied to by FOX News.' "

Google me as TourguideStan. I do walking, bike, pedicab and bus tours. Free tours for wounded vets, through

As TourguideStan I give free advice to those traveling to NYC, on the NYC forum on

Best wishes,

Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide
member, Guide Association of NYC
member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association

New York City, the greatest city in the world. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A twilit tour of the park

Before diving in, I want to send you a link to a tourguide of NYC named Jane Marx.  She speaks her mind and I applaud her for that.

August 1, 2010
Rene Hernandez has spent all week thanking me for the $95 ride last Monday.  Rides are hard to come by, lately.  He and I hung out last night at 7:30 on the hill on E. 42nd between the Grand Hyatt and Grand Central.  We were hoping to get customers to pay $25 for a fun ride from the hotel to their respective Broadway theaters, but there are few such customers these days.  So we talked and joked with one another.
A sign attached to the front of my pedicab read,
Once in a half hour, someone will walk up and ask for directions. 
Sitting there, bike to bike with Rene, I replaced this sign with one reading, ASK ABOUT LICENSED TOURS OF CENTRAL PARK.  Ten seconds later, a family of five stopped, turned in our direction and asked about a licensed tour of Central Park.  Ten seconds! 

The father was concerned about funding this tour when I mentioned that each pedicab would be $75.
"But there are discounts."
"What kinds of discounts?"  He was intrigued.
"These,' I answered, pointing out the discount questions in fine print at the bottom of the sign, 'you get $5 off for each correct answer."
They were from New Jersey.  They didn't know "To which two colonial powers did this island once belong?" nor "What is the population, to the nearest million, of NYC?"  But they were pretty close on "How many acres are in Central Park?"  Likewise, "How many commonwealths are there in the USA?"  Kind of a trick question.  There are five, but one is Puerto Rico, and few remember that.  He got four; I gave it to him. 
So we were down to $65 per bike.  I didn't even mention that we usually charge $20-$25 just to get to 6th & 59th from Lex & 42nd.  And why did I not mention that?  Because neither Rene nor I had had a ride yet.  This was to be our first catch of the day. 
The family was two girl kids who, together, couldn't have weighed more than about 17 pounds.  They got into Rene's bike, while I, 55 years old, had to carry the parents and the toddler.  I didn't complain; they were our first ride and we were not going to lose them. 

Normally we would have taken Sixth Avenue, which has no hill.  Last night Sixth had a street fair, so we chose Madison. Up Madison Avenue, up the hill leading to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, then down the other side.  Stopping on Mad at 50th I pointed out the mansion to the left, saying, "In this beautiful mansion lives a well-dressed single older man who only makes $18,000 a year.  He is the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York."  Pointing at the cathedral behind, "And that's where he works.  Short commute."

We coasted for several downhill blocks, the reward for toiling up.  Biking is like that.  Turning on 57th, we made our way to 6th Avenue.  As it turned out, the parents had lived all their lives in or near Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and had never been to Central Park.  They were excited, though apprehensive.  The park has a certain reputation outside of New York City.  A dangerous one. 

Sixth Avenue was renamed Avenue of the Americas when the UN opened in the early 1950s.  It was decorated--still is--with 38 plaques hanging from the streetlights, in honor of the 38 Western Hemisphere nations.  Rene pointed out El Salvador, his home.  We entered the park, and the temperature went from 85 to 75, just like that.  Buildings and streets store solar heat.  Trees prevent heat from touching the ground.  Central Park has 26,000 trees. 

The topography is like that of northern NJ: lots of rocks, smoothed over thousands of years ago by glaciers.  These were southern NJ people.  I don't think glaciers ever got to Cherry Hill.  They have forests, farms and suburbia.  They were fascinated.  Crystalline Manhattan glitters at sunset. 

The mother was concerned about safety, having remembered the notorious case of the woman jogger.  Rene and I reassured the parents that things were very different now from that case, which happened in 1989 and is a permanent mark of shame for New York and Central Park.  The nation was gripped by high crime in the crack cocaine era.  A jogger, alone, was viciously beaten, raped, and left for dead. 
Central Park has its own police precinct.  We showed them the "CPP" emblazoned on every cop car passing us in the park; CPP standing for Central Park Precinct.  The precinct says Central Park is the safest place in the city. 
Indeed, before the tour was done, at about 8:30 PM, we were paralleled by a Central Park Conservancy SUV, which was met by a patrol car.  As we and the family passed, two cops came out of the car in the twilight, confronted a man dressed in black hat, black top and black long pants, and conversed with him.  The father, looking back seconds later, muttered to his wife and me, "They're taking him down." 
An object lesson: the park is safe. 

Okay, it's one thing to reassure nervous people about safety.  It's quite another to see it demonstrated effortlessly.  Every Saturday evening in the summer, hosts tango, surrounding Shakespeare's statue on The Mall.  My guests were amazed.  Unsafe parks do not have 200 people in them dancing by candlelight.  This is so New York. 

The mood of our passengers changed at that moment.  They really were in a wonderful place, after all.  Though the baby fussed, the parents snuggled. 

Best wishes,
Stan O'Connor
Google "TourguideStan" or look up my videos on Youtube, and advice to NYC visitors on's NYC forum. 

I give oil-free green tours here: on foot, on bikes and on pedicabs. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Twenty pedicab drivers and two ride thieves

Imagine that you work in an office.  You arrived at work yesterday only to find your office door was locked.  Someone had gotten in and was doing your work.  They sneaked in before you got there, took over your job for the day, kept to themselves, emailed the work out at 5 PM, and finished up.  The person who took over your office for the day then went to your boss and demanded your salary! 

Should the manager pay them, because of the work they did or should you,  the person who was hired for the job, be paid?  This was the position I found myself in yesterday: the position of the manager who has been fooled by someone who usurped the place of the hired worker. 

Yesterday was Monday, July 26.  On May 21 I got a query from a tour operator in Ohio: would I organize a tour of Central Park by twenty pedicabs for July 26?  The gig was to be a full tour of the lower loop of Central Park, followed by a trip south on Seventh, right turn on 47th to the hotel on Eighth Avenue. We corresponded back and forth for the next two months, twenty emails in all, covering the route, pickup and dropoff, customer preferences, payment, timing, etc. 

On my own, I started finding drivers.  This would be tricky.  Monday is the day off for people in the tourism and hospitality trades, including pedicab drivers.

Working within the framework of the NYC Pedicab Owner Association (POA), of which I'm a member, is best.  I hired drivers for the event who either owned their own pedicabs or rented from POA members.  These people have a stake in the pedicab industry and are least likely to get instructions wrong, or to get ticketed while driving with clients.  In a word, they're trustworthy.  It's probable that they're also trained better than drivers from non-POA companies, but that's a matter of opinion. 

