Daily Newser plays Big Apple ‘greeter’ to adventurous tourists in Queens
By Lisa L. Colangelo
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Newser Lisa Colangelo (leaning on fence) shows Netherlands tourists (l. to r.) Pascual and Roelyke Gallego the sights at Gantry Plaza State Park, aided by Big Apple Greeter Suzanne Paliotta.
The assignment seemed simple enough – the Daily News wanted me to serve as a Big Apple Greeter for a day and take some visitors off the beaten tourism path.
I was a natural for at least part of the task. I’m a native New Yorker, having lived, worked and gone to school here for all but 10 years of my life.
The tour guide part? Not so much.
Gail Morse of Big Apple Greeter set me straight. They are not, she repeated, not a tour company.
“A greeter shows a visitor around the way a friend or a family member would show someone around,” said Morse.
Founder Lynn Brooks started the program in 1992, matching up volunteer greeters with visitors to show them that New York can indeed be friendly and manageable.
After digging through some requests, Morse paired me up with Pascual and Roelyke Gallego, a couple from Leeuwarden, Netherlands. The easygoing pair spoke English and were excited to explore Queens.
Seasoned greeter Suzanne Paliotta came along for moral support. She suggested we start in Forest Hills Gardens.
I was a little skeptical. Was there anything there they would want to see? Most of my school-aged years were spent in that area. It seemed a tad too familiar – even boring.
But I was wrong. Roelyke, a 35-year-old teacher, and Pascual, a 35-year-old tax inspector, soaked in everything from the busy Austin St. shopping strip to the manicured gardens and mansions a few blocks away.
“People don’t think they will see architecture like this in New York City,” said Paliotta.
After checking out the West Side Tennis Club – former site of the U.S. Open – we walked carefully across Queens Blvd., explaining the “Boulevard of Death” moniker, and hopped a bus into the heart of Corona.
There was no way I was taking a visitor into Queens without visiting two borough food landmarks: the Lemon Ice King of Corona and Leo’s Latticini (a.k.a. Mama’s).
Roelyke followed my lead and got a peanut butter ice, while Pascual went with sour green apple.
“We would never have known to come here if you didn’t bring us,” Pascual said. My smug smile disappeared when he looked over at the nearby bocce courts and asked me to explain the game to him.
“Something where you roll balls but it’s not bowling,” I tried, looking at Suzanne for help.
Ugh. Some Italian-American I am. Then again, my family was more likely to bowl at Hollywood Lanes than play bocce.
Recharged by the ices, we walked several blocks to Mama’s, where sisters Irene, Marie and Carmela fussed over Pascual and Roelyke as if they were family.
The couple happily wolfed down Mama’s special sandwiches: mozzarella, salami and peppered ham on semolina bread with peppers and mushrooms.
It was a welcome break from the fast food that had dominated their meals since arriving in the city.
As we walked to Roosevelt Ave. to catch the 7 train to Long Island City, Roelyke and Pascual stopped to take pictures of the trucks lined up under the el. I wasn’t sure why, but they seemed interested and happy.
We walked through Long Island City, showing them the new shiny towers that are replacing factories and warehouses.
“This is lovely,” said Roelyke, as she enjoyed the breeze at Gantry Plaza State Park. “We probably would have never gone here. We probably would have just walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and walked back.”