Editor’s Note: Since this piece was penned in September 2012, the big red tour bus has become a common sight on city streets. For the holidays this year, City Sightseeing has added a Holiday Lights Tour, a two-hour trek through seasonal decor with stops at the Angel Hair Lobby at the Roosevelt Hotel and the awesomely celebratory Miracle on Fulton. The tours take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
In my family, I’m the hop-on hop-off bus queen.
Whenever we land in a new metropolis, I look for the open-air double-decker red behemoths as a way to get my bearings. I’ve toured London, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, even Washington D.C. from this crimson perch, headsets in place, set when appropriate to the English channel, descending those steel spiral steps for strolls at my leisure at interesting stops, on my own schedule and self-selected itinerary.
The process is an eye-roll for my daughters, for whom public displays of any sort cross a social divide as non-navigable as the former Berlin Wall.
Being stared at on a hop-on hop-off bus? No way. The ultimate challenge for them as Americans abroad is to blend in with the natives, to hide their New Orleans accents and Yankee coloring like a leopard in the African veld. Before my youngest daughter left for an au pair position in Paris, she studied current French fashion trends, so that she wouldn’t be caught out in such a costume faux pas as wearing running shoes or colored leggings.
I daresay she did not get her City of Light bearings aboard a hop-on hop-off bus.
In Vienna a few years back, I elected to take one of the trademark red sightseeing buses alone, after the fam ridiculed the ride. They would explore on foot. An hour and a half later, my red bus passed another red bus going the other way – and there sat my three daughters, having capitulated to the exercise after an exhausting attempt to conquer the sites of the sprawling city a pied.
Now the iconic red buses have landed in New Orleans (see accompanying story for details), and I’m assessing the view from the other side. Will locals – even red-bus aficionados like myself – hop on (or off?) this new tourist attraction?
When Segway tours hit New Orleans a couple of years ago, I sent a pair of NolaVie interns to try one out. The consensus was that the people-movers are fun, but the most notable aspect of the tour was …. being stared at.
“What I didn’t like about travel by Segway were the looks from passer-bys,” noted Christian Brandt in his recap. “Most were friendly or curious, but some were disdainful. I even heard, ‘That’s so stupid.'”
The twentysomething crowd, in particular, does not relish looking stupid.
So climbing aboard a cherry red double-decker may not be the most unobtrusive way to be a tourist in our own home town.
But one thing I’ve always loved about New Orleans is that locals like to hang out at many of the same spots as visitors. My own kids learned early to beg for carriage rides and Jackson Square caricatures on Saturday French Quarter outings. And where else but the Decatur Street flea market can you give a kid a dollar and keep her endlessly occupied?
I love beignets at Café du Monde, strolling the boardwalks at the zoo’s swamp exhibit and riding the streetcar to Camellia Grill. The visitors can pretty much have Bourbon Street (though I have a soft spot for the Old Absinthe House and the music at Fritzel’s), but other local attractions call to me.
Actually, my first apartment was on Bourbon Street. I walked to work at The Historic New Orleans collection on Royal, dodging a daily morning spray from hoses washing down the sidewalks and stepping over the occasional drunk who had fallen by the wayside. I loved then – and still do – the residential, neighborhood, often gritty feel of the Quarter, no more a Disneyesque attraction than Bywater or Treme.
So I plan to hop on the big red bus, for a balcony-level view of New Orleans. I think many locals will join me, just to get a taste of open-air city sightseeing.
Perhaps my daughters will join me.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.