The bulk of POA member garages are not in Midtown.  Revolution Rickshaw is down on far West 31st Street; Manhattan Rickshaw, in business since 1995, is way down on Washington near 10th, in the West Village.  But their people are dedicated.  Some of them have been driving at least as long as I have.  I knew they could be counted on to show up, even on a Monday. 

About two weeks from the date of the tour, I started hiring drivers.  Got nine on the first day.  I would be the second-oldest driver.  The eldest was 68.  Between the tour operator in Ohio and myself, we calculated 1.5 hours for the whole tour.  Payment was to be better than average, which made it easier to get people for a Monday gig. 

One driver is 68, as said, and I'm glad to get him any work I can.  Another is a petite woman who just turned 40.  She needed the money for some health-related matters.  Very few pedicabbers have health insurance, so keeping healthy can be very expensive. 

On the morning of the 3:00 PM ride, I group texted all those who were hired: "Say YES if you're ready for this afternoon's ride."  One after another, the YESes came in, though there were a few who couldn't make it.  And one whose phone was turned off.  I hung out here at my desk, getting the numbers of POA members and even nonmembers.  Then I had to arrange with a POA member who owned several pedicabs to make a definite replacement for the missing man.  He also brought another driver on standby, in case one or two of my people wouldn't show up.  As it happened, someone also had a flat tire and nearly missed the gig! 

Twenty pedicabs gathered in the unused parking lot of the once and future Tavern On The Green.  But several pedicabbers not in the gig showed up as well.  Suspecting that I might, after all, need to hire them, I asked them to wait and see how things turned out.  The tour escort had earlier offered to pay on the spot for extras if needed.

But here I made a crucial pair of mistakes.  I didn't think to separate their pedicabs from my guys.  I also didn't think to mark my pedicabs with the name of the tour company, which I really should have done.  I'll always do that from now on.  It turned out badly for me and two other drivers who drove three miles up from Greenwich Village for the gig. 

The customers came in.  I greeted them en masse, then turned to the tour escort and the licensed guide, an old friend, as the customers went and got into pedicabs.  One minute later I turned around.  A few pedicabs had already left!  I had wanted to stagger their departures.  Who pulled out in such a hurry, I wondered to myself? 

As the rest pulled out into the park, it became clear that two of my hired drivers were empty.  I turned to the tour operator and asked, "Did everyone show up?  All forty?"
"Yes, they're all here.  Is everything OK?"
My pedicab was empty, as well as those of two other drivers.
"Something's wrong... it looks like six people got on the wrong bikes." 
Instantly I thought of the standbys.  I thought they had mistakenly gotten mixed up in the ride.  But the important thing from the operator's point of view was that all the customers were getting their tour.  So they and the guide left, and I was left with the two drivers. 

When the tour was over, my spare drivers and I drove down to the hotel.  I had to pay the drivers.  One of them maintained that the two who "mistakenly" picked people up were ride thieves.  When I got there, a few of my drivers whispered and texted to me that the two guys who had come in on their own had hustled customers into their 'cabs and taken off. The two were unaware that I, and not the customers, would pay drivers at the end.

And what is a ride thief?  This is a term peculiar to our industry.  A ride thief insinuates himself into a lineup for a ride, takes off with customers, then demands payment for the work that he did, ignoring the fact that he's shut someone else out of the job. 
As it turned out, my friend's standby driver had mistakenly picked people up.  I apologized to him and gave him $10 out of my own pocket. Then  I talked with one of the ride thieves, explaining that I had NOT told him to pick people up; that I'd asked him to wait.  He was not happy to hear that I couldn't pay him.  At that moment, I believed him to be an honest man who had made a mistake.  A day later, I'm still wondering.  I've always liked the guy. 
But the other guy!  He demanded payment.  "I just worked an hour and a half, and you don't want to give me anything?"  I apologized and explained that I'd asked him to wait.  "I'm waiting!  I'm waiting now!"  He kept on demanding money for the work he'd done, not listening to my explanations.  I got out my Manhattan map and showed him that the driver he's taken the ride from had come in on the train from Queens, walked ten blocks to the garage, and drove three miles up to the park.   And that they would have to go back empty-handed if I paid him for taking their customers. 
I apologized to this guy like fifteen times, but he wasn't having it.  I offered him $10 out of my own pocket (should I get nothing for doing all this planning and execution?).  "F U C K your ten dollars!"  He kept insisting that I owed him the same payment I gave all the others. 
One of my friends spoke to him in French, his native tongue, explaining the situation, plucking the map out of my hand and showing the ride  thief how much the other driver deserved the money.  Another driver told him that the money was all paid out to the hirees; there was no more to pay him with. 
Finally he rode off, angrily pointing at me and saying, "I'm gonna remember you owe me money!!"  A veiled threat?
Now I have twenty drivers appreciative of making good money on a Monday, two unhappy drivers, and one wild card.  What happens next time he sees me, and we're not surrounded by other drivers? 


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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Indians are coming

The Indians are coming to America.

The first time India had dealings with the West was in the 15th century, shortly before Columbus. The nation of Portugal was benefitting from the distribution of information and knowledge that doctors, naturalists and college-level teachers had been doing at the beginning of the Renaissance: new discoveries were being disseminated, in letters written in Latin, throughout European centers of learning.  Portuguese sea maps of coastlines were becoming the best in the world, and gaining in importance to the government there. The government had been paying privateers to go further and further south along the coast of Africa, and getting reports back of new lands discovered beyond the Sahara. At one point the locals would pay in ivory for European trade goods, so that area on the newest maps was labelled "the ivory coast," followed by "the gold coast" and so on down to the Cape of Good Hope.

With ships heading north up the east coast of Africa, Portuguese princes wondered if the Egyptian philosopher Ptolemy might have been right in his prediction that Africa could one day be sailed around. That is, circumnavigated.  The Portuguese, with their accurate maps, were the first Europeans to do so. They found Muslims as far south as present-day Kenya, and the Arabic language in use. This was handy:  Portugal had come out from under Moorish rule that century, and many sailors could speak Arabic for calling on Moorish ports.

A ship loaded with trade goods made it as far as Riyadh. (An educated Arab asked, "How did you get here?")   The ship's captain located a pilot who could guide them to Kalkota (Calcutta, in the West), and plotted coastline positions on their maps along the way. When finally received by the Raja, the Portuguese offered woolens to tropical India, and were instantly rebuffed. They and their ship were sent away. The Indians thought the Portuguese had been errant sailors on a lone ship, off on some crazy adventure. But the true mission was to find and plot the exact location of Kalkota!

So they left, and re-circumnavigated Africa, stopping at Portuguese way-stations and Portuguese-friendly harbors along the way. And then Portugal built an armada.

The armada sailed around Africa, secure in the knowledge that they were the only people in the world capable of doing so. And they sailed across the Indian Ocean directly to Kalkota, destroyed its navy, laid waste to the palace, killed the raj, and took over all shipping. Within 15 years, every ship running between Riyadh and Singapore paid a tribute to Portugal.

And no one even knew where it was.

