- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ever been annoyed or cut off by the orange-and-green trolleylike buses that carry tourists all over town at snail speed? Well, your attitude is likely to change when you’re seated comfortably inside one of the Old Town Trolleys; the tours are entertaining, educational and an efficient way to see the District.

“My name is ‘Sunshine,’” an all-smiles driver-guide declares on a recent morning as about a dozen visitors board her trolley at Union Station.

Old Town Trolley Tours has 16 stops around town — from the National Air and Space Museum in Southwest to the Washington National Cathedral several miles away in Northwest — and visitors can get on and off at any stop throughout the day. Tickets are available online, at hotels and at ticket centers at Union Station and the Washington Welcome Center at E and 10th streets NW.

Sunshine, whose real name is Ava Duckett, mixes significant historical events with fun facts while keeping her eye on traffic. Somehow, she also finds the time to spot nice views for her many camera-ready tourists.

“See the top of the Capitol dome? The statue up there is Freedom. Nothing can be taller than her, because nothing can be greater than freedom,” she says.

As the tour continues along Independence Avenue, Ms. Duckett tells visitors that the Smithsonian consists of 17 museums, of which the newest is the National Museum of the American Indian.

“And look at that structure. It’s just amazing,” she says. “They didn’t want any evil spirits lurking in the corners, so they built a museum without corners.”

After touring the monuments (at one point she plays a snippet of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech; at another she commends the creators of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial for including a tribute to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt), Ms. Duckett heads back toward Union Station.

A couple of stops before Union Station is the Washington Welcome Center, where visitors can transfer to the trolley company’s Green Line, which goes through Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Kalorama and Georgetown. The Mall and monument line is referred to as the Orange Line, and the short route between the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery is called the Red Line. If visitors ride without getting off the trolley to see the sights on foot, they should count on the tour taking at least 2 hours.

The guide-driver on the Green Line also has a “stage name,” Mr. Holiday. His real name is Stephen O’Brien, and among former employers he lists the Secret Service.

As he heads north of 13th Street, passing the Warner Theatre, he tells visitors there are 47 gold stars in the pavement around the theater containing the names of prominent artists, including Shirley MacLaine, Bonnie Raitt and Chris Rock.

As the tour continues, Mr. O’Brien talks about the District’s street layout, which is the work of 18th-century urban planner Pierre-Charles L’Enfant.

“You’ll see that Washington, D.C., doesn’t have a J Street. Legend has it that L’Enfant, who was not an easy man to get along with, omitted the J to spite Supreme Court Justice John Jay,” Mr. O’Brien says.

The real reason was that I and J in those days were deemed too similar for both to be included in the street grid, he says.

“I” has its issues, too, he adds.

“It looks like the number one, and sometimes businesses use “Eye” instead of “I” to make the distinction,” he says, “but don’t try to Mapquest Eye Street. It doesn’t exist.”

While crossing K Street, Mr. O’Brien says, “Now, this is the heart of the influence industry — also known as lobbying industry.”

As the trolley continues north, Mr. O’Brien points out a statue of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence whose direct descendants include Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon.

As the majestic Washington National Cathedral comes into view, the topic changes from politics and entertainment to religion.

“The cathedral actually doesn’t have a traditional congregation. The congregation is actually made up of its visitors,” Mr. O’Brien says.

He also mentions that since 1912, there has been a daily service at the cathedral.

The last portion of the tour goes through Georgetown.

“Georgetown is the oldest part of Washington, D.C. It was chartered in 1751,” Mr. O’Brien says. “It’s named after George II of England, not George Washington, who was just 19 at the time.”

At the very end, as visitors see the many construction areas of downtown, Mr. O’Brien says what several visitors have been noticing and commenting upon all along.

“In the last nine or so years — with the MCI Center (now renamed Verizon Center) being built and then later the Convention Center — the city has really changed,” he says. “The Washington, D.C., you see today is about the best it’s ever been.”

When you go:

Location: Ticket offices for the Old Town Trolley Tours of Washington include the Washington Welcome Center, 1001 E St. NW, and Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Many area hotels also sell tickets. Ticket holders can board at any of the trolley’s stops.

Directions: Union Station on Metro’s Red Line is a few blocks north of the Capitol. The Welcome Center is close to the Metro Center stop on Metro’s Red, Orange and Blue lines.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily November through March; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. April through October. Closed on major holidays.

Admission: $32 for adults, $16 for children ages; children 3 and younger ride for free.

Information: 202/832-9800 and www.trolleytours.com.

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