Well it’s official, New York Local Tours is 2 years old today! It’s almost hard to believe that our company has only been around for such a short time. This morning Alex and I got up to vote, and we started to reflect on what an amazing year 2016 has been so far. We’re so grateful to all the new friends we’ve made through this journey, as well as to all our old friends who’ve been nothing but supportive of us. We’re also so excited about giving a whole bunch of kick-ass tours this past year, too.

Today, 2 years ago, is the day that we gave our very first tour, a tour of the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve been thinking about doing a special Bridge blog lately, so I thought this might be a perfect opportunity, in order to celebrate our birthday!

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This is what happens when the locks get out of control

For those of you who have been following our blog for a while (looking at you, Mom) I did an earlier piece on why you shouldn’t put your “locks of love” on old bridges. The tradition started in Paris, where you would write your lovers name on a lock, put the lock on the bridge, and throw the key into the river to symbolize your everlasting love blah, blah, blah. But this added weight from the locks has begun to create a dangerous situation where the extra weight from the padlocks had actually begun to weaken the old bridge. On top of that, if one of these locks fall off, it could shatter a windshield which then could cause an accident. So in New York, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has to go around, about once a month, and cut all the locks off.

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Looks great, jerks.

People started to catch on. I spend so much time on the Brooklyn Bridge that I’ve noticed when things have changed. I saw a dramatic decline in the amount of padlocks affixed to the guardrails. I think people were tired of shelling out money to buy a lock only to have the stupid thing cut off a week later. But what I did notice was a whole bunch of freakin’ garbage tied to the side of the bridge instead. Hair ties, paper, candy wrappers, and a metric shit-load of earbuds. So many earbuds. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the issue was, and why the Brooklyn Bridge was covered in garbage.

Finally, I found a great article that the Wall Street Journal wrote about the phenomenon. It was essentially what I thought; the garbage was meant to represent the ever-lasting love of some dickhead who thought defacing a National Landmark was okay, but doing it in such a way that it didn’t cost any money. Whatever they had in their pockets ended up going directly onto the bridge.
The earbuds in particular came from the tour buses. They give all their guests cheap earbuds and instead of putting them in the trash, they were added to the bridge instead. They’re ugly. I hate it.

Well played, DOT

Well played, DOT

But now, things have changed, and the DOT is no longer messing around. It is officially a crime to put a lock or tie garbage on the side of the Bridge. If the police catch you, you are fined upwards of $100, and your trinket is cut off and thrown away. The DOT is also stepping up its game in terms of cutting things off the Bridge immediately. People are getting the message, and the Brooklyn Bridge is a lot cleaner now.

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This is John. Do you think he would put up with this crap?

 

For those of you thinking about doing it anyway, let me introduce you to John Roebling, the original architect of the Brooklyn Bridge who died during its construction. John had a reputation for being incredibly difficult to work with, often raging against the people who annoyed him. He also, it was rumored, had the ability to communicate with the dead. Now that he himself is dead, who knows what powers he has? So, for those of you thinking about putting nonsense on the bridge, take a minute and gaze into John’s cold, grey eyes and ask yourself, “is being haunted by the ghost of the angriest man in Brooklyn worth defacing his masterpiece?” I don’t think it would be. The Bridge is perfect; leave your garbage in the trashcan.

 

With that crabby note, (I know Alex will be rolling her eyes over this one!) thank you to everyone who made this such a wonderful second year! We have so much planned for the coming year and cannot wait to share New York with you!

Summer really feels likes it over when the Coney Island Amusement Park closes down for the season. But, not everything in Coney Island goes to sleep for the winter, including our company, New York Local Tours. We will be giving an off-season tour in Coney Island called the Ghosts of Coney Island. Curious? Book us and hear all about it!

 

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Big Pumpkin!