The other European countries started copying Portuguese maps from captured ships, and soon Spain was circumnavigating Africa (and sending Columbus off on his wild goose chase). The other ocean-faring countries, France, England, Netherlands and even the Swedes to an small extent, went east in search of riches.

Britain eventually took over almost all of India, save for a treatied Portuguese colony town called Goa, which remained Portuguese until about 1970. Goans speak Hindi and Portuguese, in addition to English.

Let's come to present-day India. 
India's colonial history is much the same as America's: predominantly English.  Use of English was enforced by Great Britain.  Hindi and other languages such as Gujarati or Urdu were suppressed. 
Britain freed India in 1947, whereupon it split into India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan.  East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1970. 
English is the second language in these three countries.  Educated Indians speak English, and English words abound in Hindi. 

The years just before the dot-com bust in 2000-2001 brought worldwide expansion in internet communications and the fiber-optic infrastructure it runs on, mostly paid for by large multinational communications giants.  That recession led many giants to sell off their new comm networks.  Smaller Indian comm companies bought fiber-optic lines in and around India, and bought access into fiber-optic lines worldwide.
Then they used their English-language background and newfound web-tech savvy in new ways: people in Bangalore were trained to sound like Americans, Irishmen, Canadians, and Englishmen, and these people staffed call centers that cater to the people of these nations.  The system works well.  When you have trouble with your computer and ask to talk to a "real person," the real person may be talking to you over superfast fiber-optic lines from the other side of the world!  Likewise, there are call centers for internet-based companies, online shopping companies, American and Canadian store chains and what-have-you. 

I was once a medical transcriptionist.  Now it's faster and cheaper for a medical company to contract with an Indian transcription firm.  The workers are paid a low wage by American standards, but that's a pretty high wage by Indian standards.  Plus, their daytime is our nighttime, so audio tapes from the doctors are changed into files, emailed over to India, typed out overnight, and delivered back as transcripts the next morning's email.  There is currently no way to beat that. 

Indians are earning good money from Western companies, as well as having their own startups that are successful both in the East and West, due to the triple advantage of:
a. English language background
b. lower wages than in the West
c. high-speed internet

And these people are really curious about The West.  India's GDP grows at double the rate of America's.  Granted, that's from a low base GDP.  But it gives rise to an interesting fact:  India's middle class numbers about 300 million people.  That's equal to the population of the entire USA.  And what are they doing with their money?  They are travelling. 

India is experiencing solid growth in tourism and travel.  I've been working with groups from India since 2008.  They don't pay as well as Americans, and tipping is not part of their culture.  But, given the choice of having work or not making any money that day, I'll take the money and walk...holding up my umbrella to follow. 

On such a walking tour recently, our group was going up Broadway from The Battery to Wall Street.  Along the way are sidewalk-width plaques bearing the names of those who have had tickertape parades in their honor, through the years.  I pointed out the plaque honoring Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose parade was in 1965.  The result was really surprising: the entire group clustered around the plaque, speaking quickly in Hindi.  They were awestruck!  All the cameras came out, and photos and videos of the spot were made.  A woman brought her hands to her cheeks, staring down wide-eyed.  We stayed right there for a few minutes, until everyone got their photos in. 

Typically, an Indian tour company works with an American counterpart that is owned and operated by Indian nationals living here.  Most of my clients have been from Mumbai, but some came from Kalkota in the last group I worked with, last month.  The group before that had been in the Indian Air Force, so they'd been from around the country. 
Indians fly in from Kalkota, taking the Pacific route to the West Coast.  They spend a day in LA, a day in San Francisco, followed by a day in Las Vegas. ( I wonder what they think of America after having spent time in Las Vegas?)  They then fly to DC, spending a day touring there by bus.  The bus takes them up the coast to New Jersey, where they stay in inexpensive hotels in Newark, Secaucus or Jersey City.  
I am given the group leader's phone number, and meet them on Liberty Island.  Then I either escort them back to Liberty State Park and we bus to Manhattan, or the bus comes over--under, really--and we board at Battery Park.  
My guests want to see four specific things: the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, Central Park and the United Nations.  We usually turn up Trinity Place to see the WTC first.  Then up Church Street to Worth, east on Worth to Chatham Square and Chinatown.  East Broadway to Allen Street through the Lower East Side, and north on First Avenue.  I try to get to the photo stop at the UN before 5:00 PM, when they start taking down the flags.  India is about the 35th flagpole down the line (staringt with Albania and working down to Zimbabwe).  The Indian flag flies just south of the northern entrance of the UN, and they really get a charge out of seeing it! 

We disembark for a few minutes at Rockefeller Center.  By this time I've already told them of John D. Rockefeller Senior, and things that his immensely wealthy son, Junior, did for the city, such as the UN, The Cloisters, and Rockefeller Center.  We go to the plaque that holds Rockefeller's words about mankind.  We gaze across the skating rink and I tell them the story of Prometheus and Zeus behind him, about mankind's quest for fire and then for electricity, resulting in this center that trumpets the victory of worldwide communication.  The Indians know just what I'm talking about, because that victory of communication has paid for their trip here. 

The people know basic things about America, but ask a zillion questions about those basic facts, hoping I can fill them in.  A typical bus tour has the following among their questions:
Where are the robots that build cars?
About a thousand kilometers west of here, in Detroit.
Where does Rockefeller live now?
He is dead, but the Rockefeller family is still rich and still active. 
Why don't Americans speak Hindi?
We were conquered and settled by the English, who pretty much set the standard of language, though Americans come from every country and can speak many languages, if needed.  As more Indians move here, more Americans can speak Hindi. 
How do you bribe your police?
We buy things the police produce, such as hats or bumper stickers.  Those often induce police officers  to let people go for minor infractions.  But those who commit large crimes must go to trial.  There is no way to avoid that.  A billionaire who stole people's money is in jail now. 
Do you know any movie stars?
No, but I've carried a few on my pedicab, which you would call a "cycle-rickshaw." 
This spawns myriad questions about why a guide would pedal a cycle-rickshaw, which they see as a low-class occupation.  I tell them that I do tours of Central Park, and that the only ways to see the park without walking are by pedicab or by horse carriage.  Then I mention that my pedicab boasts a mountain bike frame, a differential, a hydraulic brake, 21 speeds and LED lights fitted into a Fiberglass body.  They come to appreciate this, since Indian pedicabs are all steel and have only one speed. 
Greenwich Village--which they show little interest in, BTW--is a very old, intricate neighborhood.  I explain further that I have a pedicab tour of the Village that buses are simply unable to do.  It's an advantage to use a pedicab there.  My guests marvel and shake the tops of their heads back and forth, which means they understand what I'm saying but don't necessarily agree with it. 
We leave Rockefeller Center and take a left through Times Square, on the way to my Empire State Building dropoff.  I tell them that Rockefeller Center was built as a center of the American radio and television industry, two decades after Times Square established itself as the center of America's stage industry.  The stage and television industries are often a springboard to the film industry.  They nod: it's the same over there. 

