Sunday, October 26, 2008

Solidarity Forever

A good write-up about tour guides trying to organize in the Tenement Museum. Check out my buddy H.R.'s quotes.

This issue is only getting any press at all because of the fact that the tenement museum is supposed to be pro-union. More thoughts later.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

RIP Stan Tomashaw

One of the place tour guides often run into each other is the Fulton Ferry landing. I saw the blue bus down there and decided to go say hi to my old coworkers. We chatted for bit, gossiping about the various things that had happened in the city while I was gone. When I went to go back to my bus, one of my former co-workers told me "Oh yeah, the old man - he die." The "old man" she was talking about was Stan Tomashow. Stan was a regular fixture back on the blue bus, and the best tour guide I knew.

Stan had all the tools a good tour guide needed. First, he knew the city. Saying somebody knows the city is the highest compliment I can give anyone. Stan knew the history, and the architecture, and the culture, sure. But he knew the city not like an historian, or architect, or docent. He knew the city like the 30-year cabbie (which was appropriate, he used to be a cabbie), or the bike messenger, or the Private Eye in the old 50s paperbacks. He knew the city from the ground up, from letting it seep into his bones every day for decades, and kept it by letting that knowledge out to people every day as well. You could blindfold Stan, drop him off at a random corner anywhere in the boroughs, and he could do a tour. Heck, you could probably throw a time machine into the equation, dial up a random year between 1609 and now, and he could still do it. The best compliment I even got at that job, the one that left me smiling the rest of the day, the one that made me feel like I was a real tour guide, was when Stan said "you know Moses, despite all your bullshit, I hear you give a halfway decent tour."

Second, he was one of the hardest workers, and best hustlers I ever knew. Despite being old, in ill health, and with knees that would barely allow him to get up the stairs, Stan would regularly put in more hours than almost anyone else at the place. 12 hours a day, 6 days a week were a regular thing with him. And this isn't a 12-hour office day. This is 12 hours, outdoors (rain or shine), where finding 5 minutes to pee is a luxury. I've always prided myself on being a worker but I, at half the age of Stan, would have collapsed from working so much. But working only gets you so far in the tour guide game. Being a tour guide is a hustle, not a job. So you've got to be a hustler, which Stan was in spades. Stan got the best tips out of everyone, in no small part because he let the tourists know they were supposed to about every 5 minutes. We used to joke he did everything to get a buck out of the tourists but hit them over the head and rifle through their pockets for change. One time he told me he was doing a tour when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. "So I said to them, 'well, the bad news is that we're not going to the Statue of Liberty, but the good news is that now you get more time with me.' And then the second plane hit, so I took them straight to the Port Authority. But I still hit them up for tips when they got off." This is what I first thought of when my former co-worker told me “the old man – he die.” That here was someone who had worked so hard for such a thankless company for the last few years in order to try and retire in a little bit of comfort, and never ended up getting the chance to do so for even just a short while.

Third, Stan was a character. Being a good tour guide isn't ultimately about knowing the facts and stories. Every good guide I know is a character in some way. Stan, despite being a bald, raspy-voiced, overweight Jew from Brooklyn, decided his best look was lipstick, pearls, and a pink purse. Legend has it he was fired from the Red Bus for refusing to stop wearing a dress to work. I never saw him with a dress, but he did insist his tattered pink shorts he wore were not actually shorts but a "cut skirt."

Stan deserves a better eulogy than a post on a random blog dedicated to the trials and tribulations of being a Tour Guide in New York City. But that's what he's got. Stan lived in Tourist Hell until the day he died, and might have even liked it more than not. I was sad to hear the news, but happy to have know him for a short time at the end of his life. It wasn’t much, but after I heard the news I wore a string of pearls and bright red fingernail polish on my next tour in his honor.