Summer Escapes: Stick Around

By Janelle Nanos | Boston Magazine |

My Day as a Tourist

A local goes undercover with the visiting hordes.

Tourism is Boston’s fourth-largest industry, and you could easily fill a week with nonstop sightseeing. But I don’t have a week. So in order to hit as many tourist attractions as possible in a 24-hour period, I awake at dawn.

I have some trepidations about the Boston Gliders Segway tour [$60, bostongliders.com]: the weather, the cobblestones, that thing with the Segway company owner Segwaying off a cliff to his death. No one else seems worried, though, and we start with an interminable (okay, seven-minute) instructional video in which everybody speaks with an overblown Boston accent and says “wicked,” “awesome,” and “pissah.” Hilarious.

It’s an odd concept, floating on a platform mere inches off the ground while moving at about 10 miles per hour. But seconds into the trip, I have the thing mastered, and realize that the main problem with a Segway tour is that you wind up ignoring the tour and instead focusing on how awesome the Segway is. I do pick up one fact, though: Relatively speaking, the Big Dig wasn’t all that big. In 1630 the city was only 783 acres, about a square mile. Three centuries later, we’ve tripled in size by “cutting down hills (Beacon Hill, for one) to fill the coves.”

The Segway tour survived, I climb aboard one of Boston Duck Tours’ 28 amphibious DUKWs [$32, bostonducktours.com]. I quickly discover that half the passengers onboard aren’t even tourists. They, like me, are locals touring their own city. Which, thankfully, means I have people to commiserate with over the mediocre factoids we keep getting: John Wilkes Booth stayed in the Parker House Hotel a week before he assassinated Lincoln; the topcoat Lincoln wore that night was made by Brooks Brothers on Newbury; and the long ramp extending from the TD Garden is inclined 33 degrees to accommodate circus elephants, who are incapable of walking up anything steeper.

Before long, we get to the moment everyone’s waiting for: the splash into the river. Our guide,“The Joker,” turns the wheel over to a 10-year-old girl, and the half of the passengers who aren’t from town capture the moment on their iPhones. I need a drink.

The Samuel Adams Brewery tour [$2, samueladams.com] is packed with hipsters, and I’m feeling old for remembering a time when Sam Adams was just a Patriot. We all know we’re really there for the beer, and so we nod patiently as our guide, Audrey, describes the intricacies of brewing and passes around some malted barley for us to chew (sweet and nutty with hints of roasted toffee) and papery green Hallertau Mittelfrueh hop buds to sniff (bitter, citrusy, floral). Someone asks: Are hops smokable? Audrey’s answer is well rehearsed: While she can’t vouch for its smokability, the hop is a kissing cousin to cannabis, perhaps the reason Jim Koch calls it the “soul of the beer.”

Our patience exhausted, Audrey at last leads us into the tasting room. Fun fact: A “session” beer is one you can comfortably drink a lot of in one session. Black Lager is just such a beer. Fourteen ounces later, I can barely hear myself drink. On the way out I purchase a souvenir six-pack.

Boston’s Ghosts & Gravestones “Frightseeing Tour” [$38, ghostsandgravestones.com] may sound cheesy, but it’s actually a good laugh, particularly after a few Sams. And it’s pretty obvious that most of the people on this bus are drunker than I am. When Constance Casket — our bloody tour guide — brags about all the husbands she’s killed (five), we all agree that one particularly intoxicated guy with us should become her sixth.

As church bells sound, Constance guides us by candlelight through a chilling drizzle to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (where the dead lie as many as 10 deep); the Granary Burying Ground (one tomb holds 500 children); and the Central Burying Ground, a “very large mass grave.”

It’s then that things get sloppy. Constance holds up a noose and asks for a volunteer, and the inebriated should-be sixth husband lurches forward in an attempt to kiss her. It’s no longer a Ghosts & Gravestones Tour. It’s become a drunken-douchebag-tourist ride, which is a good deal scarier. Sitting on the trolley, I laugh, realizing that in spite of myself, I’ve had a wicked pissah day.

— Steven Brykman