We were able to have a couple of tours this past Halloween Weekend. Halloween is always a very exciting time to be down in Coney Island between Jack’s Pumpkin Shack, where you get to visit a huge pumpkin and guess his weight to win prizes, participate in Spooktacular Karaoke or just walk in the Coney Island Children’s Halloween Parade with your kids! However, now that the summer season is coming to a close, things are starting to slow down. But, don’t worry, not everything is closing entirely…

 

Some awesome businesses that will be open ALL YEAR include Coney Island USA. Coney Island USA has a fabulous museum, run by the un-official Mayor of Coney Island, Dick Zigun, and also holds the Freak Bar. Be sure to check out their Special Events and Performances that they have planned throughout the winter. You may be able to shake hands and hang out with Dick himself or at least visit with Mr. Strange! Our friends over at the Coney Island Brewing Company also have plans to stay open year round, 7 days a week. They also offer daily tours of the Brewery itself and usually have several different beers that they carry in house that can only be found by going to their Brewery in Coney Island. The New York Aquarium will remain open, as will as Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano over on Neptune Ave. Alex and I LOVE Totonno’s and we’re not the only ones. Epicurious.com calls it the Best Pizza in New York City. And, of course, Nathan’s Famous will be serving Hot Dogs all year long.

 

We have a few private tours scheduled, but keep an eye out for special offerings of our new version of our Coney Island tour throughout the winter.

 

ACI_logo_1This was a wonderful Coney season for us at New York Local Tours! We did more tours down there than we have ever before, including several Scavenger Hunts. We became members of the Alliance for Coney Island and worked with the Coney Island Beautification Project during their City of Water Day celebration. Alex and I made new friends, and fell even more in love with this wonderful community. We can’t wait for spring, when everything opens back up again!

 

When Alex and I got engaged, I promised her that I would ride the Cyclone. I lied. Maybe this coming spring she can talk me into it. But I doubt it.

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I’m on the Wonder Wheel.

The last month or so has been an absolute whirlwind for us, and I feel bad that I’ve been neglecting our blog. But things are finally calming down, and now have time to start writing again!

 

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Look at these two crazy kids! Thank you Whitney Browne Photography for catching this picture of us.

First of all, Alex and I got married this past month! It was a perfect day, everyone sobbed (especially Alex and I) and then we danced the night away! I couldn’t be happier, or feel luckier to spend the rest of my life with Alex. (Alex is crying somewhere as she reads this.)

 

People ask me if I feel different now that we’re officially hitched, but I’m still not sure how to answer that. We moved in together after dating for about 2 months, so it’s always felt like we were meant to be. I don’t feel like our relationship or the love we feel for each other has changed in any way, but making our friends and family watch us sob all over each other and stuff rings on our hands was pretty sweet. I think the one difference is being able to call Alex my wife, versus my fiancée, which made me feel like a tool every time I said it. Plus, look how cute she is! I had to lock that down.

 

Our dear friend, Whitney Browne, made a Wedding Blog entitled “When your friends get married” all about our Special Day!  Whitney is one of our best friends and truly one of the most incredible photographers I’ve ever seen.  It was such an honor to have her be a part of Alex’s Bridal Party and such an honor to have her in our lives.

 

Another big thing that’s been going on is that Alex and I are applying to graduate school to get a Masters in History. Once we got back from the wedding, we devoted our time to getting our recommendations, essays, and personal statements all in order. Because the computer I had in college died, I had to write a whole new essay to prove that I’m literate. This was challenging because I haven’t had to write a serious paper since college and Alex has to constantly remind me that I wasn’t writing a blog that it had to be more “professional” and less bitchy. It’s hard for me! But, as of today, we are officially done. Everything has been sent in, and now we can breath a sigh of relief!

 

We’re also so excited to announce that we have recently begun to partner with Brooklyn Brainery. So be sure to keep an eye out for our tours and even classes that we’re going to offer through them.  We also have been doing Facebook Live Videos with Urbanist hosted by Ariel Viera.  This has been such a wonderful experience to help spread the word about our company and get more hits onto our website across the globe. In the future, we may also be doing some Drunk History. We’re still hashing out the details but we’ll let you know when it happens!

