The Duck Boat—tourist attraction, bane to drivers, chariot of sports champions—has become a minor icon in Boston. Driving one of these amphibious machines takes more than nerves of steel, as I found out when I talked to Paul Lurie. Paul’s as much a performer as the tour guide, whether he’s driving a boat or tweeting as @MallardStorm online.
Is applying to become a Duck Boat driver as simple as filling out an application and having an interview?
There’s actually an entire audition process. Every December they bring in a new crop of candidates. It’s usually a mixture of people with varied backgrounds: former boat drivers, actors, teachers. People range in age from mid-twenties to people who’ve had entire careers before this. We had to get up in front of the entire roomful of candidates and perform. It’s a combination of improv, games and acting. Then there are callbacks. This year 25 to 30 people auditioned and seven were hired.
There are 28 ducks in the fleet and 55 drivers. We have three different starting-off points: the Prudential Center, the Museum of Science and the Aquarium. And there is definitely seniority when it comes to which Duck Boat you get to drive. They all have their quirks. Some of the boats are replicas that were built in 2012, and some are World War II models that have been modified. You can imagine that some might prefer a newer boat to drive.
Do you need a special license to drive a Duck Boat?
Yes. It’s actually quite a process to become a driver. You need a commercial driver’s license with a passenger endorsement—like for driving a school bus—a tour guide license, a hackney/taxi driver’s license, and a Coast Guard Captain boating license. Going into this position this year, I had none of them.
Boston is notorious for its bad drivers. Some would argue her pedestrians aren’t much better. And now we have cyclists. Who’s been the toughest to navigate around this summer?
Cyclists—and with the advent of Hubway, it’s not just cyclists, it’s people who’ve just arrived in town who have no idea of where they are going. Driving the Duck Boat has given me a totally different view of the city. I’m 12 feet off the ground. It’s like driving a really big, tall, long car. But it’s been so much fun, and has proved to be a tremendous feat of coordination on my part. I’ve been instructed to always make one person laugh on the tour; sometimes it’s me that’s the only one laughing!
What’s been your favorite moment driving the Duck Boat this summer?
There have been a few: most recently, last weekend a guy proposed to his girlfriend on my tour. I think I was the most relieved when she said yes, because I knew that we had another 25 minutes of the tour left. We were in the middle of the Charles River when it happened, and I was so worried about what would happen if it was the wrong answer.
There was another time when the Saugus High School cast of “Bye Bye Birdie” was on my boat. I was in my own high school’s version, so we ended up all just singing songs from it.
Learn more about Boston Duck Tours at bostonducktours.com. Tours run through Thanksgiving weekend seven days a week. Check the site for availability.
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Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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