To many people, New York City is a place where people don’t wait to turn an idea into action when they see an opportunity.
That’s exactly what Tom Delgado, a tour guide in the Big Apple, did when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented throngs of tourists from visiting the largest city in the United States.
Via his YouTube channel, the former lawyer turned comedian and tour guide has been offering would-be visitors virtual walking tours with an intimate, detailed and often humorous approach that show people both the unheralded parts of The City That Never Sleeps as well as its more well-known neighbourhoods and features.
“Before the pandemic hit, I started doing these videos where I would just walk,” Delgado says. “I posted it and people loved it… It wasn’t even that good.
“I did a few more, then the pandemic hit.”
He says like so many people, the pandemic impacted his normal work routine and ability to earn a living.
“Standup (comedy) completely shut down. Acting completely shut down… I was writing for a scripted podcast… (and) when that ended, I didn’t have a way of making money. But I had time.”
Delgado says he started doing his recorded walks through different neighbourhoods in New York more frequently and worked harder to improve his videos’ presentation and the depth of content within them.
“They started to take off,” he says. “People really liked them.”
Delgado says he knows other people, including friends, have been posting videos showing people around the city, but most take different approaches, like documenting a scooter ride through the city in real time, or showing viewers the top five places to do one thing or the other in New York. He says his approach is to offer viewers the closest experience to actually exploring a city when for many, doing the real thing is simply impossible right now.
“I would like something like that,” he says of being able to take in a virtual tour through YouTube.
“I would love to learn more about neighbourhoods. I love the history of neighbourhoods and cities and to see it… to get the feeling of walking around a city with someone… have someone tell you the story of a place… I didn’t see that on YouTube.”
According to Delgado, who has lived in the city for about 13 years, he knew he was on the right track when people who had never been to the city told him his tours showed a side of New York they never thought existed, and when lifelong New Yorkers told him they are learning new things about their city, “kind of visiting their own city through videos.”
“I love getting those, because it means I’m doing something right if people who are born here and grew up here are listening,” he says.
“So many people just identify New York as Manhattan and it’s a tragedy… Because there’s so much more.”
Using the example of an artist he featured in one of his videos, Delgado says he believes he can enhance his audience’s experience and understanding of New York by introducing them to some people who live there.
“Jim Power is an East Village legend, I guess, who is making mosaics all around the neighbourhood since the late 1970s or early 1980s,” he says. “He’s been doing it for no money pretty much, just because he loves the tile work he does around the neighbourhood.
“I think it’s important to introduce people to figures like Jim Power, people and places all over the city, places like… in Spanish Harlem, who had the trash museum… places that even people who live in New York don’t really know about or they go by it… (and) they don’t know the story behind it.”
Delgado says he also has a deep appreciation of history and loves to interact with people which is reflected in his videos.
“When you know the story behind these people and these places, it gives you that much more of an understanding of what New York is and what the communities within New York are all about,” he says.
“It kind of gives you an appreciation for the richness of the city and the fact that it’s not just a bunch of buildings, it’s people and it’s relationships and it’s communities within the buildings — and within the parks and islands — that make it special.”
COVID-19’s impact on NYC
New York was one of the North American epicentres for the COVID-19 crisis when the pandemic first hit the continent.
“The pandemic really hit New York hard right off the bat,” Delgado says. “The number of casualties and deaths were very high here originally.
“People were very scared… (it) was very disorienting for the city. The paranoia afterward because of that kind of trauma kept people indoors, more reserved than other parts of the country.”
Delgado says he believes the first wave of the pandemic left New York “reeling a little bit.”
“A lot of people left, especially from Manahttan because they had other houses.”
In some neighbourhoods the exodus was significant enough that Delgado believes it actually changed communities, at least temporarily, though “some places didn’t change at all.”
“Places like the East Village… (landlords) would offer you incentives to fill the building… Now that’s starting to even out a little bit,” he says. “People seem to be coming back… a lot of people I know who left have started to trickle back in for their careers.”
Delgado says things certainly are not entirely back to normal but musicians and comedians are starting to be able to perform again. He notes artists found creative ways to continue to practice their craft at the height of the pandemic, like by staging shows on rooftops for people watching on the street below.
“New York is nothing if it’s not resilient,” he says. “It’s always moving.
“People would like to say New York was dead but people were still here… finding ways to present the city to other people.”
Delgado says he isn’t sure whether the pandemic will have any long-term impact on the city.
“It’ll be interesting to see where it all goes after this.”
Still planning to continue YouTube tours
“I’m excited to see where it goes,” Delgado says of his relatively new YouTube tours. “The dream is to be able to do them in other places.”
Delgado says he is now receiving some advertising revenue and raises money for his videos through the Patreon platform. He also says more people are now seeking him out for tours when they actually physically visit New York so his YouTube venture is currently allowing him to earn “a decent living.”
“The pandemic, as terrible as it’s been, and as traumatic as it’s been for so many people, it’s also forced people to re-evaluate what they’ve been doing,” he says. “I wouldn’t have focused my energy the way I have if I wasn’t forced to create something, to have an outlet and to make an outlet as well.”
Delgado says he believes the pandemic forced many people like him to “think outside the box” and to tap into their creativity.
“If you’re going to make a positive out of a negative, that’s something, (especially during) all this time in quarantining.”
To check out Delgado’s YouTube channel, click here.
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