 

Now, with all this extra time on my hands, I can now start blogging again and writing bitchily. I can’t wait! Alex and I have a few ideas so stay tuned!

Today, is the official 100th Birthday of the National Park Service! Happy Birthday! I know that many parks around the U.S. have been doing special stuff this whole year, but today, is a very special day, because on August 25th 1916 was the day that President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that created the National Park Service, as a new branch of the Department of the Interior.

 

Some parks have been around for longer than the Park Service, like Yellowstone, which has been “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” since March of 1872. But this year is the centennial of one park in particular that is close to my heart, Acadia National Park, which is located in my hometown of Bar Harbor, Maine. (Just so I don’t get yelled at by everyone back home, it’s actually all over Mount Desert Island, and not just located in Bar Harbor. You’re welcome, towns of Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert, and Tremont. Now shut up, this is my blog.)

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Acadia, so beautiful

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The harbor

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. founded Acadia on July 8th, 1916, setting aside 10,000 acres for this new park. He also financed the carriage roads (or hiking paths) and many of the buildings that still exist today. If you haven’t ever taken the trip, it’s really worth your time. The park is beautiful, the town is picturesque, and the mosquitos are about the size of cats. Not really a perk, that last one, is just something to be aware of come June.

 

Acadia holds a special place for Alex and myself, not only because I grew up there, but in one month from yesterday (September 24th, 2016) we are going to be married in the park I grew up in. We’re so excited, and everything is coming together quite well. In mid-September, we are going to take a break from touring in order to go home and help prepare for the wedding. We can’t wait to share the park with both our families and our dearest friends as we celebrate our love.

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The winter, though boring, is also breathtaking.

In New York City, we’ve had parks and common areas dating back to 1733 (The Bowling Green), but the Parks Department in its current form was created in 1898. Recently, I was schooled by a NYC Park Ranger on the meaning of the Park Department’s flag when I misidentified the symbol as a maple leaf. If you every walk around the city and see the green flag with the white leaf, know that that leaf is a London Planetree, not a maple. The Park Ranger said that you can always tell a London Planetree because the bark looks just like camouflage. Many cities plant these trees because they thrive in areas with high air pollution, they can survive drought and are also very strong and less likely to fall down and crush a house/car/hipster or whatever.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the London Planetree

 

So, Happy Birthday National Park Service and thank you for making our city and our country so beautiful!

Alex and I got into a conversation last night right before going to bed and it piqued my curiosity. I was so interested that I lost sleep thinking about it. We were able to do a little research before going to sleep, but I was still intrigued so I did a bit more digging today. And let me tell you, this shit is bananas. (That pun is killer; I promise you’ll get it later!)

 

Alex was telling me that in the early 20th century Jewish residents of the Lower East Side had lots to do before Friday night, their Sabbath and their day of rest. Work was absolutely forbidden, so all the things had to get done the day before. One task was ripping up pieces of newspaper. I asked why, and Alex told me it was for their bottoms, and the wiping of them. I got a chuckle thinking about everyone having black streaks on their butts after wiping with old newspaper, but then I wondered, “If that’s what people were using in the early 20th century, when was toilet paper widely introduced?”

 

Well, let me tell you: evidently, the Chinese invented toilet paper sometime in the 7th century, but it was such a luxury item that no one except royalty could afford to pamper their bottoms. For about 1300 years, people just used whatever they could find. In France, the rich would use pieces of lace. Francois Rabelais wrote that he often used “the neck of a goose, that is well downed”.  I would think that’s a one way ticket to getting your nuts bitten off by a large, angry water fowl, but what do I know? Poor people used just about anything they could find laying around, such as rags, leaves, hay, rocks, sand, moss, seaweed, apple husks, seashells, ferns and wood shavings, which gives me a whole new meaning to the phrase “tearing you a new one.”

 

For people living in colder climates, using a handful of snow wasn’t that uncommon. (Side Note: Do you guys know what an Eskimo gets when he sits on the ice for too long? POLARoids! Hahahaha!) But, by far the worst is what many sailors wiped with, which was frayed anchor cables. Seriously, why not just use sand paper and a splash of turpentine?

