Saturday, November 26, 2011

Grand Central Terminal tour

Was fun and interesting, though could have been better in my opinion. The tour was sponsored by the Grand Central Development Corp (or group, our whatever they're called). They are the group who puts out the information kiosks, the garbage cans, etc etc... apparently taxes in NYC only go so far, and are not enough to cover things like Central Park, or Zuccotti Park, or to keep districts up to par... so the better connected groups can organize and make their own areas better with their "Development Corps" (or whatever they're called).

We started in the lobby (privately owned public space) of a building across the street. For almost an hour it was a lecture by the guide, with some pictures on a clipboard (just a few, like 4 or 5).

The guide was a dandy of a fellow, in a nice suite and bow tie, with a brass white rabbit on the lapel of his suite coat. I'm going out on a limb here, and guess that he's an old gay jew in his late 60s. While he was a fountain of information, he also was putting on a show. I guess that's what we tour guides do. But he can't sing, or dance... and his jokes are pretty bad. He often uses volunteers from the audience for visual aids, except that he's expressing simple concepts that don't really need a visual aide, so they end up sort of cheap ways to get audience participation for no real reason (imo). For example, hes demonstrating that the building we were in did not own the land it was resting on... they really just own the air rights, i.e. the rights to build above the land below them. So he brings up a woman, asks her to remove her glove, hold her hand out in front of her, and has several people touch her hand and asks how it feels. Not really sure what that was about, people awkwardly said "warm" and "soft"... really just a way to get a few people involved in the demo I guess... then asked what she was holding in her hand. Eventually we came to the conclusion (ok, he just said it) that she was holding hundreds of millions of dollars of air... then he started blowing air towards her hand saying "millions and millions of dollars". OK, kind of cute, got a vague smile from some people. But we didn't come here for the silly demonstrations, or to be entertained... we came here for INFORMATION. (well, I did) Honestly, there are funnier people to make you laugh, better entertainers on every street corner of Times Square... let's just stick to the stories.

But I get it, and he IS THE professional. But it reminded me of a magician... minus the magic. His big reveal was not some mind-bending illusion, but a simple fact.

That said, he did have some really interesting and enlightening facts and stories about NYC, Park Avenue, architecture in general, socio-politics, religion, business, finances, literature, etc. I just didn't need the silly visuals... they were distracting to me, and dragged the process out rather than making it more interesting. Most entertaining is the old gay dude trying to visually demonstrate how a man would make romantic gestures towards a woman. Round hole, square peg.

To a large extent it was his version of New York History, starting with a diatribe about how NYC and America at large was not a Christian nation. Now I was told, as tour guides, we should avoid religion and politics... which of course is impossible if you are talking about history and site, which are inevitably tied to religion and politics... but there are boundaries. He seemed to be proselytizing, or perhaps challenging some potential tourists from the Bible Belt (don't know if any were present)... trying to inject his New York Liberal Gay Jew paradigm. I also note, this forum was not a debate... while there were some questions and comments from the audience, it was mostly his monologue. So nobody could really challenge his assertions.

Mind you, he did have a convincing argument... and I agree with him on most of his points. I'm just not sure why this was the forum for this subject... and not sure we got the whole story.

But this was not for no reason at all, it lead into the construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral... built by those NON-Christians known as the Irish Catholics... his point being that the only official Christians in NYC were the ones who acknowledged the British Monarch as the head of the Church. Irish were NOT allowed to be buried inside the City Limits, so they built their own Cathedral out in the sprawling grassy hinterlands.

He made clear that the event includes a tour of Grand Central Terminal, but was sponsored by the consortium to bring awareness to the whole neighborhood... thus the history lesson was appropriate. The tour of GCT was cool, but by now I knew pretty much all the facts that he relayed to us. For me, it was more of a learning experience as to how a professional tour guide works. This guy literally wrote the tour guide test.

Just like my instructor (and his buddy) Lee Gelber, he's a bit out of date. For example, telling the crowd how The Hotel Pennsylvania has the most famous phone number... and goes into a little routine where he hums the tune and dances a bit, and expects the crowd to all chime in and sing Pennsylvania 6 5000. One guy (besides me) knew the lyric. Uh, everybody knows the most popular phone number is 867-5309 !!!

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