story and photos by Kayte Deioma
Boston has an abundance of great foul-weather activities, but if you have only a short time, there’s no better way to get the lay of the land on a dripping wet day than in an amphibious vehicle designed to go on land and water. In recycled military vehicles that once might have stormed the beach at Normandy, Boston Duck Tours takes you through the historical streets of downtown Boston and right into the Charles River for a waterborne view of Boston and Cambridge.
Our guide, the bearded Major Groovy, was dressed in a lavender Hawaiian shirt and crocheted lavender beret to match our hot lavender “duck.” He offered optional plastic rain ponchos to the passengers near the open back of the vehicle. Zipped-down plastic windows gave the rest of us the option of being as dry or wet as we chose to be.
We took off from the “Duck stop” in front of the Prudential Center, making our way splendidly though flooded streets that had less amphibious vehicles stopped cold. As we inched around a stalled car, Major Groovy gave us the safety drill: life jackets and throw rings on the ceiling in case anyone decides to take a dive off the duck once we hit water.
There was no sign of either Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon as we splashed past Boston Common but a line of closed-up movie trailers attested to the temporarily rained-out filming of their most recent movie, “The Departed.”
Major Groovy’s monologue kept us entertained with current statistics and historical facts and anecdotes as we made our way around Beantown’s major tourist attractions. He introduced us to the Suffolk County Jail, known as the “glamour slammer,” on our way to the river ramp.
We entered the Charles River near the dam that regulates its release into the Atlantic Ocean. We got in line behind two other Ducks, one white, another chartreuse, waiting for a camouflage green Duck coming out of the River. The heavy rain was creating a stronger-than-normal current, making the sixty-year-old vehicles work harder than usual to get through the narrow channel and out into the river.
Our guide narrated our way into the water: “Throw the Duck in neutral propeller on wheels off big splash coming up we’re afloat!” Our little crowd cheered.
“This thing was built in 1942. We believe that the very duck you are riding in actually hit the beach on D-day in 1944.” Major Groovy told us. “You can imagine how terrified the German troops must have been when they saw this hot lavender duck coming up out of the water driven by Major Groovy Hey guys peace and love man I should have been there could have straightened it all out.”
The rain was streaming down – way beyond drops by now. Clouds obscured the tops of the John Hancock and Prudential skyscrapers downtown, chopping them off at the knees. Through the veil of rain we got the waterfront view of the “glamour slammer” on the Boston side, the Museum of Science straddling the Charles River Dam, MIT on the Cambridge side, and the Esplanade Park along both banks of the river.
Back on land, we crossed the Charlestown Bridge with a view of the Bunker Hill Monument and made our way through the North End Italian neighborhood, past Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the Old South Meeting House and several other locations along the Freedom Trail. We circled past Beacon Hill, where we saw the Cheers Pub; the old Bull & Finch Pub which inspired the TV series, finally took its name last year.
A traffic accident on our planned route sent us on a detour through Newbury Street, Boston’s version of Rodeo Drive. Major Groovy quizzed us occasionally along the way to see if we had been listening. How many Dunkin Donut shops are there in Boston proper? Who is buried at the Granary Cemetery? How much is Boston’s Big Dig highway construction project costing taxpayers? Who won the battle at Bunker Hill? Which is the oldest tavern in the country? I’m not telling. You’ll have to take a Duck Tour and ask Major Groovy.
For more information, visit www.bostonducktours.com.
Boston Duck Tours are included in the Go Boston Card.