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This is an anchor cable. Ouch.

In early America, we were very happy with using old corncobs, but catalogs changed it all. Sears and Roebuck’s were very popular, but the Farmers Almanac was by far the best as it came with a little hole in it to hang in your outhouse. They were free, and way better than using apple cores and woodchips.

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Notice the conveniently placed hook for the outhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mid 19th Century, a guy named Joseph Gayetty invented the first mass-produced toilet paper. It was called “The greatest necessity of the age!  Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet”. The paper was soaked with aloe, and I believe would have made for pleasant toilet time, but the product was too expensive. 500 sheets coast $.50, which is about $15 in today’s money. So, people just kept on using the old Farmers Almanac.

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But, after the Civil War, the Scott Brothers came up with a new product. It was much cheaper, widely available, and not soaked in aloe. One drawback was the new toilet paper was not terribly soft, and often had splinters in it. As the flushable toilet became more widely available, the need for toilet paper soared. The old pipes couldn’t handle things like Sears and Roebucks, or an ear of corn, so people started to make the switch. But people still had to suffer with a splintery butt up until the 1930’s, when Northern Tissue started to use “Splinter Free” paper for all those delicate bottoms. And thus, modern toilet paper is born! The Charmin website has a cute story about their name, check that out here.

 

Now and again Alex and I like to romanticize about a time period that we would love to go and see, like Coney Island circa 1908. But then we read this shit, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be right here in the 21st century not getting my butthole ravaged by woodchips and anchor cables.

Now that the summer heat is finally a little more merciful, I no longer look like this:

Brando

 

It’s given me the opportunity to reflect on some of the great things that happened this summer. We have started working with the Dutch Consulate here in NYC, and they attended our New Amsterdam tour. Incidentally, they know their Dutch history, and it was a touch on the intimidating side. But they had so much fun we are already planning more events together. The New-York Historical Society hired us to come in and talk to New York City school teachers about creating walking tours. One initiative that the Department of Education is encouraging is bringing students out into the city to show them history, rather than just talk about it. So I got to go into the museum and give a presentation about our process, and how Alex and I create our tours. Not terribly long ago, Alex went into the Brooklyn Public Library and gave a similar talk to another group of teachers. It feels great to be one of the companies that gets to participate and help this wonderful idea flourish.

 

In addition to all the success and connections that we’ve made, we also decided to reach out to our alma maters, and started working with them as well. We have been playing around with the idea of expanding our scavenger hunts, and both St. Michael’s College and Sarah Lawrence College alumni associations are going to attend!

 

For me, I felt a little out of touch with my fellow alumni, and am excited to meet some St. Mike’s folks living here in the city. Honestly, it’s such a New England school that I didn’t think many made it to the big city. Mostly because the thought of the Yankees makes them break out into hives and boils.

 

Things are really cooking! We are excited and can’t wait to see what the fall holds!

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Gross. This is not a pet.

When you walk around New York City, you are bound to run into some rats. It happens. Sometimes you are waiting for the train and you see them scurrying about the tracks. Sometimes you see them on the street, scavenging amongst the garbage. And if you are really unlucky, they get into your apartment, at which time you should move. Or this could happen.

 

But some neighborhoods just seem to be devoid of all rat life. Where Alex and I live in Brooklyn, it is very rare to come across one. I think maybe twice in the 4 years we have lived here have we encountered such a rodent. But, walk a mile outside our neighborhood, and you can see the street crawling with life. Once we wandered past a pile of garbage, and 30 rats ran out as Alex shrieked in horror. She didn’t care for it. (I thought it was hilarious) I’ve always wondered why we were spared, but the rest of New York has to deal with the vermin?

 

Well, I was noodling around CNN the other day, and I may have an answer. In Chicago, there is apparently a huge rat problem. They have tried everything, from poison to gas, but nothing could handle the rodent population. One woman they interviewed says she could expect upwards of 400 rats in her yard every night. It has become such an issue, that Chicago has been declared the “rattiest city in the country”.

