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Tour Guide Curt Upton (center) from Eat NYC Tours explores the heart of Greenwich Village with a flock of out-of-town foodies. Photo by Josh Gosfield
“My first tour was nerve-wracking. I was at Cornelia and Bleecker, looking at all these people as I tried to memorize all the facts and scripts in my head. I just came out and told them, ‘I’m feeling very nervous.’ They were very welcoming to that. Now, I can go up to a group and have them giggling in 3 minutes. They deserve it. They’ve spent good money on the experience, and for many of them, coming to New York is the trip of a lifetime. How did I get here? My father died in a car accident before I was born. My mother was very difficult to live with, so at 16, I left home. When I was 17, I quit high school. I wanted to be a comedian or an actor, so I bought a 1-way ticket to London. The plan was to become a model and get an agent. I modeled in London and Milano. I was only 20, and I had no family support, so I had to keep swimming, or I’d drown.
I moved back to Vancouver, took acting classes, and did some film work, theater, improv, and stand-up. But unless you want to do children’s theater, the ceiling for actors in Vancouver is very low. Quentin Crisp, an old British writer I met, convinced me to move to NYC when he said, ‘The streets are paved with happiness.’ I got a job at Lola’s restaurant and was suddenly making $1500 a week. But I’m Canadian, and I had horrible problems with my papers.
My casting director couldn’t cast me in anything. By then, I was working in a restaurant run by psycho freaks. I was drinking bourbon in the morning, thinking, ‘This couldn’t get any worse.’ That’s when these local tours started coming by. Being a tour guide isn’t something you go to school for, but I thought, ‘I’d be very good at this.’ The people on these tours want to feel special. And I’m looking for a genuine connection, too. Unless the person’s a horrible jerk, it’s important that people are nice to each other. That’s all we got.”