Friday, December 11, 2009

Paying the debt to Mort Sahl in installments...

I've written about Mort before-- last may, in honor of his 82nd birthday. He is mostly forgotten and pretty much unknown to, say, Jon Stewart's audience. But Mr. Stewart owes almost everything he does to Mort. His influence is all over the map of political humor and satire. His only stage prop was a newspaper. I've extrapolated his routine to the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction... every day. Or to put it another way, I CAN'T MAKE THIS SHIT UP.

This line of thinking applies to almost everything that emanates from and represents Los Angeles. Take, for example, the story that ran in the Los Angeles Times that was picked up by the wires and ran in the Oregonian the day before yesterday, December 9th-- Buses will take tourists to the heart of L.A. Gangland. The article is about a company called L.A. GangTours, that had a "VIP preview last month" and "expects to open to the public in January."

Straight Outta Compton

Making a buck with a bus full of rubes from the Midwest is nothing new. Just spend a couple hours at the Farmers' Market on Fairfax some weekday in the fall when the busses filled with fans of the visiting college teams playing USC or UCLA pull up and open their wallets to bring home overpriced tchotchkies and trinkets, T-shirts of places they haven't been to and delicacies they don't need to eat.

The tourists who are savvy enough to rent a car discover that all Los Angeles has to offer invariably fall for the "maps to the stars' homes." About half the homes listed were the former residences of dead celebrities, who died of old age-- Lucy, Jack Benny, Cesar Romero and Lupe Velez. Never mind the other tours that take them to OJ's house, or the scene of "The Crime of the Century." The disappointment to some that learn that the house where Sharon Tate got butchered by the Manson girls was torn down is palpable. There are horror tours, noir tours, and cemetery tours. The Raymond Chandler Tour and a drive-by to the location where the Black Dahlia's dismembered body was found... on Norton Avenue, in what, up until recently was known as South Central. There is the Rock Walk of Fame and the famous Hollywood Boulevard of Stars, culminating with the hand and footprints of some of the biggest stars of all, right in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater. To get to see them, the tourists have to fend off the costumed crackhead look-alikes. Fat Batman and out-of-shape Robin. Numerous Spidermen and Superman, Oscar the Grouch and Star Wars Storm Troopers. Wonderwoman and Catwoman. Popeye and Chaplin. Groucho and Conan. Joseph Wambaugh does a wonderful and pretty accurate send-up of these costumed losers in his book, Hollywood Crows (recommended).

These strutting poseurs get in tourists' faces and insist on having their pictures taken with them... and then they demand the seemingly compulsory gratuity. Like it's not enough that these poor schmucks are all so disappointed that Hollywood Boulevard is not gentrified enough for their middle American sensibilities, or lack thereof. They may be heartened to know it will never be gentrified enough.

But back to the point of all this rambling... YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS SHIT UP.

photograph taken by me,
stating the obvious on a wall overlooking the L.A. River in Atwater Village

The gang tour is reported to be planning to include the sales of T-shirts "painted on the spot by a graffiti 'tagger,' but they have "decided against a plan to have kids shoot tourists with water pistols, followed by the sale of T-shirts that read: I Got Shot in South-Central."


Actually, everyone knows that the LA City Council and LAPD eliminated the gang violence and related crime in South-Central... by renaming the area "South LA."

Your friendly driver
for the early evening bus tour, Sgt. Rock"

According the LA Gangland Tour website (, the tour plans to visit:

The Los Angeles County Jail
The Los Angeles River Bed
The Metropolitan Detention Center
Skid Row
Pueblos Housing Project
The Symbionese Liberation Army Shoot Out
Florencia 13
Birthplace of Black Panther Party
Florence District
Florence Avenue
Firestone Sheriff Station
Jordan Downs Housing Projects
Hall of Justice Jail
Pico Union Graff Lab (Graffiti Lab)

Skid Row! The SLA shoot-out location! the birthplace of the Black Panthers! Be still my beating heart!

Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, back in the day

Bobby, today

A colorful stop on the LA Gangland Bus Tour. A definite photo-opp, but be sure to keep your head up. The sounds you hear are from a 9mm semi-automatic.

For additional fun on the tour,
a game of Musical Chairs is planned

It's all well and good to poke fun at this insane idea of trying to cash in on the notoriety of ground zero of gangs in America. But, truth be told, I don't find a lot of humor in it. I had done a little gang intervention when I lived in the Atwater Village neighborhood of LA. Our house was in a section that was bordered by two long-feuding gangs. The sound of gunfire and helicopters at night became mundane and often repeated. I worked with the cops on one hand and the gang intervention teams on the other. Gangs are not anything to hero-worship, gawk at nor emulate. Tagging is not art. It's bad enough that the music, the clothing, the language and the actions are now part of youth vernacular. But when the former chief of the LAPD is good with the busses, depending "on their intent and how they balance it (the tours)," it is truly time to be afraid. This is not something that will help reduce the influence of gangs nor the death and destruction they cause. It will only enhance their outlaw status and celebrate their criminal behavior.

All things being equal (and they never are), I am relatively happy to freeze in Oregon.


Davaudian said...

Well, I read that article and my thoughts were....."what do you expect from the capitol of the third world."
Where else could you get this kind of upside down behavior and have it condoned by the city. Next, someone will get shot in that environment and want to sue the city.....foolish, merely foolish. We're getting a terrible message from the top down.

barryshap said...

Well, here's one time I have to agree with you-- conditionally. L.A. has been a third world city before it was the second biggest city in America. Spanish is compulsory. I completely agree that the message from the top down is a bad one. I also expect someone will be killed in the act of getting off the bus. The times, the economy and the conditions are ripe for meaningless mayhem. Day of the Locust Redux.

Davaudian said...

Hope it's tony v on that bus.......

Davaudian said...

I was in Atwater Village on Sunday Christmas shopping after taking pics of Travel Town (posted flickr) haven't missed a thing.

Davaudian said...

$65 per ticket.....copors, ammo, drugs etc. not included....just got the update today.

KayteinLA said...

Please remove my copyrighted photo of the costumed characters in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre from your blog. Did the logo across the bottom not give you a clue that it is NOT free for you to use?

bill hicks said...

Mort Sahl is forgotten because when someone like me mentions him to another fan, you become ignored just like Mort - who still performs every Thursday, and is STILL the best ever.