 

When there seemed to be no end in site, an animal shelter by the name of Tree House Humane Society came up with a solution. Tree House was the country’s first cage free, no kill animal shelter. They had a surplus of feral cats, cats that wouldn’t make good pets, so they put them to work doing what they do best: murder.

 

They take existing colonies of feral cats, drop them off in an area that has a particularly extreme rat problem, and within a month or two, the rats are almost all gone. Not only will the cats torture most of the rats to death, but the pheromone they rub against their territory will scare the rest of the rats away. The program has become so successful, that businesses are buying a three-cat placement in their warehouses for $600. Cats are being called the only 100% effective solution to a rat infestation.

 

So, this brings me back to our neighborhood. It is filled with stray cats. Hundreds of them. I see kitties out wandering around everyday. At night, we can hear them fighting, yowling, or whatever else cats do. At first I thought it was sad having so many strays, but they seem to do ok, and their population is only growing. Also, I hear tell that neighborhoods with a higher dog population have a higher rat population as well. The rats will feast on doggy poo if not cleaned up properly, which in turn will attract more vermin. So there is now proof that cats are the superior pet!

 

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She is perfect, but Mouse does not play well with the other children.

We in Ditmas Park owe these kitties a huge thank you for keeping us so rat free. The only downside is I know I’m going to come home one day and Alex will have brought home at least two more cats. Mouse, our cat, would be furious. But they are perfect and I love them, so it’s ok.

 

I’m a spinster.

This past week, Alex and I had a day off so we decided to play tourist and go visit Ellis Island as well as the Statue of Liberty. We learned a lot from our visit and how to get the most out of your experience. Consider this a how-to guide for getting to the Statue and Ellis Island.

 

First, one of the most difficult things was to figure out where to buy the actual tickets. If you go to Battery Park (where the ferry departs), there are a lot of venders that swarm you like seagulls at the beach. A museum colleague of ours who used to work at Ellis Island let us know that the tickets they sell are NOT the tickets, and that we would have a tough time getting on the boat. The only legit company is called Statue Cruises, so for all of you planning a visit, just use them.

 

On Friday, we went down to Castle Clinton, the ticket scalpers swarmed us like locusts, and we boarded the vessel. Getting onto the ferry was quite an ordeal. There was no line, but rather a large clump of confused tourists foaming at the mouth trying to take a picture of a squirrel. They weren’t ready for two, bitter New Yorkers not in the mood for their shenanigans. Honestly, we felt like we were in the middle of a herd of cattle. Once they started to board the ship, people started to push and shove and the herd moved onto the boat. Alex and I had a frank exchange of ideas when some prick tried to cut us in the clump. They were horrified. Nice.

 

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View from the Ferry

We made the mistake of going up to the top level of the ferry (the promenade deck), because we thought it would be fun to get some pictures of the Statue as we pull in. The problem came when it was time to disembark, which took freaking forever. So, lesson learned — always stay on the bottom level. You’ll be able to get off so much faster and won’t have to freak out at some clueless tourist confused as to how stairs work.

 

In our opinion, visiting the Statue of Liberty was a huge waste of time. First of all, we were bombarded by a bunch of “Go ‘Murica” revisionist history that made our eyes roll so hard I’m surprised we didn’t get detached retinas. The only thing we really wanted to see was Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus but it turns out that it’s on the inside of the pedestal, and we had not purchased the “Pedestal Ticket” so we weren’t able to go see it.  We walked around the Statue, and watched every jerk-off with a camera posing to make it look like they were holding the statue in their hand. We had to get out of there. It was torture.

 

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These are our “unimpressed” faces.

Back on the ferry, we saw they had New Colossus fridge magnets for sale, and we almost bought one, but then we realized that they had misquoted the poem. It read “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to be free.” That’s not it! Agh! It should be, “…Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. We were so damned mad.

