Traveling recreations

(Don’t) Hop on This Sightseeing Tour

November 21, 2016 • By 14 1 1613

Six months ago, I met up with my co-blogger Michelle in New York. She was there with her husband while I brought my twelve-year-old daughter. It was a hot Memorial Day weekend. By hot, I mean really hot. Like 100-plus-degree hot. And crowded-with-marine-uniformed-guys hot. (Not that I much looked, or touched.) On the Saturday, we decided to “hop-on hop-off” with one of those open-bus tours and visit north Manhattan and Harlem. But things didn’t go quite as expected.

On paper, it was pretty easy and appealing: you hop on a bus, and then you hop off of it whenever you want to explore whatever monument or place you stop by, and you hop back on the next double-decker. Hop on, hop off. Easy. But in order to do so, people actually have to get off the bus and make room for you. Or — even better — you have to get on a bus in the first place.

After a pleasant lunch at the over air-conditioned Hard Rock Café in Times Square, we quickly bought our tickets for the uptown tour and waited. Then we waited, and waited a bit more than all of a cat’s nine lives, cooking on the sunny sidewalk like bacon held hostage by a tanning bed gone wrong.

Buses were supposed to show up every twenty minutes, they had informed us. But what they had really meant was twenty minutes like when you don’t take your eyes off the clock. As we bided our time, all other companies’ buses drove by. Many times. Even the ones from the company we had brainlessly chosen to cruise with paraded arrogantly in front us, only going absolutely everywhere — and further — but uptown. As for our bus, it was still nowhere to be found. It was like trying to find a happy kid after they’d been told Christmas had been cancelled. A statistic implausibility. The ground crew members were just as agreeable as my bank statement at the end of each month, and none of them was able to tell us how long it’d take to get on a bus. “Ten … fifteen minutes more, maybe.” That was, of course, when any of them were there on the sidewalk. But again I don’t blame them, really: who would want to stay put under that African desert sun? Besides us?

During the wait, my daughter got more and more empathetic about a young homeless girl that was sitting at the corner of West 49th Street and 7th Avenue. She wanted to give the young woman some money and talk to her. And over the wait, I started to believe that the money we paid would have been better spent had we given it to this girl instead and let her tell us everything she knew about the city.

We all had bought lots of fluids for the ride. But unfortunately, we had run out before we even got on the damn bus. Some two hours later. (We were very patient. Or very obedient, very stupid. Whatever. All of them.) We paid for this damn tour, we would do this damn tour. No. Matter. What. (Dammit!) This tour was as requisite as a trip to the dentist. As painful, too.

Long after our faces had turned into fifty shades of red, we were invited to hop on. Yay! And then, we were immediately invited to hop off. Yikes! “Wrong bus, guys,” they said evenly without so much as a sorry. “This one stops here.” But of course it does. “Take the one that’s parked right behind.” Fiiiiiiiine. Just don’t let it go without us.

We hopped off and on again. Good seats on the upper deck. In the blazing sun. Everything was fine. As a testimony, Michelle’s husband went live on Facebook: we were finally doing this tour. The bus even started moving. For two blocks. The bus got completely stuck in traffic in Times Square. Which made Kyle’s live video a lot less thrilling all of a sudden. When we eventually managed to slowly roll further, we heard something like: “West 42th Street. Final stop, everyone off the bus, please.” We were all removed from the bus abruptly, without much more explanation and combined with another bus load of passengers. Seriously. This was ridiculous: Uptown tour of New York City, probably the only city where you roll down the street heading downtown and around the corner.

However, we got lucky: got to the upper deck again, found four seats in the sun again and were finally (hopefully) ready to enjoy New York’s scenery. Again. However, there was now no chance in hell we’d hop off and lose tour spots at some errant landmark: we saw how people looked at us with begging eyes, waiting at each stop helplessly like refugees in their camps. We stayed put with our butts glued more firmly to our seats than gum stuck under your shoe after melting on the burning concrete. We’d visit these (probably beautiful and interesting) places in another lifetime or look at them on the Internet, dreaming we’d been there too. In these circumstances, you learn to read the signs. And this one said: hop off at your own peril.

Thanks to this company (which is lucky I have forgotten its name), we learned some valuable lessons:

  1. Covering a great deal of ground and space in a short period of time is better known as “Quantity over quality.”
  2. Buses are subject to NYC traffic. In case of hot weather, beg for shade at your next unrequested stop. If it rains … why would you even want to do it if it rains?
  3. If you look for a hospitable and detail-oriented tour, consider a (free) DIY Tour with Your Own Feet.

Conclusion: We hopped on a two-hour train ride and ended up in the amusement park in Coney Island. Cultural visits are overrated.