You’ve heard of Star Wars? A new travel group in Los Angeles is about to turn that phrase on its head.
For years, tourists have hopped on buses and toured celebrities’ homes — much to the dismay of many celebrities. Our particular tour caught a glimpse of Nicholas Cage walking out his front door — that is until he spied our big wheels on the curb, and he ducked back inside the mansion. We sat there almost 30 minutes trying to outlast Mr. Cage’s need to go wherever he was headed originally, but eventually we had to roll on. He won that round, if you call being trapped inside a mansion winning.
Hugh Hefner fought back, installing a security system at his home that included a cursing rock that announced to tour buses guides to “get the f— off my property.” Tour guides love to set it off for their passengers’ entertainment.
Now a non-profit group known as LA Gang Tours will begin offering a similar agenda in January, but this time the theme is gang related. According to the press release, this stroll will be “a true first-hand encounter of the history and origin of high-profile gang areas and the top crime scene locations.” Think LA County Jail, the L.A. River, the Metropolitan Detention Center, Skid Row, Florencia 13, Florence Avenue, and the Pico Union Graff Lab.
The men behind this idea are civic activists who believe the poor economy in the interior of Los Angeles is a social injustice, as they like to phrase it. The hope is that Gang Tours can create jobs for folks in South Central Los Angeles and give back to the community overall. You can’t change without some green.
Of course, the real question is whether the idea will bring in real dollars. Sure, people play gang strategy games on the Internet, and the National Geographic Channel saw fit to make this a show topic. But there’s still a distance between the consumer and violence. In this version, participants shell out $65 to wear a flak jacket and sign a waiver on your life during the next few hours. Organizers say they’ve struck a deal with the gangs not to shoot off their guns between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., when they might hit one of these paying guests.
Even the founder, Alfred Lomas, a guy who turned his life around from the gang wars to a food ministry, understands the skepticism. “Well, the purpose of going into [Florencia] is that when this idea was first birthed, it was the result really of what’s known as a one-dimensional approach to a three-dimensional problem. And that is that for generations and decades now, our approach is putting people away in jail, incarcerating them. There’s no prevention, very little intervention, and the gangs are actually growing,” he tried to explain to CNN when its reporter came calling. Somehow, getting them to cooperate on this tour project brings awareness of the problem and that translates into change.
God bless Mr. Lomas’ heart, because such loyalty and dedication is humbling. But I’m more in line with Dennis Zine, the Los Angeles city councilman who rebutted, “I think it’s a crazy idea. I think that if something moves forward on that, you’re going to jeopardize a lot of people. What are those gang members going to do when they see people coming by and looking at them and gawking at them?”
So while I’ll gladly recommend Alcatraz tours to clients, hook up travelers with Chicago‘s crime history, and encourage people to take London Walk’s Jack the Ripper tour, I won’t make a peep about LA Gang Wars to my LA-bound clients. I don’t know that I have enough insurance to protect me in the case of an unfortunate incident. That, and the f-word is not entertaining in this setting.