We'll hang a right on 33rd so they can see Madison Square Garden, and go around the block to 34th, for the Empire State Building dropoff. 

Vegetarianism is widespread in India.  When we get near the ESB I tell them of two nearby restaurants, Maui Tacos on Fifth at the dropoff point, and the more expensive Hangawi on East 32nd, where the staff wear traditional Korean costumes.  And, if they want South Asian food and are good walkers, there are several Indian restaurants clustered on Lexington near 28th Street. 
We part company either at or at the top of the Empire State.  There is no tipping, because tipping is not part of their culture.  The only people you pay "a little something extra" to are government officials.  It's a "Peace, out," with the word 'namaste,' which means 'peace.'

I hope that I've left them with a better understanding of what New York City is, and more particularly what America is.  They are part of the rising Indian middle class, and this won't be the last time they deal with Americans.  I really want to give them a fair first impression of us as a nation.  I'm always trying to hone my craft toward that end.  Indian tourism is rising, and they're coming to New York.  I can work with them, since they speak English.  I've been thinking recently of taking some Hindi lessons.  All of us guides had better learn a little Hindi, because more Indians are coming every year.  While they do speak English, I'm sure more complete understanding would come from our knowing at least a little Hindi.  It couldn't hurt. 

I bought an NYPD Bomb Squad T-shirt in the 1990s.  The back says, "IF YOU SEE ME RUNNING, TRY TO KEEP UP."   The Indians are beginning to run.  The rest of the world had better keep up.

Find my volunteer traveler advice posts online by typing "TourguideStan" into the NYC forum at  Find my Youtube posts about travel and about New York by typing that name in at 

Best wishes,

Stan O'Connor

licensed sightseeing guide

member, Guide Association of NYC

member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hard Times

Last night, July 2, I worked from 5 PM to 11:30 PM, and made a total of seventy-five dollars. That's just about minimum wage, when you work it out. Some guys made less than I did. Some made more. Thursday night, I only made $20, a new low for a Thursday.

A friend I had not seen since last fall met me last night in Times Square. He had dropped out of pedicabbing, sold his "bike" and gotten a job in a hotel. But the work was part-time and pay was low. This summer he went to the guy who bought his bike and now he's renting it.

This friend had made $50 since 7 PM. It was now 11 PM, so he'd made $12 an hour doing what used to make $200 for a good driver, when the economy was good.

This year is like 2002: hordes of people in town, none of them with cash. They come to Times Square without knowing anything about it. I wait in front of the Brill Building, wanting to show them my Midtown Tour of Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Saint Patrick's. But they pass me by.

Mistrust of pedicabs is high, due to the guys who have offered a charge of some money amount for two people, then get them to the destination and say "Each," thus scamming them. So many scammers have preceded me that people now pretend I'm not there when hailing a ride. I have to dicker to get rides, and go cheap in order to make a living.

I wait at the corner by the Plaza Hotel, trying to get customers to take a tour of Central Park. But they don't trust me, since I haven't got either a double-decker bus or a horse. They don't know I have fifteen years of tourguiding under my belt, and can give them a GREAT tour. No, they'll go with a carriage, getting 1/4th the ride for 2/3rds the price.

Last night in Times Square, two unpleasant things happened. First, a young woman scolded a carriage driver who was parked behind me, calling a carriage horse "slave labor," and him a "slavedriver." Then when she got to me, I offered, "Good for you. Now prove that a man can give a better ride, by being my customer instead." She tried to ignore me, looking embarrased while walking on.

Second, a young woman had been texting while standing in the intersection I was trying to cross. I said, "That thing works on the sidewalk, right?" Her boyfriend then came off the curb and asked, "Did you take this job because you couldn't get anything else?" And he walked away as I answered, "No, this is a cool job. I've been doing it eight years." It was a few seconds before I realized he'd just insulted me. That really hurt, especially when I kept thinking of the miniscule amount of money I made. It was really tough.

I've been mentoring a fellow licensed guide/pedicab driver who is homeless. Yesterday he made $51. Recently I got him to call one of the double-decker companies and get started on getting regular work. It's my hope that he will get himself an apartment, or at least a share. He's not putting enough effort into it, though. The other day he said he'd taken the bus company's Brooklyn tour, but "hadn't been in the mood to listen." Now he has to take it again, or he just won't learn. If he doesn't learn, they won't hire him. The guy is smart, but isn't taking the necessary steps to improve his life.

Thinking about him, and about how poor life has become for pedicabbing over the past year, I've decided to take the necessary steps to improve my own life. I will apply for the double-deckers again, myself. I can't go on making such a small amount of money. Though double-decker work is rewarding in that you're helping people understand the city while they get acclimated and taken to the sites they want to visit, it's grueling. You bake in the sun, soak in the rain, freeze in the wind and snow. Someone will sit right behind you and pepper you with questions, which takes time away from the other 49 people on the bus.

Seven years I spent on double-deckers. I didn't want to go back to them, but this season is just killing me.

Help me avoid this fate. Take a private tour of Central Park, Midtown or Greenwich Village through
Hire me for your upcoming bus trip to Manhattan. It costs only $10 per passenger on a 20-seater bus, or $5 per passenger on a 50-seater bus, for a fantastic tour of Manhattan. I won't let you down.

Read my advice to NYC travelers at's New York City forum. Just search there for TourguideStan.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to park a car in Manhattan for five days

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Friday Saturday
Oh, yeah-- Saturday I took all this
stuff to storage in the Smart Car.

People make fun of them, but Smarts get into impossible on-street parking spaces. The photos above show parking spaces
that just don't exist for most motor vehicles.
It takes about $100 a month of premium fuel for about 800 miles, getting over 40 miles per gallon.
The dealership plays a loop of crash videos. And Smart USA
doesn't bother to advertise, since fuel-efficient cars are
easy to sell. Gas hogs have to be advertised heavily.

You can't take it off road or carry a lawnmower in the hatch.
But 60% of Americans live in cities, and the Smart is
a great city car for a couple without kids.
My car is two inches shorter than my bike!
Take a bike or pedicab tour of Central Park or Greenwich Village at
Read my advice to travelers at;
search for "TourguideStan"
Have a great day!

Friday, June 11, 2010

This young lady was sitting at the Columbus Circle entrance of Central Park the other day. I came by after doing a pedicab tour of Central Park, and her outfit caught my eye. Now, some people are nondescript; others perhaps a bit more noticeable. Lisa VanArsdale was sitting there, sewing and scintillating. I mean it; 'scintillating' is the proper word for the way she sparkled in the sunlight. She was the most outstanding person sitting along the marble benches that day.

Some were sitting there talking. Some listened to the jazz trio that plays for tips. Lisa, though, was making trash into treasure with a little finger work.
Here she is, sewing.

Lisa's in college for art & design, and has been sewing since highschool, where she had made a dress from Starburst wrappers and duct tape!

