Rounding Manhattan

The tourists sitting in rows on the top deck of the docked Circle Line Manhattan waited to be entertained, and at $41 per adult ticket, $27 for children, it better be good.

“Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls,” a brassy New York voice blared over the speakers, beginning the invisible tour guide’s spiel. His intro seemed a little long for not moving out of the diesel fumes while the ship sat lashed to the pier’s parking deck.

“There are some very cool things to see,” the voice said. He promised a lot of history and claimed this tour was different from all the other sightseeing tours. When you’re well out from the city looking back, he said, something very special happens.

Engines kicked in under the steel deck, and presently, the voyage was out on the windy Hudson River. The promised magic took hold.

Women began to look like models in a studio when a fan blows their long hair and they gaze off into a gel light. The sinking sun behind a cloud over the New Jersey side cast down cathedral light beams. The boat curved toward the south over what the tour guide called a “sacred space,” where Captain “Sully” Sullenberger had belly flopped an engine-less jet airliner in 2009 without losing a single passenger. The geese that clogged the engines didn’t fare so well.

The guide could be found in the covered foredeck, an actor named Malachy Murray who said he had played Dracula on Broadway. A mic in one hand, that arm covered in tattoos, he invoked the old days of the world’s greatest shipping port, of the Hamilton-Burr duel in those woods on the New Jersey side, and of the immigrant’s dream back when Ellis Island took in the tempest tossed and wretched refuse. Thick blond hair spilling over his shoulders, he is Irish-American, lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York, and when asked about his classic New York accent, quipped, “I worked hard on it for 52 years.”

The two-hour tour circled around the great island of file-cabinet skyscrapers, chugged under the cable-knit East River bridges to Roosevelt Island, and muscled out to a vantage point between the Statue of Liberty and dense-packed lower Manhattan as both lit up. The glow brought a hundred cellphone cameras aloft, offering a perfect contrast to the blue-gray waters below and clouds above the color of a large bruise.

“Is that great, or is that awesome?” Deanna Ezzell of Kansas City, Mo., said to her husband Jason, pointing at the Statue of Liberty they had been inside the day before.

A light rain began falling and the festive mood got even higher when the crowd huddled close together under the shelter behind the foredeck. Most of the wet seats in the open were abandoned. But a young woman out there with a few others laughed under her tightly held umbrella, rib-bent upward in the wind like a flower.

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About Doug Cumming

journalism professor at W&L
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