Guide Lines Make Tours Into Laughing Matters : New Orleans: Taking a city tour is about the best way to get acquainted with a town, particularly if the guide is good and can keep up the jokes.

O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

He climbed up the steps of the bus, stood on his tiptoes and counted heads.

Afterward he sat down, adjusted his microphone, turned up the air conditioning and pulled away from the curb.

"Ya'll get comfortable, now. You gentlemen can loosen your belts, you ladies do the best you can. My name's Curtis Majors and I want to welcome ya'll to the official tour of the city of New Orleans."

It was 98 degrees and the humidity was reportedly 97%. Even though it was uncomfortable, the driver made up for it with his corny routine. And he did get a few laughs.

Almost everywhere we go, my wife Joyce and I take city tours. We've found that it's about the best way to get acquainted with a town. And if the guide is good, he kind of makes you feel the personality of the city itself.

"New Orleans," our guide said, "is one of the most beautiful places the Lord ever made, friends. But today it is just a mite warm. To tell you the truth, there are better months to visit New Orleans than July."

Wrong Month

Somebody reminded him that it was August. He just guffawed.

We were in the French Quarter when he turned a corner into a traffic jam. "I'm sure you'll be happy to know," he said, "that I have been rated as one of the 10 best drivers in the country." There was some applause.

"But unfortunately," he went on, "this is my first day in the city."

The passengers groaned.

Up ahead, a rental truck had pulled away from the curb and into the side of a van. Two men and a woman were standing in the street arguing. Our driver got off and walked up to the scene to see what he could do. In a few minutes he was back.

"Well, folks," he said, "there was nobody hurt, but they're working at it, now. I don't mean they're trying to clear up the accident; I mean they're working on getting somebody hurt. Ya'll should hear that argument.

"I'd have been back sooner, but there was this dog chasing a cat and I stopped to watch. It's so hot out there they were both walking."

More groans.

Tour de Force

After about 20 minutes, a policeman cleared the way behind the bus and our driver backed down the street till we were clear of the traffic jam.

"This is going to be one of the fun tours, folks. I just wish ya'll were younger. I'm afraid you're gonna remember most of my jokes. We're not working with a whole lot of new material here, you know."

He was right about the material, some of which he'd mutter to himself and then laugh at. Even that was fun. "Should I tell 'em about the New Orleans coffee, about how you can write home with it instead of about it? Haw haw haw, that's funny. Naw, this bunch is too smart for an old one like that."

Everyone agreed.

As we passed through a section of old, beautiful and expensive homes, he said: "I live over there. See the big house with the columns out in front? I live just two doors and 15 miles past that."

We learned about Spanish moss. (It just won't hang around trees that have any kind of "T.O." That's Tree Odor.)

Long's Louisiana

We learned a lot about a great city. He told us about Huey Long. "Some folks was sorry he died before he could do all he wanted to do for Louisiana, and others were glad he died before he could do all he wanted to do to Louisiana.

He told us about plantation life and the Creoles and the Cajuns. Over the ensuing two hours we did a lot of laughing and maybe a little groaning. "Some of these jokes are by W. C. Fields, some by Harry Lauder and, of course, there are some old jokes in here, too."

But 2 1/2 hours later, when he dropped us off at our hotel, we knew a lot more about New Orleans and we'd had a fun time. When he said, "Ya'll come back now," we told him we would and both of us meant it.

Six days later, 200 miles north, in Baton Rouge, at the start of our tour of Cajun Country, a man named Henry LaFluer was our guide. As he took us through the outskirts of Baton Rouge, we passed what looked like the main house of a plantation, surrounded by an immense lawn.

"That," said Henry, "is the house Jimmy Swaggert calls his little two-bedroom home."

In Vancouver, "one of the world's cleanest cities," our tour included steam clocks, suspension bridges, ferry rides and a line of patter from our guide-driver, Mike Dixon, that kept most of us grinning a good part of the time.

Star of the Show

The young man said, as far as he was concerned, that his job was to keep the audience awake and happy so he could show off the star of the show to the best advantage. The star, he said, was Vancouver.

It worked out that way, too. My wife and I remember the city, a star of the Pacific Northwest.

Later when we got to Ireland, we skipped the Dublin tour, but we had guides through the rest of Ireland. Some we grew to like so much, it's a little hard to separate them from what they were showing us.

Our first, Peter Bourke, had thick glasses and a forehead that reached to behind his ears. He was full of good spirits, and introduced himself and Frank, the bus driver.

"He's a very fine driver," said Peter, "but for the curse that's on him. He has a little problem with blackouts."

There was a sharp intake of breath from a few of the passengers.

"You see," said Peter, "when he's going to be driving a tour group he gets a haircut. When that happens, his hat tends to fall down over his eyes and he can't see a thing."

"Not a thing," Frank said.

Irish Legends

During the tour he introduced us to Ireland's history and her legends. "Tursty work, I tink me troat is getting dry."

So we'd find a singing pub and sing a little and "have a taste" and cry a bit about Rose of Tralee or Danny Boy or the Wild Colonial Boy.

"Don't drink too much. It's deadly, you know. It was drink that killed my cousin?"

"It was?"

"He was run over by a Guinness truck."

When the tour was ending, Joyce and I went to thank Peter. He was pushing something into his carry-on. "Was that Joe Miller's joke book?" I asked.

"Over here, Joe Miller is named Des MacHale," he said. "And I'm not above borrowing a line or two, if it helps do the trick."

"And what is the trick?"

He looked surprised. "Why, it's to make you happy memories, so you want to come back."

We've been back three times since then and we'll go back again. The last time, we met Dublin's Floozy in the Jacuzzi, but that's another story.

And we'll be going back to New Orleans and Baton Rouge and Rome and Lucerne and Dublin and Vancouver and Kansas City and Paris and Chicago and . . .

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