I asked what she thought of the Molly Ringwald character in the film, Pretty In Pink. She said she was totally sympatico. In the 1986 film, Ringwald's character created a prom dress out of a 1966 prom dress and a few additions.

She said that a friend had bought her a Capri Sun purse, which eventually inspired her to sew a few pouches together into more of them.
And the reason she's so scintillating? Look closely at the dress she's modeling. It dazzles in the sunshine because it's all Capri Sun pouches. What is it, a "Capri Sun Dress?" A "Capri Sun Sundress?"

Major streets in residential areas around New York City have a litter problem. The most visible things in the litter piles are Capri Sun and other single-drink pouches. They're sold at small stores and supermarkets, often near the counter where someone might impulsively purchase a brightly-colored, fruit-flavored little drink, when bringing items to be bagged. The pouch is quickly emptied, since there's not much inside it. And then it's tossed, all too often. Aluminized Mylar drink pouches become little eyesores once they hit the streets, because they glitter in the sunshine and can lay there for years. They're flashy, glinty little reminders of people's carelessness.

Lisa noticed littered Capri Sun and other drink-pouch containers in the streets of her neighborhood, and challenged herself: what could she make of these?
First came the handbag, and then wristlets, shower totes, wallets and backpacks. And she's made a shoe rack and laundry hamper for
her own use.
Here's a handbag, all set to go, with a price tag and a
story card already tied on with a sewing thread.

Don't these bags look fun?

Lisa VanArsdale hasn't got a web site yet, but can be reached as She's on FaceBook as Lisa Mildred VanArsdale. She'd like you to write, whether you're interested in ordering a bag or clothing item made of recycled drink pouches, or if you have used drink pouches you'd love to get rid of. They're hard to recycle, since they're not bottles, they're not cans, they're not metal and they're also not - exactly - plastic. But now they can be couture! Green usage! Good for her!
To find out how to order a tour of New York on foot for groups, on buses for larger groups, or on a bike or pedicab for singles and couples--especially those with limited mobility--, visit
My YouTube page is TourguideStan.
My volunteer work:
Free pedicab rides for wounded vets, through
And online volunteerism, giving travel/tourism advice at's Forum page for "New York City New York," where my name is TourguideStan.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sasha & Nathan's Pedicab Wedding, 5/21/10


Daisy, Daisy
Give me your answer, do.
I'm half crazy
All for the love of you.

It won't be a stylish marriage.
I can't afford a carriage.
But you'll look sweet
Upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.

This email came in mid-April:
"We are looking for a creative way to transport our families from City Hall to the North Cove Marina on May 21. Along with transportation we thought it would be great to get one of your famous tours of Downtown, if possible."

It turned out that this was to be a wedding ride. They wanted four pedicabs with sightseeing guides as drivers. I got busy, having five weeks to prepare.

The clients wanted a two-hour tour on pedicabs decorated with flowers, streamers and "Just Married" balloons. One that would allow them time to hop out for photos at their favorite downtown spots. I had to:

1. Get three other drivers who could individually give tours, would be willing to leave their midtown garages and pedal downtown for 45 minutes before starting, and back up after finishing. Therefore they had to be experienced drivers and tourguides. I had to offer them good money to get them out of Midtown, where most of us work.

2. Get at least one of these drivers to wear a suit and tie.

3. Provide the clients with a driver who speaks Russian. (This would be a typical New York City wedding in that she's Russian and he's English. My in-laws were from Tokyo and Nuremburg. My son is Irish-Chinese.)

4. Find sources for flowers, balloons and streamers downtown, because you can't put eight inflated Mylar balloons in the Smart Car and drive it there.

5. Design a tour of TriBeCa, The Financial District, Chinatown and The Battery that would both take in the clients' photo stops, and be exactly two hours long.

No problem. ...Right?

With over 400 pedicab drivers currently working in Manhattan, and with about a dozen of them licensed as sightseeing guides, I thought it'd be easy to get three others. But I was wrong. My first thought was to hire my friend Aaron The Tourguide, who's licensed to drive a pedicab and to give tours. But he was scheduled, as it turns out, to play in a tennis tournament in Maine that week.

A friend owns a pedicab company with five drivers, four of whom are licensed guides, so I asked him. But it seemed he had an event the same day and needed his drivers for that. So I had to come up with other guides. I offered the job to one guide who turned me down.

Okay, now I was beginning to worry.

I considered the matter for a couple of weeks, while mentally mapping a tour route. I tend to design tours with too much packed into them, and then cut segments as needed, editing the remainder together, like cutting-and-pasting. I used to be a copy editor. Now I edit tour routes.

It's an art that few dozen New Yorkers can do. You have to know the city really well, be able to write point-to-point travel for buses, cars, bikes or foot travel, and work the whole thing into a timeframe. What fun!

My first thought was to go north to Chinatown. Say, up Mulberry to Grand. Then we could make a stop in Little Italy for photos, take Grand to Bowery and go south to Chatham Square, doubling back to make a stop in Chinatown. This loop would take 10 to 20 minutes and provide us with two photo ops showing two distinct parts of the city.

Sasha and Nathan texted me a week before the wedding that they'd soon have definite locations they wanted photos at. Two nights later they emailed that they wanted photos at The Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street, and at the Yu Yu Yang sculpture farther NE on Water. They also wanted a photo stop north of the Brooklyn Bridge.

I replied with a tentative route for them to take a look at. Then I sent Nathan an email with links to balloon bouquets from The Balloon Saloon - - which is on West Broadway at Duane. He went for the regular round ones that say JUST MARRIED on them.

I put out word on a driver listserv that I was organizing a ride that took from around 11:30 to 4 PM and needed three drivers who could do a tour of downtown, dress well, and/or speak Russian. This ride would pay $150 per pedicab. Many guys responded. One guy responded loudly, in multiple emails and texts, over the course of the next three days. He offered to wear, instead of a suit or a tie, his white Spandex shorts and top. He cajoled me and insulted other drivers in those messages. I don't need such troublemakers.

After much consideration I chose drivers Tim and Jordan, who are guides, and Daniyar, who is not a guide but does speak Russian. Jordan and Tim are excellent tourguides; I've done double tours of Central Park with each of them. And I've been mentoring Daniyar (Danny), who hails from Khazakstan. He's inquisitive and has an upbeat personality. He's always asking me how to better express himself in English. He's a good kid. He's been wanting to learn more about New York, and I thought this would provide a great opportunity.

With three days to go, I wrote up a document--of four pages in 12-point--being the tour route, with turns and stops. Then I emailed it to the other three drivers, with instructions to print and study the info. Tim's girlfriend took the time to email me a turn sheet, replete with walking-tour times from stop to stop. I called to thank her, and we chatted back and forth about times. She's a guide, too. She's really smart. Tim's lucky to have her.

