I’ve been going through our collection of photos from over the years, in what feels like a never-ending fruitless task of trying to organize all our files into a cohesive and logical format. I can be a sucker for punishment I guess.
As no surprise our photo collection increased each year as photo technology changed from film roll cameras, to disoposable cameras, digital cameras and eventually cramming everything into your phone.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced the myriad emotional pangs of looking at older pictures of oneself compared to the reflection staring back at us in the mirror. 22 years of tours, varying guides, varying t-shirt styles, still almost always either wearing blue jeans in the winter or grey shorts in the summer. Somethings never changes. And yes most of my grey shorts have been and still are cargo shorts, I’m comfortable with owning cargo shorts at my age, and I do actually put things in the pockets.
I’ve been blessed to meet thousands of people over the years, work with lots of amazing guides with varying back grounds (actors, writers, lawyers, archival librarians, singers, massage therapists, technicians, directors, musicians, historians)- so many people of varying backgrounds but all with a common shared interest of a love a literature, history, a good story, and a well crafted drink.
It’s been a blessing and an enriching part of my life.
I keep reflecting on why I keep doing this. As the years go by my needs have changed, financial needs have changed, I’m a parent of 2 kids, my survival job keeps me on the road (or did until recently) my wife’s career has taken off and requires more time.
We also struggled as the walking tour industry exploded, large companies with more backing and better advertising and outreach, vastly increased competition, more online companies complicating and dispersing the market, becoming middle-men, middle-women, middle-people, basically getting in between us and the customer, taking a portion of our income and making it harder to find us. Overhead costs go up, income goes down. Over 22 years of crawling and feeling like a start up in the online world- these have been daunting, frustrating, depressing, challenging- sometimes intriguing to learn new sides, but we face the same realities that many businesses have faced, that we work harder to make the same or less money.
Hey, that’s business. Not passion, but it’s the reality of business.
But last night I was doing some research for our next Virtual Literary Pub Crawl. Finding some more info on Walt Whitman and Pfaff’s. Through that I found new hand drawn sketches of Whitman I’d never seen before. I found an interview with Whitman from 1886 mentioning a book he was very impressed by, The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountians. “An exceptionally strong and interesting book” by Miss Murfree. Well then I went and found the book (as it is in the public domain, published in 1885. So I downloaded it and have added it to my reading list (which is already too long).
Here’s the interesting thing though. Mary Noailles Murfree published under a male pseudonym, as was common for far too long in the publishing industry. So technically in 1885 the book was published by “Charles Egbert Craddock” Which led me to 2 curious facts.
1) What the hell was Murfree drinking when she chose Egbert and Craddock as potentially successful names for a writer? I mean Charles, sure why not. But to think, “hmmm what will sell books…Craddock maybe but it’s not strong enough, it needs a stronger lead, it needs a hook, it needs….an Egbert.”
2) Whitman is even more amazing to me, because aone year after the book is published under a male pseudonym Whitman quite deliberately calls attention to the book and uses the actual author’s name and gender when describing it. He was ahead of his time.
This of course quickly led into some of the other writers of the antebellum bohemian movement in NYC, pretty much centered at Pfaff’s, and of course you can’t talk female, writer, bohemian and antebellum in the same sentence without focusing immediately on the Queen of Bohemians, Ada Clare. (I guess technically almost no one talks female, writer, bohemian, and antebellum in the same sentence any more except us at the pub crawl and the amazing website The Vault at Pfaff’s and historian Stephanie M. Blalock)
From there I discovered that not only was Ada Clare one of 2 people to really bring the bohemian scene to NY, as well as contributing to the American literary canon, but she became passionate about fostering this literary scene through a friendship and participation in the literary Salons of Anne Charlotte Lynch. Lynch, (later married into Botta) was known for her literary salons in Greenwich Village, and was fairly instrumental to helping Edgar Allan Poe in his rise to literary fame. It’s believed that the first full reading of the Raven in front of an audience was done in her living room on Waverly Place.
From there I learned that Pfaff’s, like any good bar of the time, was closed on Sundays. Probably not necessarily out of the kindness of heart but by the strict law requiring Sunday closures. So Ada Clare decided to host her own literary salons for the Pfaff’s artistic crowd at her home, a brownstone on 42nd street. And suddenly I’m up out of my chair as I find yet another amazing literary connection for our Times Square tour. Through the Vault at Pfaff’s I find a reference from Walt Whitman’s diary that mentions the address. Now I know the rough location (building is long gone by now).
From there I’m excitedly looking at our route on the Times Square Literary Pub Crawl, and trying to see how to alter the route to go by here. That would allow us to call out another building (gone now) but was a famous prohibition hangout for F. Scott Fitzgerald. This would also go by the location of the theater where Theodor Dreiser’s main character from Sister Carrie made her fame on broadway in his debut novel, a novel that was quite possible the first novel that had Longacre Square as one of the settings (Longacre now Times Square of course). And suddenly I’m not re-connecting some spots and sections of Jennifer Egan’s recent novel Manhattan Beach and I’m even more excited when I can bring current, living authors into our tours.
Now I’m suddenly up later than I should be, I’m putting together a list of new bars, I’m now making it even more difficult to organize our digital files by frantically tossing new articles, pictures, documents to the mix and THAT is why I still do this.
I can’t stop being passionate about it. I want to take you there. I want to share this with the guides and see their excitement and passion get reignited. If I can’t take you there yet, I want to get another virtual tour going on this area, I want to memorize some new poems and sections of prose to share with you. I want to inspire you to read new authors, past and present. I want to meet you and share a drink with you. Until that time, I want to share stories and connect with you.
In the end it’s about connections.
We will return. We will walk togehther, we will drink together, we will share together. But we’re not going away. We’ve got virtual tours lining up.
And I’m too damn passionate to stop researching, and I’m too damn passionate about sharing it with you to stop no matter what. So I look forward to seeing you soon!