The Challenge: I had to go on a 3.5 hour bus tour of totally random TV and film locations in New York City. Alone, and wearing a specific ridiculous tshirt. And I had to find someone to take my picture at every location.
The Result: I learned lessons about myself and others. And I went full retard.
Last Thursday, I journeyed into a realm where ego was forgotten and all sense of pride, self-respect, and the feeling of being an individual fell away. It was also the realm where the ugly naked guy from Friends lived.
In the latest TV/Movie/Online Video-related challenge forced upon me by my co-editor Gabe, I had to spend the afternoon on a TV tour bus. And not the Sex And The City one, where you get to drink cosmos during the day, or the Sopranos one, which is about one of my favorite shows, or the Gossip Girl one, where I would no doubt run into friends also writing about it for their blogs, but the one visitors to NYC take when all those other tour buses are sold out: the NYC TV and movie locations tour.
There’s nothing wrong with the NYC TV and movie locations tour. It’s just really random in its assumption that the same type of person who loves the movie Enchanted also loves the movie I Am Legend, or that everyone in the world is a huge superfan of Hitch, or that anyone remembers the movie Kate And Leopold, or that even people who still enjoy the occasional re-run of Will And Grace have a burning need to drive quickly past the building where Grace’s design studio was ostensibly located, even though the show was filmed Studio City, California. It’s not a tour you can really get too excited about. It’s just fine, and it’s there, and you get to see the apartment from The Cosby Show.
A quick word on me potentially sounding like an asshole here: on my own first visit to New York, I paid good money for the NBC Studios tour at Rockefeller Center, the one that’s guided by pages, and I was really excited about it, and here I am trying to look serious like Stone Philips at the Dateline anchor desk. PROOF:
Aww, look at my little NBC pin. I wore it for the rest of the day. NOW:
Last Thursday morning, I arrived at a location in midtown, and stepped on a tour bus. For the next three and a half hours, I was no longer Lindsay Robertson: daughter, sister, friend, acquaintance, blogger. For the next three and a half hours, I was That Crazy Probably Disturbed Lady In The Way Oversized “Just Jack” Will & Grace Tshirt. I was, essentially, your girlfriend.
First, let’s talk about this tshirt. This is the tshirt:
Men’s large. Okay. Think really hard: can you imagine ANY person wearing this tee shirt in public in 2009? Even on laundry day, any sane person would choose any other item of clothing to cover his or her body on the way to do laundry. And don’t give me “Hipsters in Williamsburg might wear it to be ironic.” Nope. No possible way, because even hipsters want to look reasonably attractive and would never choose this shirt in a gigantic size. The only way to react to seeing someone wearing this shirt is with initial confusion, followed by curiosity, and then a moment of acceptance when you realize the person wearing the shirt is retarded. Believe me, I’m the world’s foremost expert on the The Reaction Of Humans To A “Just Jack” Tshirt In 2009, now.
When I first stepped on the bus and removed the jacket I’d worn on the subway, I worried briefly that nobody would notice my shirt. People wear stupid shirts all the time! A tshirt no longer says as much about a person as it used to. But I didn’t have to worry for long. As I walked down the aisle of the crowded bus, I had to ignore double take after double take as each person, having nothing else to look at while they waited for the tour to start, glanced at my shirt, looked at my face, looked back at the shirt, shifted in their seats, and on more than one occasion, I swear to god, nudged the person sitting next to them. I got to the last empty set of seats, sat down, and smiled to myself.
The bus lurched as our tour guide, who I’ll call Kelsey, asked if everyone had checked in. I hadn’t, so I raised my hand. “What’s your name?” she asked. “Lindsay Robertson,” I mumbled. “A little louder?” “Lindsay Robertson” “And you’re just one, right?” “Yep, just one.” A few people turned around to look, and seemed satisfied that the only person taking this tour alone was also the one in the totally retarded shirt. All was right with the world. I glanced at the two Australian guys sitting behind me. The one on the right was raising his eyebrow as if to say “She’s wearing that shirt AND she’s alone on this tour? How frightfully sad.” I must mention now that this man was wearing full eye makeup and lip gloss. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Back to the tour: Kelsey the tour guide is a self-described struggling actress whose knowledge of New York movie locations and movies in general was sincerely impressive. Kelsey is very smart and extremely good at her job, and actually seems like someone I might be friends or friendly acquaintances with, if she wasn’t about to learn that I was mentally disturbed. The bus moved through traffic, with Kelsey cheerfully narrating even the most banal film locations along the way. But as we made our way to the now-closed first “Soup Nazi” restaurant, there was a stirring in the cabin. Neil Patrick Harris was spotted doing some sort of press event on the sidewalk right next to us! This wasn’t even part of the tour! Kelsey asked the bus driver to stop so we could take pictures:
Then we drove by the Time Warner Center (NBC’s Kings, Ellen-when-Ellen-comes-to-New York), Central Park (Crocodile Dundee, Kate And Leopold), and The Empire State Building. You know, The Empire State Building? Where Spin City took place? That Empire State Building.