Here is Danny attaching two bouquets of pink roses to the sides of his 'cab. He had already attached some balloons before driving downtown. We furiously decorated, with just a few minutes to spare. I had arrived last on the scene, with four rolls of crepe paper and eight bouquets of pink and purple flowers, at 12:10.

The Office of the City Clerk has been moved from the Municipal Building to the Louis Lefkowitz Building, on the corner of Worth & Centre. This was done in 2009 to improve the "wedding experience" of couples who wanted to get married in Manhattan. We four pedicabs pulled up at 12:30, to the courthouse plaza across Worth from where Sasha and Nathan had just wed.
This photo features the bride, Sasha, and her mother. Behind them is the wedding photographer. And just out of sight is the courthouse where they staged Kris Kringle's hearing in the film, Miracle On 34th Street.

Sasha and Nathan are in front, in my blue pedicab, surrounded by streamers and balloons, and flanked by a dozen pink roses to each side of them. Daniyar, who speaks Russian, drives the second 'cab with Sasha's Russian-speaking mother in it. Tim has the third vehicle. It doesn't show in this photo, but he's wearing a tuxedo-top biking jersey, with a spoke wrench lapel pin! Jordan brings up the rear, in his red baseball cap. You can't see me, but I'm wearing a suit jacket, white button-down shirt, print necktie...Bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals. Atop the melange is a sun hat. I am a fashion plate. The temperature is about 85.

The parade started eastbound on Worth, into Chinatown. The first hurdle was that two firetrucks were in the way, a block down on Catherine Street. The guests disembarked for a moment, and we walked the bikes around the fire trucks on the narrow Chinatown street.
As we went, the four gaily-decorated pedicabs with well-dressed riders attracted a good deal of attention. Here are five tourists with five cameras, wishing Sasha & Nathan well.
Oh, and that tour bus back there? In nearly every tour bus that passed us in the next two hours, drivers honked, tourguides boomed approval and congrats over their speakers, and passengers applauded!

We stopped in the background area under the highway for some shots flanked by the Brooklyn Bridge. A photo from that set is the first thing you saw in this blog.
We went through South Street Seaport, then up Maiden Lane to Water Street and our second stop, this Yu Yu Yang sculpture at Water & Pine.
The wedding couple are playing in the sculpture. Don't they look great?

From here the wedding party walked to the Elevated Acre, where they were picked up and taken to the next several stops on the tour.

We drove up to Broad Street and stopped in front of Fraunces Tavern. I gave the story of the old place, and then we cruised past the National Association of Securities Dealers - Automated Quotes, or The NASDAQ. This photo was taken in their reflective blue wall. You know your marriage will be a success if the NASDAQ is in it from the start.

Their last photo stop was at The Brooklyn Bridge. I took a photo with Sasha's camera, then another with my own. Danny took one with Sasha's mother's. And dozens of people passing by got out their own cameras, took their own photos, applauded and offered best wishes. Sasha and Nathan were New York celebrities.

The couple were delighted with their wedding tour. It finished in Battery Park City, right on time. We'd gone through Chinatown, Sailortown, South Street Seaport, The Financial District, The Brooklyn Bridge, and City Hall. The drivers complimented me for choosing a tour route that was flat, without any hills. The wedding ride was a sensation. I'm very pleased with the success as I write this. Everything went perfectly.
Best wishes,
licensed sightseeing guide

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Very windy on Saturday

Yesterday, May 8, was a really windy day. The sign on my fender skirt blew off. I lost my chin-strapped sun hat three times, and my glasses once. Things were blowing around, all over town. The west wind was so fierce that it was difficult to carry people westbound on my pedicab, on the west side.

One of the things that blew away last night was the pedicab driver license of Onur Altintas. I found it at the corner of 49th & Broadway while chasing my hat! The license is expired. Why was he still driving with an expired license? Did he replace it and give or sell it to someone else, for them to use illegally? Was he using it because he couldn't afford $35 to renew for the coming year?

My dilemma was, should I throw the license away, keep it, or find him and give it back to him? My decision stems from the history of pedicabbing in the eight years since I started. In 2002 there were about 75 pedicab drivers citywide. One was Algerian, one French, one Ecuadorean and one Canadian. All the rest were Americans. All were licensed drivers, and all had insurance.

Two Turk nationals found that the pedicab business in NYC was unregulated and, therefore, ripe for cheating. They bought dozens of pedicabs each, and advertised in Turkey for drivers to come to NYC and make money. And they ran uninsured , unlit pedicabs driven by unlicensed drivers, all over midtown. The number of pedicabs grew, and problems were noticed. Guys were driving the wrong way. Guys were driving on sidewalks. Guys didn't have a clue where Penn Station was.

The City finally regulated our business in November of 2009. By that time, well over a thousand pedicab drivers from Turkey and Central Asia were taking business away from me, a licensed driver who'd spent $2000 a year on insurance, and who had good lights. In anticipation of the deadline, hundreds of defective pedicabs were offered for sale on Craigslist. Hundreds of drivers were scrambling to get green cards for US residency, NYS driver licenses, or fake IDs.

When the smoke cleared on 9/21/09, there were about 325 licensed pedicab drivers and over 900 registered 'cabs. These were just the ones that passed inspection. This means that at least that number of pedicabs had been driven daily. Many, many more had failed inspection. I realized that I had been competing for business with around 700 to 800 illegals.

Sgt. Andy Lopez of Midtown North NYPD had said to me that pedicab licenses are easy to fake. Cops need to check licenses by had to make sure they're real. A cop checked mine in February, excusing himself by saying that there were many fake licenses out there.

My guess is that Onur Altintas had a real license, but that someone else has been using it, because the odds of being stopped and checked by a cop are fairly slim. And now I have his expired license. What should I do?

Last night was May 8. The license expired on April 30th, a week and a day ago. It clearly was lost last night, so it was used as recently as last night. For all I know, it's been passed to someone else, who is competing with me by using Onur's expired license. That's a good reason for me to protect my business.

I'm keeping the license. Maybe I'll throw it away.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day irony in New York City

Today is April 23, the date thought to be William Shakespeare's birthday.

On or about Shakespeare's birthday in 1862, the American Shakespeare Society bestowed a birthday gift, unwittingly, on Central Park. Perhaps this was done at Shakespeare's statue and perhaps not but, on that date, 100 pairs of starlings and 100 pairs of sparrows were released into the park. It had been thought that the birds most mentioned in Shakepeare's Sonnets should be used to "decorate" the new park, just before its 1863 opening.

Preparations had been made ahead of time. Groundskeepers at London's Hyde Park were instructed to trap the 100 pairs of each of the two species. The birds were cared for on a transatlantic voyage from Southampton to New York.

A second Central Park release in 1890 or 1891 assured success for the birds. These live releases seemed like good ideas at the time.

Many, many ecological mistakes were made in the 19th century. It was a time of the absolute knowledge that Man was put on earth to master all living things. Australian settlers released rabbits, then cats, whose feral descendants play hell with native marsupial populations to this day.