 

At this point, we were no longer having a good time. The ferry made it’s way over to Ellis Island, and very few people got out. We did not have high hopes after our time on Liberty Island (where the Statue of Liberty is located), but we were willing to give it a shot. And I am so glad that we did. Ellis Island was an amazing, powerful and beautiful experience. They did not pull any punches, and told the history of American immigration exactly how it is. The staff was knowledgeable, the exhibits were very well put together (they made Alex cry!) and the building itself is incredible. We took a tour with Ranger Sam and we loved him! He even pulled out a button hook and tried to stab me in my eye to show us how they worked.  (They used button hooks to check immigrants for trachoma, a very serious eye disease.) Historically, very accurate. I wish we had known ahead of time what an amazing experience we were going to have and had scheduled more time for ourselves at Ellis Island. After three and a half hours, I got hungry and crabby and made Alex leave, but next time when we go we will be prepared to spend all day there and make sure to bring a snack for me.  There were so many exhibits and we only got a taste of it all.

 

So, for us, the Statue of Liberty was not worth getting off the boat. It was a sea of slow moving, American flag T-shirt wearing tourists from Europe taking nonsense photos while being bombarded with notions of how perfect America is. Take my advice, just skip it. Take a picture from the boat and move on. But, Ellis Island is wonderful. It’s a place that everyone should visit and get a sense of what immigrants past and present have gone through and still go through today in order to become “American.”

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Inside the Great Hall at Ellis Island

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I’m seeing something oddly familiar with this racism…

Back in February, I wrote about how much I just don’t get social media. It’s totally beyond my ability, and whenever I try to do anything it typically results in me embarrassing New York Local Tours, and my tears getting all over the keyboard. It’s a total mess, and not a whole lot has changed for me.

Alex, on the other hand, has been crushing social media. This is great for me because it makes our company look real good, and takes that stupid responsibility right out of my incapable hands. We’ve been getting more and more followers, which I’ve been told is good, and it’s all thanks to Alex.

Now comes the hard part- I was wrong about you, social media, and I apologize. We recently got some very good news, and if it weren’t for stupid Twitter and Instagram, we never would have known.

dutch culutreLast night, Alex was checking in on everything, and we saw that an organization called Dutch Culture USA was not only following us, but also promoting our New Amsterdam tour. Cool. We dug a little deeper, and found that Dutch Culture USA is run by the Consulate General of the Netherlands here in NYC, and happens to be the official blog of all things Dutch in America. Very cool. I called them this morning and had a lovely chat with the woman who runs Dutch Culture USA, and she was very excited about our New Amsterdam tour. And now it looks like we are going to give our New Amsterdam Tour for the entire Dutch Consulate. Freaking Awesome. (And intimidating.) If all goes well, they are going to promote all our tours on their site.

None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Alex’s work on our social media sites. This is all super exciting news! Lots of good stuff has happened this week! And, as much as it pains me to say it, we owe a lot of it to Twitter. And Instagram. And Facebook. And all the other dumb Internet based things that my old-man brain just can’t figure out.

Alex and I have been working on New York Local Tours for almost two years now, and things are going very smoothly. But its always nice to get a little nod in your direction, and get a little reassurance that, yes, you’re doing a good job. We’ve been listing our tours on a site called Viator for a while, and I love it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Viator is a company owned by TripAdvisor. They are very particular about who they sign up, but once you prove yourself they start to sell tickets for you.

Well, yesterday we got an email from Viator that because of all the positive reviews we have received this year, we are now one of Viator’s top tour operators! This is exciting, because they are no small potatoes. Viator is an international company, serving cities all over the world. They even sent us a little widget to add to our site advertising how much ass we kick. Once I figure out just how to add that, we’ll be in good shape! So when you hear a bunch of screaming and crying later don’t worry too much about that. It’s just me and the computer having a frank discussion of ideas.

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Holy shit! I did it!

But this is great for us! We hope to see you all at on a tour, and remember that Tuesdays are Trivia Night down at Steeplechase Beer Garden. Thanks to all our friends and guests for your support and encouragement!