Why New York, Sara Lyons?
Did you enjoy getting to know Jeremy Wilcox, Jared Goldstein and Ben Wagenberg? Next up is a young woman that I think will go places in this industry! While she hasn’t been a tour guide for that long, she is the real deal New Yorker! Meet Sara Lyons! Check out her stories and see how she responded to the questionnaire I have in this series of asking professional, licensed tour guides the question: Why New York?
Please read below.
Q: Name, year born
A: Sara Lyons, 1993
Q: Where were you born?
A: New York
Q: If NYC born, did you ever leave the City for more than a year?A: No! Technically I’m suburban-born, just barely outside of Queens, but I’ve been on the subway map my whole life (top right corner, on that patch of transit-less land). I love my city, and I wanted to be able to get around in it easier, so I left my two-fare zone in favor of a one-fare locale in Harlem.
Q: When did you become a NYC licensed tour guide?A: 2018Q: How did you become a tour guide? What made you go into the profession?A: I went on a brilliant tour of Governor’s Island that was led by a ranger who had grown up as a military kid on the island. He told us not only the history of the facilities around us, but his own personal history – they still haven’t fixed the threshold that he tripped over and skinned his knee on, that kind of stuff. I was floored, and my mom was sure this was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. About 7 years later, I’m looking for a job post-BA on Playbill and I see an ad offering jobs as a tour guide in New York, seeking NY actors who enjoy history. I guess it was fate!
Q: Tell me the worst thing that ever happened on a tour, and how you handled it?A: I once had a guy at Grand Central on the 4/5/6 platform work his way in front of me to cut me off from my guests as I was telling them about the subway, cursing about me the whole time, before trying to steal my flag and push me onto the tracks. My guests were hip, though, and we communicated a plan to shake him entirely with head and eyebrow twitches. I led him a car forward as a decoy while my guests got on the car behind, then darted back to get in the car with them before he could catch me. The doors closed before he could get in, and the conductor (who figured out quickly what was happening) made sure he couldn’t get in after us. It’s the most dangerous situation I’ve been in on tour, but my guests were great at working out a solution for all of us with me, and they all came out of it proud of how clever we’d been.
Q: Tell me about the best experience you ever had as a guide, that may have changed your perspective and made you an even better guide?A:There are so many that it’s hard to pick just one, so I’m gonna cheat and give you two. I was part of a group of guides who took about 100 recently-arrived teenagers here under asylum to Ellis Island, along with the counselors from their summer day camp with IRC. We got to teach them about the people who’d gone through this process before them, and to learn more about what they envisioned for their future. And you’d think that teenagers would just be surly or rambunctious, but these kids were amazing, and also amazed at everything. Some had come from landlocked countries and had never been on a boat before! They reminded us all to never lose sight of how amazing this experience is, whether we’re taking a tour for the first time or giving it for the 101st. A couple of weeks later, though, something else happened that made my heart swell. I had a couple on my tour from Kansas, but one of them had a thick accent from somewhere in southern Europe, too thick to be inherited from someone else stateside. I don’t press these questions usually, but when we were leaving the Statue of Liberty for our next destination, I asked if anyone had any Ellis Island immigrants in their family. He raised his hand and said no, he didn’t, but he came over as an immigrant himself in the 1980s from Portugal. Over the course of our whole Ellis Island experience together, he was nodding, sighing, chuckling, and telling us that not much has changed – he’d been through the same process applying for his visa that he was hearing about there, down to checking if he was a Communist. When we got to our last stop at the Wall of Honor, he was in tears. He thanked me for taking him here and telling him about the people coming here before him, and turned to the group to tell them how scared and alone he felt through his entire immigration process, not knowing that he was part of a huge family of people before and after him that share that experience. By the time he was done, we were ALL crying. I’m even tearing up as I type this. Every time I get someone asking if people like my Irish grandparents and my Honduran neighbors deserve to be here (as happens sometimes on our Statue/Ellis tour), I think of that man, of our group, and how important stories like his are to the fabric of our city.
Q: If you could no longer work as a tour guide, what profession would you seek?A: If I had to quit guiding and couldn’t rely on my theatrical work (financially, at least), I’d probably go back to school for dramaturgy or for museum curation.
Q: What kind of tour do you prefer giving? Walking, mode of transportation? Neighborhood? Theme?A: Walking tours are perfect for me – I don’t have the patience or constitution to give a bus tour, especially hop-on hop-off ones (and I have much respect for those who do), and I feel like every group I’ve taken in a private car or limo has been less engaged mentally for the lack of physical engagement. And as a history nerd, anything that lets me teach my guests the way I was taught I’m down for. I’m a huge fan of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but I’m also fond of my company’s neighborhood tours, especially those that run through Revolutionary War territory or through Chinatown, where I get to dive into all sorts of family history. My great-great-grandfather, who was a narcotics officer with the NYPD just after the turn of the century, was shot on Doyers (not fatally), and my family kept the bullet that was removed from his elbow. My guests think that’s the coolest thing, and I can’t help but agree!
Q: What do you want tourists to know about YOU?A: I begin every tour by telling them that this is my dream day job, and that I’m a local through and through. Guests, especially older ones, are often caught off-guard by how young I am when they arrive at check-in for our tour, but when I explain that I spent all of my life in and around NYC, that puts them at ease.
Q: Tell me a thing you don’t like about NYC?A: Congestion on 7th and 8th Avenue in Midtown late at night. I used to be even less forgiving, grumbling louder than I should as I practically vaulted over slow walkers to try to make it to my train at Penn Station on time. Now that I’m a guide, though, I understand how tired everyone is at that point in their day of touring. It also helps that I don’t have to make a train that only comes once every 30-60 minutes nowadays. I have still been known to walk in the street to bypass or avoid families that walk all in a row and block the whole sidewalk, though.
Q: Where do you buy your coffee/tea?
A: I get my tea (dry, for home preparation) from Myers of Keswick in the Village whenever I can – they have straight-label Twinings (their British blend, and more flavorful than their international mix), both bagged and loose leaf; and while I don’t drink coffee, I get my hot chocolate from The Chipped Cup on 149th, and from City Bakery on 18th St.
Q: What’s your favorite NYC food?
A: Pizza, definitely, especially a good $1 slice. But if pressed on my favorite hot dog (my second favorite NYC food), I’d say to go to the cart in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and order a jumbo cheese dog. The guy there makes the best “dirty water dog” I’ve ever had in my life.
Sara, thank you so much for sharing your insight in the industry and why it’s such a good fit for you. Also, need to try out that tea shop. I’m drink too much coffee and too little tea so maybe I can get inspired!
If you want to follow Sara on ther way through the City, please go ahead and do so on her Instagram account: @saralyons1993