Finally, we made our first real stop, at Washington Square Park, where we got a double dose of Will Smith movie nostalgia: both Hitch AND I Am Legend were filmed here. Our big photo opportunity, as a bus, was Hitch‘s front stoop, where an unfortunate man was trying to eat his lunch. Kelsey was, in addition to tour guide, the official photo-taker for everyone. When it was my turn, I tentatively stepped up and handed her my camera.
“Oh my god that is the BEST SHIRT EVER! ‘Just Jack!’ I love it!” Kelsey said loudly as I tried to sink into the background while thinking “No way, Kelse. Nice try, but you know this shirt sucks.” All the bus people around me took the opportunity to sneak one more look, and two women my age wearing matching TIGGER and EYEORE Disney store sweatshirts pursed their lips in silent, ironic judgment. As I posed for the picture (doing as much of an approximation of the “Just Jack” jazz hands as my then-still-intact ego would allow), I reminded myself that I was doing this on a DARE. It was a joke. I wasn’t this person in this shirt on this tour. I was cool. Right? Like the Marines or middle school, the TV and Movie location tour and the “Just Jack” tshirt were about to break me down so they could build me back up again.
We loaded back on the bus and headed downtown, where we paused to take photos of Spiderman’s apartment on Chrystie Street and headed through SoHo, where I was GREATLY disappointed to find no mention of After Hours, one of my favorite NYC-filmed movies because it showcased how fucked up and trashy looking SoHo was in the ’80s. On our way, the TV screens on the bus lit up and showed the movie scene upon which our next stop was based: the pizza place in SoHo where Rosario Dawson worked in Men In Black II. Sure, okay, the pizza place where Rosario Dawson worked in Men In Black II. I can pretend to be excited about that. This time, I decided to use a slice of pizza as a prop and pretend to take a bite as Kelsey took my photo. I was getting into it. Almost:
Our next stop took us to TriBeCa, where Kelsey pointed out a throng of photographers waiting outside the 1st Precinct. “That’s where Kiefer Sutherland is about to turn himself in!” she said excitedly, displaying a remarkable ability to think on her feet that I silently appreciated. Then we stopped at, uh, like, a firehouse that was in Ghostbusters? I’m pretty sure. I was getting kind of tired by now. After taking this shot, Kelsey noted that “This is the first picture where you’ve looked serious!”
Yeah, no shit lady, I wanna check my email.
But our next stop was super exciting: the townhouse in the West Village where the Huxtables lived on The Cosby Show! Not really, because they lived in Brooklyn Heights and the show was filmed in Astoria, but this was an image seared on my brain in childhood. Now we were talking a real location:
We were back on the bus and headed to a very special last location when something magical happened. As we approached the Puck Building, Kelsey’s voice came over the PA: “Everyone loves Will And Grace, right?” People clapped normally and I clapped furiously. “Who’s everyone’s favorite character on Will and–”
“JAAAAAACCCK!” I screamed, clapping and kind of jumping up and down in my seat as my fellow passengers smugly took note. “I know someone really loves Jack!” Kelsey finished, and debuted the site of Grace’s studio as a clip played on our TV sets: it was a clip where Jack actually does the hands and says “Just Jack!” I pulled out my camera and made as big a production of attempting to take a picture of the TV screen as I possibly could:
And that was the moment when I went full retard. As we approached our last site, the Friends apartment, Kelsey did a “pop quiz” about Seinfeld, the answer to which was “a black-and-white cookie,” and as we exited the bus we were each given a black-and-white cookie of our own. At the site, Kelsey explained that despite scenes depicting otherwise, the Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment (later to be Ross’s apartment) was actually not directly across the street from the Friends apartment, but was down a few yards on the same block. (She pointed it out, and I memorized its location so I can do the same if I’m ever walking by with people, because that’s such a silly fun thing to know!) It was time for my last photo. As Kelsey got ready to take the shot, I lifted the black-and-white cookie and pretended to take a bite:
“You might want to put the cookie down because that’s Seinfeld, and this is Friends” Kelsey offered, speaking very slowly and helpfully.
“No, I want the cookie!” I said. Who was this person?? Kelsey shrugged and took the shot:
“You’re going to have so much fun looking at these when you get home!” she said. And it was true! Having finally found my character, I was sad that the tour was almost over. There was so much more I could have done! I could have asked every single person if they liked Will And Grace. I could have feigned even more total disinterest in anything un-Jack-related. I could have worn socks with sandals. As we headed back to midtown, it began to rain, and Kelsey led us all in a singalong of “Smelly Cat.” And not just the chorus: actual full verses. I sang along to the parts I knew, as loud as I could, and slipped ten bucks into the gratuity envelopes Kelsey had passed out along with our brochures:
“Kelsey,” if you’re googling your company and reading this, I was totally wearing that shirt as a joke! I’m cooler than that! Really. I just have a job where I have to do stupid stuff sometimes. You know how it is.