Later in the century, Dutch elm trees were imported to America's eastern cities that wanted to enhance their tree-lined streets. City planters and horticulturists were unaware that Dutch elms harbored a fungal disease that kills American elms. They found out the hard way, when limbs of American elms became diseased and unable to hold up their own weight.

Groves of American elms are now few and far between. A grove of 160 American elms surrounds the Literary Walk, or The Mall, in Central Park. Most of them have lost limbs. One falling elm branch this past February killed a man who was walking underneath it as it fell! The trees are weak, and current planning doesn't call for their replacement when these mature trees begin dying off, some 40 or 50 years from now.

Ironic that the grove surrounds the statue of Shakespeare!

English sparrows and English starlings are used to humans, and flourish wherever humans go. As New York City grew after 1862, the numbers of sparrows and starlings grew with it. The problem with the birds was that they are birds: they can fly right over the walls of Central Park, to wherever they please.

And that's just what they've done. These human-tolerant birds have pushed human-intolerant native bird species out of food and nesting areas. They now dominate the park. As a matter of fact, they dominate bird life in most American cities and suburbs, and are now considered a pest species, all across North America. It's thought that the North American population of starlings is roughly 140 million, mostly in the US and Canada. They have gone west in immense flocks that can be seen from half a mile away. They steal grapes from winery vineyards in far-off California. Their ancestors were New Yorkers. THEIR ancestors were Londoners.

The other ironic thing in this story is that today is the anniversary of the first release of starlings in America. And what was yesterday? Yesterday was Earth Day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Harry Potter and his Magical Students

This is Harry Potter.
Harry is a P.E. teacher at Calder High School, in the area of Manchester, England. Yes, that's really his name. He was the group leader for a trip to Vermont and New York City for 40 students and five parents. And I was their guide yesterday.

It began like any other bus tour. They were staying at the Comfort Inn, Chelsea, on 25th Street, and wanted to get off at "Ground Zero" after a four-hour bus tour. I figured we should go up the Upper West Side first, then Grant's Tomb/Riverside/God Box/Columbia. Then down into Harlem for 125th Street; show off the shopping mall that Magic Johnson built, and The Apollo Theater.

Side trip to 116th, with the explanation that Malcolm X dropped out of Nation Of Islam and founded an actual Islamic mosque there, which brought lots of West Africans into Harlem, creating the neighborhood known as Little Africa: an African neighborhood inside an African-American neighborhood.

We turned south at 110th to Fifth Avenue and I told the stories of the various museums along the way. Before the Met, the kids were intrigued to learn that the Catholic girls' school across the street educated young Stephani Germanotta a few years ago, and did anyone know what she calls herself now?
...That's right, "Lady Gaga."

Then they did an intervention. Harry Potter told me that the kids had wanted to walk through Central Park; would that be possible? The driver, Oscar, and I conferred for a few seconds. We would disembark at 73rd, and he would go wait on W. 62nd on the south side of Damrosch Park, a wide, empty street, while we toured Central Park's midsection on foot. The pickup point was to be CPW and West 74th, well away from the congested 72nd Street transverse.
Upon disembarking, they got to see what possibly was the cheapest home ever constructed on Fifth Avenue: the red-tailed hawk nest over the highest window at 927, Mary Tyler Moore's building. Then, across 72nd, at one of the most expensive in its day: Henry Clay Frick's villa atop the hill at 70th Street.

Entering the park, we stopped on the 72nd Street transverse, looking at the statue of Samuel Morse. A bigot and member of the Know-Nothings, perhaps, but he did invent that telegraph in his hand.

We crossed 72nd and I led them down the garden path to the--unfortunately drained--Sailboat Pond (Conservatory Water), explaining that this was the scene of the boat race in Stuart Little 2. Several wondered where the bridge was, that linked the pond to the river, and I had to destroy their faith in Hollywood: not only was there no bridge, but Stuart Little wasn't even humanoid. And Hugh Laurie is actually English.

Then we took a look at Hans Christian Anderson (bottom photo), then tried to get to the Alice in Wonderland sculpture group, but were turned away. A bunch of film types were making an indie movie there. Students love movies, so they photographed the actors, more excited than they would have been with the sculpture itself.

Taking the mid-pond path west, we came to the Boathouse and saw the extremely long restroom lines there. But I knew a less-known set of restrooms along our path, and so we walked on to Bethesda Terrace and the Angel Of The Waters.

Then into the tunnel with the Minton Tiles overhead, up the stairs where Adam Sandler--Mr. Deeds--and his girlfriend descend on bikes, and a "rest" stop at the restrooms halfway up the stairs. No line.
Five minutes later, we ascended to the north end of the Literary Mall, where the kids bought ice creams and hot dogs, and Harry Potter posed for the top photo.

Crossing 72nd on the surface, we went over to Cherry Hill. Several of the kids asked if this path was the same one that Big Daddy skated down, only to fall into the water? To tell the truth, I haven't seen the movie but I've been told that it was.
And the Bow Bridge over the other side of the lake, linking Cherry Hill to The Ramble: it's where Patrick Dempsey learned that his platonic girlfriend wanted him to be her... Maid Of Honor.

Back on 72nd, I asked the students to stay on the right side of the road as we walked west to cross the southbound lane. And watch out for the Type A bike racers, who scream bloody murder at pedestrians.
On up the hill into the teardrop-shaped memorial garden, in memory of John Lennon: Strawberry Fields.

Yoko Ono's landscaper negotiated for a statue of Lennon, but the Parks Department didn't want any more statues in the park (though Fred Lebow later got one at the 90th Street entrance). They settled on a 15-foot-across black-and-white mosaic bearing the name of Lennon's most powerful, possibly his best loved song post-Beatles: IMAGINE.

This park bench
...overlooking the mosaic is festooned with two different little bouquets that some thoughtful fans brought up to lay at the memorial. Bouquets, garlands and sprigs of flowers dot the area. These things come, anonymously, every day of the year.

Strawberry Fields is popular for all the people of the world, but most especially for Britons and Japanese, who remember the Liverpudlian John, and come here in large numbers. Yoko still lives across the street in the Dakota.

A high-school band concert was playing at Nussbaum Bandshell as the group stood nearby. Those are the original-style park benches, the only Jacob Wrey Mould benches left in the park, I believe. He designed the park's furniture, while Olmstead and Vaux did all the landscape design, known as The Greensward Plan.

Hans Christian Anderson reading "The Ugly Duckling."

The pick-up went smoothly. We turned on 79th to southbound Columbus, to Ninth, back through Chelsea and the Village, uphill on Varick, past the Ghostbusters' firehouse. Then west on Chambers to Battery Park City. The traffic cops said we couldn't disembark at the World Financial Center as I've done in the past, to view the World Trade Center. This confounded us.

