by Susan Flynn
As the driver of the 16,000-pound, World War II-era amphibious vehicle – more commonly called a duck boat – it’s Tad McKitterick’s job to get tourists from all over the world quacking with abandon on the streets of downtown Boston.
But his job is far more complicated than drawing out animal sounds.
To operate a duck boat, he needed a captain’s license – for the plunge into the Charles River – his hackney license, his commercial driver’s license, a Homeland Security permit, and, of course, intimate knowledge of the narrow streets of Boston and its rich history.
Oh, and he’s also expected to be funny.
“Multi-tasking is the trick of this job,” says McKitterick, 34, a driver since 2004. “You need to have your mind in five different places and not let the people on the duck know.”
Every one of the “ConDUCKtors” at Boston Duck Tours operates under an alter ego. McKitterick chose “Captain Super Swift,” and he shows up to work each day in a black cape and a T-shirt emblazoned with gold lightning bolts.
We caught up with McKitterick in between tours to hear what it’s like to work for one of Boston’s more popular summer tourist attractions:
1 Why did you choose the alias ‘Captain Super Swift’?
I wanted to be something interesting to all our clients. We have kids, the elderly, and people from all over the world. I didn’t want to be someone that just Americans would get, or just the elderly. So I thought, a chubby superhero in spandex is always kind of funny – I don’t care where you are from. I will say the spandex onesie can be uncomfortable on hot days, but you get used to it. You drink a lot of water.
2 What’s your favorite tourist spot on your route?
I have to say the view of the Back Bay from the water and the Public Gardens. I love how the view changes from spring when the flowers first come out, to the fall, when the leaves change and there’s all the beautiful foliage. Coming from South Florida, it’s so different from what I am used to. I think not growing up here helps me. I’m still not used to this city and I still appreciate it.
3 The tour is famous for letting kids operate the boat on the Charles River. How can parents get their child picked?
We’re all suckers for cute kids, and it helps if you raise your hand. I will say one of the biggest pet peeves for the drivers is the local person on the tour who wants to give the tour as well. The best part is when you hear someone say something totally wrong and you can speak up, “Well, actually ma’am, the Statehouse was built in …”
4 What’s the most asked-about tourist spot?
Well, it depends on the age group. Cheers is one – you hear that a lot. People like seeing the Statehouse and oddly enough, the Boston Common is very popular. They also really like the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. It’s where Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and Mother Goose are all buried. It’s the Studio 54 of dead people.
5 Any advice for driving the streets of Boston?
Do it carefully, and remember cab drivers will always do what you don’t want them to do.
Susan Flynn is associate editor at Boston Parents Paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.