Friday, October 29, 2010

The Happiest Tourist

I hate tourists, so a movie tour of the city was not at the top of my list of awesome things to do on a Sunday. But I went to support GD, who was writing a piece about it for her job, had an extra ticket, and was kind enough to invite me.

At 11:45am walked to meet GD at the corner of 51st and Broadway. Somehow I missed the gigantic tour bus on the corner and called GD to ask her where she was. Upon seeing the massive vehicle, however, I scorned my mother for all those years of blonde highlights (what have those chemicals been doing to my brain for 16 years?) and promptly crossed the street.

We snagged ourselves some seats, and I looked around the bus. It reminded me of an awful middle school bus trip around New York and New England, except this time there were no smells of tween b.o. and LipSmackers. Instead, the front of the bus was moderately populated with quiet, not-bad-smelling adults, some, not all, of which were tourists. They all seemed happy to go around the Upper West and East Sides for three hours viewing spots from cinema classics.

I’ll admit, while I do love classic cinema, the three hour bit was daunting to me. I would be on a bus for three hours and technically I wouldn’t be going anywhere; in that much time I could hop on a flight back to Fort Lauderdale and, if we caught a nice tailwind, even arrive before the tour was over. But I kept my thoughts to myself.

The tour began. Our guide was a young actress/producer/stand-in who was really quite knowledgeable about the movies of which she spoke. We started almost right away, hearing about movies filmed on certain sites like: 1954’s It Should Happen To You! in Columbus Circle, 1978’s Superman on Central Park South, 1984’s Ghostbusters all up Central Park West. As we passed each site, we also saw clips of the films in which the sites appeared, doubling the impact of what we were looking at.

We stopped briefly in front of The Dakota, where Yoko Ono lives, just hundreds of feet from where her husband was assassinated. We were also able to leave the bus and visit John Lennon’s Imagine memorial. Then it was back up the West Side to Zabar’s, the fantastic gourmet food store (that is, incidentally, my favorite grocery store in Manhattan), where we picked up free-with-the-tour Zabar’s mugs and GD got a Nova bagel with cream cheese.
At this point, I was no longer skeptical—in fact, I would be quite happy to do this for three hours. Maybe I’m a huge film nerd, but learning about movies for three hours and getting to see some sites I wouldn’t normally see (and getting a free mug!) really is my cup of tea. I thought we would be packed in the bus like a herd of cramped cattle—instead, we were free-range cattle, moving about our stops as we pleased.

We traveled through Central Park to the Upper East Side, down Museum Mile, past the Guggenheim and sites from movies like 1981’s Arthur and 1976’s Marathon Man. One of my favorite stops on the tour, however, was the front of Holly Golightly’s brownstone from 1961’s divine Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It turns out the brownstone was chosen because it got enough natural sunlight—the filmmakers wouldn’t have to spend extra money to light it unnaturally with equipment. The sun really did hit it beautifully, and I was so happy to stand on the steps of the brownstone and take a picture like a big, huge tourist and be in the steps of the lovely Audrey/Holly even for a few brief moments.

Then it was back to the bus for a few more sites, then my absolute favorite part of the tour: the tiny little park/sitting area on the corner of 57th and York where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sit and look out onto the river in 1979’s Manhattan. That scene in Manhattan is one of those scenes in a New York film where you really get to feel what the city is like. It made my heart happy. Somehow, something in the universe went right and I was able to be here, just like Woody and Diane. “And we can come back any time we want,” GD said.

I think this idea was perhaps my favorite part of the entire tour (that, and standing on the very spot where Marilyn Monroe enjoyed the subway grate breeze in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch. Amazing.). The city was ours to do whatever we liked with it, be it visit movie sites, sit by the river, go to Zabar’s, or what have you. These aren’t things someone can tell you not to do—it’s just the city offering itself up to you, saying please, enjoy. Like the Giving Tree but hopefully much more long-lasting.

Seeing New York as a tourist made me appreciate it that much more. It reminds me of when I used to have to leave New York, not to return for months, if not years at a time. But now, along with so many others, the city is mine; it is my home, my workspace, my playground. It’s the scene of zillions of fictional and non-fictional stories—romances, dramas, tragedies, comedies, you name it—and every day there are only more and more. By some happy twist of fate, I get to be here too, and I don’t know if I will ever get over that.