But the students, as it turned out, were pressed for time. They didn't so much want to be taken around the WTC as have time to eat and shop before their late-afternoon plane trip home. Driver Oscar suggested we drive past the WTC on the West Side Highway, take a left on State, and go through the Financial District to South Street Seaport.

Great idea! That's exactly what we did. I told them about the fort in Battery Park, meant to repel their British ancestors in the second war between the USA and Britain, around 1815. (They burned the city of Washington instead.)

And that cubic white building to the left? Don't believe that stuff about the Tunnel Authority chiseled over the door; it's where Will Smith works with the Men In Black. Likewise the ornate Cass Gilbert-designed building ahead with the pink-and-green roof. It may be the National Museum of the American Indian, but they might remember it better when it was covered in pink slime, freed up by Ghostbusters 2, riding herd on the Statue of Liberty.

We did the Financial District, cruising past Standard & Poors, the NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, and then I pointed out that the same lot at Wall & Water where Barclay's is now, was where an English pirate, Captain Kidd, lived in 1690. Someone in back called out, "Same thing! English pirates!"

Five minutes later I thanked them for coming to visit New York City, and we all disembarked at the Seaport.

Best wishes,
Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide
917 716 4521
member, Guide Association of NYC
member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saint Patrick's Day in NYC

The Green Stripe
The day dawned clear and sunny, a far cry from the usual Saint Patrick's Day weather! I drove to work in the Smart Car as usual. This first photo shows the view of the pavement on Fifth Avenue. It's the annual St. Patrick's Day Green Stripe.
Here's the story, as recounted in the mid-1980s by WMCA-AM's news reporter Danny Meenan: He, an Irish-American, was a copy boy at the NY Daily News in 1947. He and another News employee kind of "borrowed" a Daily News delivery van around midnight on the night before St. Pat's Day. This particular van was chosen because a hole had worn into the bed in the rear. With one driving and the other in back with a one-gallon can of green paint, the van drove down the center lane of Fifth, on the block in front of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Meenan, in back, carefully poured the entire can of paint right down the middle of Fifth Avenue. Nobody saw a thing.

Next day, paradegoers were very pleased to have that green stripe to march down, and applauded the city for having laid it out. But the City denied all knowledge. So did Meenan and his associate...for years.

However, City government striped Fifth Avenue from 50th to 51st the following year and for many years after. Since the 1970s, not only has the entire parade route been given the green stripe, but other stripes are laid down for other ethnicities and persuasions: orange for Steuben Day, blue for Friends of Israel Day, and the Lavender Line of the Gay Pride parade.

But the luck of the Irish was not with The Green Guide for St. Pat's 2010. My pedicab had a serious problem, brought on by bike braking. Every time a bike brakes with pads, bits of road grit get caught in the space between the brake pad and the wheel rim. That grit slowly wears away the rim, weakening it. Once, about five years ago on a rented pedicab, I had a sudden rim failure and extremely loud blowout! BAMMO!! It sounded like a rifle at close range. Rim, tube and tire all were destroyed at the same time.

I own my own pedicab now. The Armadillo tire and Kenda tube on my bike are pressurized to 60 PSI. All that pressure pushes hard against the rim and, when the rim goes, so do tire and tube.

I left my garage on 55th Street, across 9th Avenue from Liberty Bicycle, at about 9 AM. My plan was to pick up Irish revelers at Penn Station, and give them fun rides to the parade. At $25 per ride, I hoped to make about $100 by kickoff at 11 AM.
But, at about at Ninth & 42nd Street, I felt the rim giving way when I used the front brake. Got off, took a look, and sure enough, there was a split in the rim, as seen in the photo above as a black line. I lowered the tire pressure from 60 to 30 PSI so it wouldn't blow out, and walked four blocks to City Cycles on 38th Street. But they had no heavy-duty BMX rims, which most pedicabs need. Sooooo... I wheeled it over to Eighth Avenue and walked north, pushing the pedicab, from 38th to 55th & Ninth again. I had now walked the 'cab for about an hour.

Liberty is a good bike shop for pedicabbers. They had the BMX rim I needed. Narrower than I was used to, but it served. The bill came to $81. I had to pay with a credit card, since I had not made a cent. Installation would cost something like $20 - $30 more, so I gingerly walked the bike back to the garage to do it myself. It was now after 11 AM.

I had to stand the bike up on its repair legs, take the front wheel off, deflate and remove the tube and tire--which looked good despite the ordeal--and put everything back together again: new rim first, then a rubber strip to keep spoke heads from touching the tube. Then the tube, then the tire, then insert the Mr. Tuffy Kevlar strip between the tube and tire.

It was 12:45 PM when I got back on the street. I still had not made a dime. The bike and I tooled up Eighth Ave to 59th, where the scene below caught everyone's attention.

Someone's Saint Bernard was taking the air in a second-story window at 30 Central Park South. That is, next door to the millionaire Yorkie at the Park Lane Hotel, one building to the west. The Saint Bernard was wearing a glittery green necklace, in the spirit of the day. And he or she had many admirers, most of whom were photographing the scene.

Interspersed with a lot of pedaling and too few customers, I kept the camera at hand, to capture the following costumes. Costuming has become part of the Saint Patrick's Day Irish or Irish-American culture in NYC. In the 1960s everyone wore green. The 1970s brought oversized green-and-white KISS ME I'M IRISH buttons, the 1980s had various iterations of these and similar sentiments. The 1990s brought cheap shiny green plastic you-name-its from China: bead necklaces, flashing beer mug necklaces, beach-ball-sized leprechaun hats, and green Mylar balloons.

And the T-shirts! "TIS HIMSELF!," "IRISH BY INJECTION," "IRISH YOGA," "HUG ME I'M HALF IRISH," et cetera. What the minds of the Irish dream up, everyone wears on their chests the following year.

The past few years, though, have seen costuming more reminiscent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. "IRISH BEAD WHORE" T-shirts on girls burdened down with a dozen green plastic bead necklaces from China. Last year I spotted a guy wearing a sort of kelly-green body stocking that covered him from head to toe.

So, this year, here are some green people, courtesy of the green tourguide. As for me, I wore my lucky long-sleeved NYPD Pipes & Drums T-shirt, which I had bought at the Widows & Orphans fundraiser, held annually the week before September 11 at the Park Central Hotel. I've never had a bad day in that shirt.

The hat above proclaims that its owner is an "IRISH DIVA."

My day turned out to be a bust. I worked until 11 PM, then called it a night. I returned to the garage a defeated man. Fourteen hours of pedaling around Manhattan, and I had made just $90. Put another way, I cleared nine dollars more than I'd spent, though I can write the new rim off next year's taxes.

Danny Meenan's mentoring advice--not to me--had been, "Do what you're good at, and do what you love." I love being a tourguide, and I love biking. I'm glad, even on days like today, to be able to do both in the greatest city in the world.

Hope everyone's Saint Patrick's Day was as sunny and warm as ours was in New York.

Best wishes,
Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide
member, Guide Association of NYC
member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association