Escapes: New York's new bus tour, The Ride, is a real experience

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2010; 4:02 PM

Only in New York would a man undressing in the middle of midtown Manhattan not cause a stir.

As the guy on the sidewalk ripped off his trousers to reveal "I (heart) New York" boxers, two women walking right past him never interrupted their conversation. No one seemed to care when he took off his wig, either.

I watched this scene unfold from a bus. But not just an ordinary New York bus. This bus was outfitted with 3,000 LED lights and three rows of stadium seats. This was "Experience: The Ride," a new theater production in which all of midtown Manhattan is the stage.

I didn't know what to expect as I boarded the bus at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the 41/2-mile, 75-minute ride. I settled into a front-row seat, facing the side of the bus that's transparent from floor to ceiling. Was this going to be a city tour? An improv show? Street theater? A silly way to spend an afternoon? The answer: all of the above.

More than a dozen performers were stationed at various points along our route to sing, dance, juggle or simply act goofy for our pleasure. I'd booked a 2 p.m. show on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the streets were packed with shoppers and tourists. That's how you want to experience "The Ride," because the actions of everyday New Yorkers are just as funny as those of the performers.

Our tour guides were Jackie and Scott, graduates of New York University and Columbia University, respectively. (Turns out they were actors, but for a while there, Scott had me completely convinced that he had earned a degree in urban planning from Columbia.)

Our bus, "The Ride," was also a character. "His" voice boomed over a loudspeaker. He would occasionally scan people and objects and, in his deep voice, impart all sorts of random facts about them. ("Subject: New Yorker. Cost of purse: $2,500. Cash in purse: $7.52.")

With the Times Square jumbotron behind him, an actor wearing sparkly oversize 2011 glasses led us in a New Year's countdown. ("The Ride" will feature a holiday theme until Jan. 2). "Ma'am, can't I get a New Year's Eve kiss?" he asked a young woman when we got to 1. She declined, but other passersby were more willing to go along with the show.

On one street, three police officers broke into a dance and waved at us. In front of the Charmin Restrooms on Broadway, a woman wearing a plastic toilet seat costume around her waist started dancing with a man in a puffy purple jacket as he sang a rap song. Outside the Bank of America building, a man wearing silver pants and a silver hat joined Santa Claus in a tap dance.

Who was a performer and who was a spectator? It was hard to tell sometimes, especially in a city where a walking Elmo outside a Times Square store is not such a rarity.

Between scenes, Scott and Jackie threw out random New York facts. Did you know, for instance, that Santa Claus has ended the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year except for 1933, when he led the parade? Or that construction workers built the Chrysler Building four floors per week?

Scott and Jackie also tested our knowledge with the occasional "Quiz Show" break. The cost of renovating the ceiling of Grand Central Station was $75 million, "The Ride" told us. "What was covering the ceiling?" Scott asked.

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