BLING A DING
The show’s over, but Tony Soprano-themed tours of New Jersey live on, writes Tanya Gold
CAN anyone name Tony Soprano’s horse? says Marc Baron, our tour guide, standing in the aisle of a leaking coach at the start of the Sopranos Bus Tour of New Jersey. The answer, of course, is Pie-O-My and because we are all addicts of the television series TheSopranos we know the name and shout it out.
The Sopranos are New Jersey gangsters with suburban issues. The show finished its US run recently and the adventures of Tony Soprano, an obese but strangely sexy Mafia boss, are sleeping with the fishes. But the fans take longer to die.
I am on the Bada Bing Bus (the Bada Bing is Tony’s lap-dancing club) with a damp assortment of English, Dutch and Australian coach-potatoes. None of us has seen the last episode yet, but already we are in mourning for Tony and co. It is raining great pasta pots.
Before we head off to the International House of Pancakes, Joseph Gannascoli, who played a gay mobster called Vito, appears on the coach. Gannascoli has written A Meal to Die For , a novel about a chef who cooks for the mob. He wrote it to celebrate losing 73kg of fat after stomach surgery. ‘‘ Hello, my friends,’’ he says, and produces copies of his book. So we pay him $US25 ($31) for this cookbook novel; he smiles uneasily and leaves. ‘‘ OK,’’ says Marc (OK is his favourite word), ‘‘ we are now going to play the credits for the first episode.’’
The credits roll on the bus’s TV and we clap like idiots as we head for New Jersey, all flyovers, dystopian bridges and waste. ‘‘ Jersey is the No. 1 producer of chemicals in America,’’ says Marc, ‘‘ and it is also the diner capital of the world. Why are New Yorkers depressed all the time?’’ We shake our heads. ‘‘ Because the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey.’’
We draw up outside a building. We cannot see anything through the rain, but Marc tells us it featured in the show’s credits scene. ‘‘ Normally there is the most amazing view of Manhattan from here,’’ says Marc. But not today. The next stop is the White Manna diner. Again we can see nothing. ‘‘ Elvis Presley ate here once,’’ says Marc. ‘‘ He had a cheeseburger and his guitar was stolen from his car.’’ It is also the place where Tony’s wife Carmela told her son A. J. to act like a good Catholic for 25 f---ing minutes. Is that too much to ask?
‘‘ OK,’’ says Marc. ‘‘ No one here knows what happens at the end of The Sopranos , right? So let’s discuss some possible endings. How about Tony dies?’’ A woman at the back screams. Women love Tony Soprano. He is a spaghetti-sucking Mr Rochester, all huge knuckles and ennui. ‘‘ Tony is super hot,’’ says Kim from Iowa, who is sitting next to me. ‘‘ You just want to make him love you.’’ We go on a Tonythemed reverie, stopped only by Marc saying, ‘‘ OK. How about Tony goes to jail?’’ This has a few takers. ‘‘ Maybe . . .’’ they mutter.
Or, continues Marc, how about he enters witness protection like Henry Hill in GoodFellas ?
We argue while Marc entertains us with Sopranos trivia. If you answer correctly, he throws a packet of pasta at you. Why is the gangster Big Pussy called Big Pussy? (Because Tony’s No. 3 was the best cat burglar in Jersey.) What animal did Tony’s nephew Christopher kill? (He sat on his girlfriend Adriana’s dog.) ‘‘ OK,’’ says Marc. ‘‘ We are coming up to the Muffler Man. Get ready.’’ We turn and see a giant fibreglass redneck. Then we see the Pulaski skyway ramp. Next we admire a misty sanitation building called Barrone International Waste Management. Then . . . oh joy. Big Pussy’s back yard: a graveyard called the Holy Name Mausoleum. Next are the batting cages A. J. and Big Pussy have a talk in, the driving range where Tony takes his first Prozac pill.
As we head to the Pork Store — a meat market and coffee bar where the Sopranos crew discuss mob business — our bus gets trapped on a waterlogged road. To distract us, Marc puts on episode one and promises us all a refund. ‘‘ Look how skinny Tony was at the beginning of the show,’’ he says. ‘‘ Is everyone OK?’’
And so we sit, watching the pilot episode of The Sopranos in industrial New Jersey, as the rain rises to the door. The Spectator
Last outing: Tony Sirico, left, and James Gandolfini in a scene from