They call it the "Wacky Quacker." It's made of plastic, shaped like a duck's bill, a banana-colored whistle that hangs from a knotted shoestring around a tourist's neck. Perhaps you've heard it?
If you've been anywhere near the Inner Harbor lately, you've heard it, all right. This is peak tourist season and thousands of visitors are paying $24 a head (less for children and seniors) to ride the Ducks, see the city by land and water, and quack at locals.
All who ride the amphibious military vehicles, built during World War II, are encouraged to quack. As tour guide Jim Denny ("Captain Goofy" when he's driving) told a group of schoolchildren from Aberdeen Proving Ground:
"Part of our job today is to make people in Baltimore happy, OK? Can we do that? You're going to see a lot of people standing around who are not very happy as we go through town. In fact, if you see somebody with a cell phone, what are we going to do to them? We're going to quack 'em like crazy. If we see somebody waiting at a bus stop all kind of slouched over, what are we going to do? We're going to quack 'em. And if you see a policeperson, we're going to quack like crazy. It's the only time you can quack at a cop and get away with it."
Those who do not quack risk being made to wear the "crabby" hat, a red felt cap with eyes and claws.
Tour guide Bob Carlisle (or "Captain America") plays Maryland trivia on his tours "for a quack from the crew." He'll take care of showing folks Mount Vernon, Little Italy, Poe's grave, the Washington Monument, the Basilica of the Assumption, the old Homicide set, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, all of that -- only if the tourists quack.
"We're going to have some music, we're going to have some folks dance on the street, but the biggest thing we're going to do out there today is make some friends with our quackers."
He pointed to a group waiting to cross Light Street. "Get your quackers ready. Here are our first victims -- I mean our first friends -- now."
Like the rest of us, they were sitting ducks.