LA Bus Tours: Gang Turf and Tombstones
Crime as entertainment: What does that say about our culture and more importantly, our values?
Does crime ‘tourism’ lessen out sensitivities to problems that are real and disproportionately effect those less fortunate than ourselves?
What happens to a community and to families when kids see gang members and criminals idealized and made famous? Who is to blame when fortune are made off of what is the tragedy and suffering of others?
Will neighborhoods that are ignored and forgotten somehow benefit from this new found attention? Can that attention be turned into something positive that will serve the community?
HERE’S HOW TO TAKE A GANG TOUR: start at a bus parked outside a Silverlake building called The Dream Center, where grown adults cluster like kids on a field trip. Pay $65, and take your complimentary bottled water. Notice the church group from Missouri, 20-strong and blonde, and eye their grocery bag full of snacks. Notice the surprising number of Australians. They pace restlessly. One of them is named Tiny, but he isn’t. He appears to be here with his son, a teenager in baggy shorts and braces.
Alfred is the guide. He’s a marine turned gangbanger turned entrepreneur. He’s cracking Inner City Jokes. His phrase. We don’t need the windows open cuz we don’t do drive-bys. Also, we can’t have them open because the bus is air-conditioned. He’s hired three other guys to help lead the tour — ex-gang-members who had trouble finding other jobs with felonies on their records. They’ve turned their experiences into stories for travelers. They are curators and exhibits at once. When they’re not giving tours, they’re doing conflict mediation in the communities these tours put on display. The $65 will fund this work.
Your friend the screenwriter arrives. He compliments your tactful yellow dress — neither Crips blue nor Bloods red — and you remember elementary school field trips downtown. You and your fellow Westsiders were given careful instructions about gang hues. The Missouri group leader is a buzz-cut guy whom Alfred affectionately calls “Pastor.” Where’s Pastor? he says, when he’s talking about something Pastor might be interested in.
On board the bus, the jokes continue — In the event of an emergency, you’ll find bullet proof vests under your seats — but the scenery changes: Silverlake bungalows give way to the warehouses of downtown and the signage of a hybrid city — Papuserias and Pho shops, Spanglish enticements: Thrift Store Y Café. A hotline at 1-800-72-DADDY promises dads it can get them custody or at least visitation rights.