Maryland Journal

Visitors to Baltimore explore city streets and ply the city's waterways in a `duck'

A different kind of tour

June 25, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

It's a whole new Charm City from up here, puttering along the congested streets of downtown, cheesy '80s music blaring in the background, as Captain America or Smiley tells you just about everything you wanted to know (and nothing that you didn't).

Past the notorious Block of adult entertainment bars and clubs briefly alluded to, past the hobos in Mount Vernon Park, who arise from their slumber to wave at the amphibious vehicle, past Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where just about every day another victim falls victim to a homicide.

Never mind those darker areas of Charm City.

This here is the "Ride the Ducks" tour. (Yours for $24, one buck less if you're 55 or over. Children between 3 and 12 get in for $14).

There is music. There is quacking (lots of it). And there is a descent into the at-first-smelly Inner Harbor, as the skyline beckons from the water.

And there are all kind of facts and figures and firsts.

The Battle Monument in front of the city's Circuit Courthouses -- first memorial to honor soldiers in the War of 1812 (as opposed to generals).

First Unitarian Church in the country. First monument dedicated to George Washington. First YMCA. First Otis elevator.

World's tallest pentagonal building (is there a lot of competition?) -- World Trade Center.

"Baltimore is an older city and there's a lot of Baltimore firsts on the tours here today," says Captain America, aka Bob Carlisle, on a recent sunny morning.

This is somewhat impressive to Corine Milne, in her 40s, and Ann Padron, 23, two stylish, Miami-based women here for an orthopedics convention.

The duo says they are struck by the old-school charm of Baltimore. The duck tour, they say, seemed like a fun way to explore the city.

"It's something different," said Milne. "Looks like a lot of fun."

"Are we ready to rumble?" hollers Captain America to the group of about 20. "Are you guys ready to have some fun this morning here in Baltimore?" he continues as he makes the group practice quacking with their "wacky quackers," courtesy of the tour.

"We are going to make a lot of friends on the streets of Baltimore today," Captain America continues, as he guides them in a practice quack.

"All right guys, let's make some friends." There is something about the amphibious vehicle (a design based on a 1942 World War II military vehicle) that brings smiles and waves from just about everyone. Or maybe it's the persistent barrage of quacks, surely a jarring sound in the middle of a workday.

"Hey!" hollers a man eating lunch on Charles Street in Mount Vernon. "Welcome to Baltimore!"

Not everyone on board is a tourist. There are people from other parts of Maryland. Former residents of Baltimore come to see their old stomping grounds anew. And even current residents in search of a different perspective, perhaps.

Peter Liao and his wife, Carol Schmidhauser, had the day off so they decided to take their 2-year-old son, Matthew, for a spin through their old home. The couple now lives in Lutherville.

"The most interesting part is seeing how things change," said Liao. "Seeing all the changes is fascinating. That visitor's center wasn't there. You drive by yourself and you don't see all the stuff that's happening."

Randi Braman, 42, of Owings Mills, here with her mother visiting from Pennsylvania and her 5-year-old son, Sam, appreciates the odd facts and tidbits.

Facts like that oversized neon Domino Sugar sign. Did you know that a 6-foot person could stand in the dot in the I and that the sign is as big as a basketball court?

"I like the different things about the monuments," says Braman. "You go down streets you don't normally go on."

The tour steers clear of the rougher neighborhoods, focusing on downtown, Mount Vernon, Harbor East, Fells Point and Little Italy, though it makes a brief foray into part of West Baltimore to glide past the Hippodrome and Lexington Market (really just the west side of downtown).

Braman was intrigued by the mural on the front of "My Sister's Garden," a women's shelter in West Baltimore, where each flower was painted by a homeless women.

Sam seemed most impressed by the water part of the tour. "I cannot swim in this water," says Sam.

"You wouldn't want to swim in this water," answers Braman.

On another blazing summer afternoon, it's Captain Smiley, otherwise known as Jeanne Williams, navigating the streets of Baltimore with a duck tour full of Queen Anne Red Hat Swingers, the Kent Island branch of the Red Hat Society, a social organization for women over 50.

Wearing wide-brimmed red hats and purple attire, the ladies quack and hoot and gush and holler as Captain Smiley fills their heads with Baltimore factoids.

"I really don't know a lot about Baltimore other than Johns Hopkins Hospital," says Rose Durbin. "It's big and crowded."

"Hang on to your hats," says Captain Smiley as the packed tour heads out.

They travel up Charles Street, where a burly man in a bandanna waves and two Red Hat ladies quack in a catcall way to several men on the sidewalk.

"There's always room in the bus for one more," one lady says to another.

"Baltimore is a city that reads," says Captain Smiley, pointing out the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

She explains the Believe campaign. "You'll see a lot of Believe signs," she says.

"You'll see a lot of redevelopment," she says, as the vehicle passes by several yawning stretches of construction sites.

They plunge into the water. "This is a great way to see the city and the waterway as well," says Durbin.

Then it's off to Fells Point, where the whiff of bread from H&S Bakery sends everyone into a tizzy, and the sights of Little Italy soon surround them, before it's back to the Inner Harbor.

"I couldn't recognize anything," says Doris Anderson, stepping off the duck. "I moved to Kent Island from Baltimore 20 years ago. It's a whole new city."

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.