By Susan Glaser
November 19, 2010
The Ride started prowling the Midtown neighborhood last month, giving passengers a terrific view of the city streets — and the oddball characters who inhabit them.
We boarded the tricked-out bus (another bus!) at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Three rows of stadium seats are oriented sideways, looking out toward the street through floor-to-ceiling windows. Our comical tour guides, Jackie and Scott, introduced us to the vehicle — a talking, high-tech machine, which set out on an hour-and-a-half roam through town.
But this was no ordinary Gray Line roll: Dotting the route were more than a dozen paid performers, who put on mini-shows for Ride passengers, accompanied by music and video playing inside the bus:
• In Times Square, we witnessed a riled-up New Year’s reveler counting down the days to 2011.
• On 42nd Street, a suited soft-shoe tapped out a scene from the musical that borrows the street’s name.
• And outside Carnegie Hall, an aspiring opera singer belted out a few bars of Bizet.
The performers were terrific fun, but equally entertaining were everyday New Yorkers’ unscripted reactions to these unexpected street scenes. A screaming rapper (also on 42nd Street) drew wide-eyed stares from passers-by; a pink-tutued ballerina on Columbus Circle garnered a more enthusiastic response from those seated nearby.
By the end of the ride, the show turned inside, with Ride passengers belting out a vigorous version of “New York, New York” to a growing Times Square audience on the sidewalk. Cheesy? Sure, but just try to keep quiet.
“You get a tour and a show,” said fellow passenger Lucy Core of Queensland, Australia, making her first visit to New York. “I loved it.”
Be warned: Tours are planned for 75 minutes, but ours ran nearly 30 minutes longer, thanks to traffic snarls and road closures (we were in town the weekend of the New York City Marathon). So you might not want to make dinner reservations immediately following your tour.
The guides filled in gaps between the 15 street performances with banter and New York trivia — covering everything from the $75 million restoration of the ceiling at Grand Central Terminal to the gargoyles on the Chrysler Building, made out of old hubcaps.
But the conversation felt like little more than filler while we waited for more of the real deal, which was taking place outside, alongside all those iconic buildings.
Performer Ashley Harrell, who plays the singer at Carnegie Hall, said the ever-changing New York City landscape is what keeps the show so fresh.
“It’s different every night,” she said. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”