Susan Laubach,” the message on my voice mail muttered in a “Sopranos” tough-guy accent. “I have very impawtant instructions for youse, but we’re gettin’ off to a bad start heah. I don’t like to leave voice mail ’cause you know why? It leaves evidence, Susan. So I want you to take this phone and smash it with a hammer because you put the project in jeopardy, Susan.” A brief pause, then, “I have real trepidation about youse takin’ on this project.” In spite of this, my caller continued with instructions on where I was to meet my connection the following day.
“Be there at 4:30 ... On time,” the voice snarled before hanging up.
The next day, a warm Sunday in May, a dozen fellow “accomplices” and I stood waiting for our connection— who showed up 15 minutes late. (In the spirit of the day, I’ll have to keep the location secret.) He was decked out in Full Wise Guy, a made man in black sport coat, black shirt, shiny white tie, black briefcase and identified himself only as “Louie.” He then muttered something about taking somebody out because of a mix-up in the meeting place.
Looking around as if to make sure he wasn’t overheard, Louie gave us our assignment: to take a message regarding an important rendezvous to his low-life associates. We would find these people through clues that he couldn’t divulge out loud.
“The Feds are everywhere,” he said. Then he furtively pulled some photographs from the case, thrust them into my hand. “Heah. Take these. And keep dis quiet, heah? Now go.” He quickly melted back into the crowd, leaving us on our own to stare at the photos and find their locations in the vicinity, just the beginning of this three-hour adventure/scavenger hunt, and one of the most unusual ways to see the Big Apple.
Accomplice: New York is the brainchild of the brother-sister team of Tom Salamon, formerly in the film business, and Betsy Salamon-Sufott, a practicing psychotherapist, both native New Yorkers who came up with the idea of a scavenger hunt/mystery adventure after they took a walking tour in Manhattan, and found themselves “at the mercy of a boring guide.”
Figuring there must be a better way to entertain and enlighten, Tom and Betsy worked out the details of the current production, auditioned dozens to find their seven talented improvisational actors and Accomplice: New York was born. Now in its third season, the tour, which costs $50 per person, runs Saturdays and Sundays from April through October, each adventure differing only in the way its improvisational actors interact with the participants. A second scavenger hunt/walking tour, Accomplice: The Village, held in the streets of Greenwich Village, runs year-round.
“The experience is intriguing for both New Yorkers and out-of-towners,” Tom later told me, “because it forces you to look at things closely and you become hyper-aware of your surroundings.” That was, indeed, true. Members of our group may have wandered through both Little Italy and Chinatown in the past, but none had ever attempted to get a local to translate a Chinese fortune cookie message or to locate an iglesia near Mulberry Street, two of the mystery’s clues.
The 12 of us accomplices, ranging in age from late teens to late 60s, from near (Westchester County, Long Island) and far (St. Louis, Chicago, Baltimore) quickly bonded into a scavenging team. A glitch in the scheduling had increased our number from the usual eight, making it somewhat unwieldy as we threaded our way through New York’s Sunday sidewalk traffic, following clever clues to find the “associates” and give them Louie’s message. Each recipient then gave us a clue that would lead us to the next.
The characters in this drama included, among others, a “blind man” in City Hall Park; a homeless guy at the entrance to the pedestrian path on the Brooklyn Bridge; a crabby construction worker so convincing that two people in our group apologized for bothering him and started to leave before he could give us the next clue; and a tough-talking Mafioso in Little Italy who poured us each a glass of wine from a huge bottle of good Italian red.
Along the way my fellow accomplices and I huddled together to decipher the clues, which were given to us in mumbled messages or on a tiny map or in that Chinese fortune cookie. Then we hurried along the crowded streets, in twos and threes, pointing out notable New York sights to each other. In essence, we became our own tour guides.
I dare not divulge more of the Accomplice plot and put “the project” (and me) in jeopardy. Besides, to tell any more would spoil the fun.
Suffice it to say, the clue scavenging kept us completely involved as we pointed and shouted in excitement over the din when we spied each of our quarries and destinations among the crowds. And the shared cooperation helped to bond the group like no other tour I had ever been on. At the end of the three-hour adventure, some wanted to continue the fun.
“Let’s go for a drink at that bar near the Seaport,” said Carl from Long Island.
“... if we can find our way back there,” cautioned his wife.
“And if the Feds aren’t on to us by now,” said George from Westchester, still captivated by the spirit of the day. 9
For tickets to Accomplice: New York or Accomplice: The Village, call 212-209-3370 or visit http://www.accomplicenewyork.com.
Five More Ways to See New York City Anew
>>Shop Gotham Tours give fashionistas the inside scoop on where to find fab clothes in various Manhattan neighborhoods from SoHo to NoLita and the Garment Center. Tour guides sprinkle small doses of New York fashion trivia between pointing out bargains. Tickets, $36. 917-599-6650, http://www.shopgotham.com
>>A Slice of Brooklyn, the city’s only guided, pizza-themed bus tour, helps introduce pizza-challenged tourists to Brooklyn history while stopping to snack at four classic pizzerias along the way. Tickets, $55. 212-209-3370, http://www.bknypizza.com
>>Big Onion Walking Tours have been showing visitors distinct parts of New York City since 1991. Among its more than two dozen tours, unique offerings include a Gangs of New York tour, which includes stops at the real-life sites that inspired the Martin Scor-sese film and a Green-Wood Cemetery tour of New York’s great Victorian “City of the Dead.” Tickets, $15. 212-439-1090, http://www.bigonion.com
>>Foodies will relish The Enthusiastic Gourmet’s tours of Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Little Italy. Stops along the way range from a kosher pickle shop to a Chinese dumpling maker. Tickets, $45. 646-209-4724, http://www.enthusiasticgourmet.com
>>This one is not a walking tour, but if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a New York City bike messenger, Bike the Big Apple tours can give you an idea. The company offers five tours of New York— from pedaling the fast-paced business district to easier, more relaxed culinary tours of uptown hot spots to an “Ethnic Apple” tour that covers immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and the Lower East Side. The $75 fee includes bike, helmet and tour guide. 877-865-0078, http://www.toursbybike.com —Joe Sugarman