Trip Advisor, the online rating service for travel and tourism, received a post in mid-July from a visitor who hailed from Jersey City and entered this enthusiastic reaction to his experience on a Philadelphia Ride The Ducks tour:
“… ‘Dancing Freddie’ was Great!!! He thoroughly informed us about Philadelphia and allowed us to enjoy at the same (time)! … he not only showed us the historical areas but also showed us the local areas such as the best place for Philly cheesesteaks and where the best area is for kids/adults. I recommend it for ANYONE who wants to have a good time while doing a little learning along the way.”
For Fred Blyweiss, a Northeast resident from Lawndale who leads tours as “Dancing Fred”, a positive review like that feels as exciting as earning a rave notice on Broadway. With character voices from Elvis to “The Stooges,” flashy red-white-and-blue accessories and boundless energy, “Dancing Fred” never “ducks” a chance to entertain his guests with wackiness during their city tours along the Delaware River and around our historic neighborhoods.
There are his interactive puns: ldquo;Who knows why we never ring the Liberty Bell anymore? That’s right: because it’s ‘quacked,’ of course!”
He even finds ways to get riders into the act: “At the end of the tour we all dance together to the ‘Y-M-C-A’ song. But I show them that I like to do the ‘D-U-C-K’!”
This graduate of Council Rock High School and Penn State University originally majored in theater but switched to a degree in advertising, perceiving that “a responsible guy had to have a kind of ‘regular’ job,” as he explains it. He even took a second college degree in graphic design, hoping that would satisfy his need to be creatively employed.
But sitting behind a computer was too confining for a man who was a kid at heart. Years of various other day jobs paid the bills but left him feeling like “I was dying inside.” He plugged into his creative energies while performing in community theater and non-paid comedy gigs. But to make a living as a performer, he needed to find an employer who could use his facility with funny voices, would value his sunny nature and, yes, even encourage his corny jokes.
Becoming a tour driver for Ride the Ducks was the answer to a lifelong yearning to make a living as a professional entertainer.
He recalls his Ride the Ducks audition this way: ldquo;I was supposed to download some facts from the tour and perform them in a personalized way. But I somehow couldn’t get the script. So I wrote a commercial as a kind of advertisement for myself. And I used about ten different character voices, like Kermit the Frog, making guest appearances saying why they should hire me.”
Fred got the job in 2008 and worked his way up from ticket sales, to deck hand, through tour guide and now — having passed his commercial drivers license — a driver/tour guide for the sightseeing company.
Since he is not one of Ride the Ducks’ qualified captains, when his tour group arrives at the Delaware River starting point he steps aside and a credentialed boat captain takes the helm. But that’s actually Fred’s favorite part of the ride — he’s now able to fully face his guests, channel his “pirate persona,” and he even has time to go dancing in the aisles.
“People can choose a lot of ways to tour the city,” explains Fred. “They can take a double-decker bus. Or a horse and carriage ride. They can walk with a guide or they can ride our Ducks. I think they choose the Ducks because, frankly, it just looks fun. And then I love to make the experience just as much fun as they imagine it will be.”
Which is just fine with “Dancing Fred.” That experience works both ways.
“I found a job where I can have fun too. That’s my goal,” he said. “I need to be interacting with groups all the time. I’m happy when I make other people happy. We say our job is to make ‘quack-tastic memories.’ What could be better for a guy like me?” ••