The bus tour begins on a patriotic note with a taped rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Over There” and other high-spirited songs.
A George Bush look-alike strolled to the front of the bus as it rolled down Connecticut Avenue. The “President” (in the person of actor Ed Henley) asked passengers to put their hands over their hearts and repeat after him:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States and to the Republicans for which it stands. . . .”
Henley held up a copy of the Washington Post with its bold headlines on the latest development in the Mayor Marion Barry matter and whooped:
“Welcome to the Scandal Tour!”
The streets of Washington are always jammed with buses. Some carry schoolchildren on field trips, some are filled with tour groups from around the nation and others are full of foreign visitors, who hear about our history in dozens of languages.
Since Aug. 27, 1988, another sort of bus has been rolling past the famous buildings and monuments. For $30 a person, this bus offers an irreverent and light-heartedly different tour of Washington--the seamy, scurrilous, even silly side of the capital of the free world.
It’s a theater-on-wheels, and it takes the stage--or, rather, the bus--six times a week here.
“That’s where Mayor Barry was busted in room 727,” said tour guide Henley as the bus passed the Vista Hotel. “So much scandal happens in this city, we have to constantly update our itinerary.”
In its 11-mile romp through the heart of D.C., the bus troupe may satirize any of 120 different scandals that are brewing or have brewed in the shadows of the monuments.
As the bus passes the Soviet Embassy, Henley, as President Bush, announced: “OK. Ready. Everybody shout together as loud as you can: We won the Cold War! We won the Cold War! “
At the White House, there is a brief report on Warren Harding’s escapades with a mistress in a cloak closet. Around the corner, across from the Old Executive Office Building, Fawn Hall (actress Shari Elliker) pointed out the window and said: “Over there is Shred Center.”
At another corner, the voice of Oliver North was heard testifying at the Iran-Contra hearings over the strains of the “Marine Hymn.”
The bus passed the Watergate complex where the bungled 1972 burglary of Democratic campaign headquarters led to Richard Nixon’s resignation two years later. As President Nixon, actor John Simmons paced the aisle of the bus, giving his famous victory signs and muttering:
“I was appalled at the senseless illegal activities. I am the President. I will always be the President.”
Throughout the tour, a half-dozen actors and actresses change costume in the restroom at the rear of the bus. Each takes on the character of someone caught up in a political scandal.
As the bus passed the 1852 red sandstone Norman Castle, the first Smithsonian building, Henley talked about one of the District of Columbia’s greatest benefactors--James Smithson, “the bastard son of the first Duke of Northumberland.”
“So incensed was the English scientist over his illegitimate birth that when he died in 1829, he left his substantial fortune to America instead of Great Britain to establish the famous institution named in his honor,” related Henley.
As the bus rounded the Tidal Basin, Henley asked, “Remember when Rep. Wilbur Mills was stopped by police for drunk driving and his girlfriend stripper Fanne Foxe, the ‘Argentine Bombshell’ flew out of the car’s passenger door and plunged into the Tidal Basin?”
At the halfway point, the tour bus stops and discharges its passengers to the sidewalk outside a three-story brownstone townhouse in tony Georgetown.
This is where, some say, presidential candidate Gary Hart’s hopes were dashed when Donna Rice was discovered exiting the back door.
Back on the bus, actor Simmons as Ronald Reagan pointed out HUD headquarters, vehemently denying the initials stand for “hundreds of unethical developers.”
As the charming Jacqueline Bird Roosevelt, “head of the School of First Ladies,” actress Marianne Curan dished some dirt surrounding the man whose name is on the Washington Monument:
“He did wear wooden teeth, you know. Martha frequently had splinters in her lips. They raised two children by Martha’s previous marriage. The father of our country was sterile, unable to produce children of his own.”
Actor Henley held up a copy of Life magazine with Barbara Bush’s picture on the cover and “revealed” that the First Lady gave Dan Quayle one of Millie’s puppies. “He named the puppy Checkers,” Henley said jokingly.
Rick London, 35, came up with the idea for the Scandal Tour. “My relatives were always coming to town asking me to take them to Gary Hart’s apartment and to Watergate.
“I was working with John Simmons, who has been performing with the Gross National Product (acting company) and doing satires on Washington politics in Georgetown for the past 10 years. I suggested we put together the bus tour,” said London, who has hired GNP actors and actresses to portray the characters on the Scandal Tour.
During its first full year in business, about 3,000 people took the Scandal Tour, producing gross sales of $80,000. Since last August, 6,000 more have come along for the ride.
Sales so far this year have totalled $168,000, the tour’s operators said. The original $20 fare has been raised to $30 to reflect rising costs, said London.
While most of the weekday Scandal Tours are chartered by groups, weekend tours continue to be filled by capital tourists traveling on their own.
“The nation’s capital is the original theme park. All the buildings are in place,” said London. “We sent President and Mrs. Bush gift certificates. But they haven’t used them yet.”