Hiring a Personal Tour Guide: NYC

I met my good friend Laurie last time I was in NYC. She was introduced to me by another good friend, also named Lori, who I met on my Antarctica expedition ship. Both Lori and Laurie are NYC tour guides, and during afternoon coffee, Laurie told me why she liked her job so much.

Her stories were so infectious, that despite having lived in NYC for 5 years, I wanted to take her tour! Here’s a taste of Laurie’s world:

NYC, photo by Laurie RudBeing a New York City Tour Guide, by Laurie Rud

When I moved to New York in 2004, like most visitors, I quickly became captivated. I did a lot of walking; I never turned down an invitation and I went on a couple of tours. I was inspired to become a tour guide myself when I realized that George Washington’s inauguration was held right there on Wall Street and that New York City was the first capital of the United States.

Granted, I wasn’t a history major in college, but I was a good student, so to think those facts had escaped me, was a bit embarrassing. Instead of shying away due to humiliation, I assumed that there were more hidden treasures in New York and I was determined to find them all.

I’m a people person so I had a desire to share all of my excitement and new found facts with others. I did some research and figured out how to become a tour guide. Since I have a performing background and wanted flexibility for potential auditions, this was, likely, the best career for me. I attended a four session night class that taught me how to take the test; I went on more tours; took the test and passed right away. I started guiding shortly after that.

Yankees Stadium, photo by Laurie RudAll Star Interview

My first job came about when I got a call from someone involved with the company that ran the class I took. On my way to the interview, a friend called and offered me her two tickets to the Yankees game that night. She wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t going to be able to go. I said yes and planned to pick them up after my interview.

At the end of the interview, I mentioned that my next task was to find someone to take to the game. He said he was a huge Yankee fan and he joked that if I didn’t find anyone, to let him know. Oddly enough, I didn’t find anyone and I did ask him to go.

It was my first Yankee game and it was in the House that Ruth Built in 1923, old Yankee Stadium (replaced in 2009 by the current Yankee Stadium). I already knew where Babe Ruth had lived on the Upper West Side, the Ansonia apartment building, and that his funeral had taken place at St Patrick’s Cathedral but now I was there: at the House That Ruth Built. I felt like a part of history and this was only going to make my eventual tours better.

It was a fun night, and yes, I got the job. And no, it was not a date, but it was one of those “only in New York” moments.

Laurie Rud in ActionGuide Growing Pains

My first tour was a bit of a disaster. I was on a big bus with only three guests. I was too embarrassed to tell them that it was my first tour, so I soldiered through. I knew what to say on the little walks, but I wasn’t very confident while the bus was moving. I had all this knowledge and didn’t know when to share it.

That night, I went home and looked at the map to figure out what stories I could tell in which neighborhoods. Any tie-in helped. My tours soon became much easier and I found that I was learning so much from the travelers I was meeting. They asked great questions and if I didn’t know the answer, I looked it up when I got home and perhaps added it to my next tour.

I’d find out what else they were doing in the city; what shows they were interested in attending; restaurants where they wanted to eat and preferred museums. I was a sponge and took in everything.

I read any NYC history book I could get my hands on and quickly became obsessed with infrastructure. It’s a great thing to talk about in heavy traffic or if we strayed from the regular route into an area that I didn’t know as well.

The Upside of  NYC

My favorite topic is the water system. The wooden water tanks on top of buildings six stories and higher are a prominent element of the skyline and are easy to see from almost anywhere. Since the tanks are made of cedar and are generally not painted, they are left to weather so they often look ancient and decrepit. People are fascinated to hear that they are still in use and that one can be replaced in as little as 24 hours.

The water supply comes from upstate New York, where there are lots of natural water sources. In the late 1800′s, the city had the foresight to buy that land; create reservoirs; build aqueducts to bring that water to the two tunnels just north of the city, which distribute water throughout the five boroughs. It turns out the force of gravity is enough for buildings five stories or less, which is why buildings six stories and higher need a water tank. Water is essential in a city of this size and really enabled the growth of the city as clean water is needed to prevent disease and fight fires.

Perfect Street Performer

Since becoming a New York City tour guide almost nine years ago, I haven’t gone on very many auditions. Leading tours is my performance outlet and instead I became an expert in New York City history. I love to be able to make the city’s history come alive for guest of all ages and all interests. I feel like I have become a part of the city and am very lucky to be out in it every day experiencing all the excitement the city has to offer. I think I found the perfect career.

Laurie grew up on a farm in Minnesota and has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and London before settling in New York. She is the proprietor of NYTopTour.com and can be reached at nytoptour@gmail.com or 310-925-8417. 

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 and is filed under On the Road.

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