Wednesday, January 20, 2010

GangLand Bus Tours?!?

As a guy who (still occasionally) travels for a living, I find myself being a tourist pretty often. While it sucks being on the road, often by yourself, it's also rather cool to say I've visited every major US city (except for, curiously, Detroit) at age 35. There isn't much I haven't seen.

That said, the first time you visit a city, you enter with the preconceived notions, usually colored by the media. The first time I went to Los Angeles, waaay back in the mid-90's, I had all sorts of delusions of gangsta life, fueled by years of listening to NWA and Ice Cube. Imagine my surprise when I nervously drove my ritzy rented Mustang GT convertible through the mean streets of Compton, only to find concerned homeowners tending to their lawns, kids playing double dutch, and flowers in full Spring bloom.

Obviously, the way a place looks in the daytime, and the way it looks at night are two different things, so I hightailed my a$$ back to Pasadena before sundown. But this whole "cultural anthropology" thing is something even I, a dude who grew up in a town with a "bad side of the tracks" found intriguing.

That said, I can sorta understand the premise of this unique bid'ness venture from an enterprising ex-gang member, but something about it just seems wrong.
Borrowing a bit from the Hollywood star tours, the grit of the streets and a dash of hype, LA Gang Tours is making its debut on Saturday, a 12-stop, two-hour journey through what its organizer calls “the history and origin of high-profile gang areas and the top crime-scene locations” of South Los Angeles. By Friday afternoon, the 56-seat coach was nearly sold out.

On the right, Los Angeles’s biggest jail, “the unofficial home to 20,000 gang members in L.A.,” as the tour Web site puts it. Over there, the police station that in 1965 served as the National Guard’s command post in the Watts riots. Visit the large swath of concrete riverbed taken over by graffiti taggers, and later, drop in at a graffiti workshop where, for the right price, a souvenir T-shirt or painting can be yours.

Alfred Lomas, 45, a former gang member and the creator of the tour ($65, lunch included), said this drive-by was about educating people on city life, while turning any profits into microloans and other initiatives aimed at providing gang members jobs.

But aside from its unusual logistical challenges — the liability waiver describes the tour as “inherently dangerous” and warns of the risk of death — the venture has also generated debate about its appropriateness. Chicago has a tour of Al Capone sites and Las Vegas has one devoted to the mob — but this gangland lore is still happening.

The odds of seeing an actual gang member on the street at the appointed hour — Saturday morning — are low, though Mr. Lomas said four or five members will be on the bus to keep watch and offer their stories. Many of the sites, like the location of the Symbionese Liberation Army shootout in 1974, take a lot of explaining to link with contemporary gangs.

Mr. Lomas rejected initial plans to drive through two housing projects, a concession, he said, to critics concerned it would be insensitive.
Here's the moving pictures, for those who prefer not reading.

So, in a down economy, people are shelling out $65 to take hood' safaris? F'real?!? Is this what's hot in the barrio right now?

Sorry, as touristy as I am, this just makes zero sense, given the possibility that some sh*t could actually jump off. Could you imagine your wife having to explain to your kids that Daddy's dead because he was killed in an accidental, voluntary drive-by, which BTW, he paid $65 for? Me neither.

If you want excitement, drive four-deep through the suburbs with a broken tail-light. That'll do it.

I applaud Mr. Lomas for turning his life around, and trying to turn a negative into a (profitable) positive, but maybe this ain't the right way.

Question: Would you pay for the "Gang Tour"?!? Does this tour only re-inforce negative stereotypes, or is it no worse than your typical "Star's Houses Tour"? What set you claim, fool?! Break yo' self!!!

A Gangland Bus Tour, With Lunch and a Waiver [NYT]

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