New tour takes visitors into LA’s ganglands

Tourists looking for a thrill in Los Angeles can now take a bus tour of the city’s most dangerous ganglands. For $65, LA Gang Tours takes visitors around the city, pointing out gang graffiti and stopping at sights like the Los Angeles Riverbed, Florence Avenue, and the Pico Union Graffiti Lab.

It seems tourists are always drawn to places with a dangerous auras and violent pasts, places that are the complete opposite of our comfortable lives at home. The question is, do we go to these places, places like the slums of Mumbai, the townships of Johannesburg or the streets of South Central LA, because we want to understand what life is like for the people there, or do we go to gawk or just so we can say “I’ve been there”? And do these tours actually help the communities that are put on display, or do they make them a spectacle?

LA Gang Tours was created by Alfred Lomas, a former gang member, who says the tour will create 10 part-time jobs for ex-gang members who will lead tours and share their own stories. He says his goal is to help residents of South Central,”to give profits from the tours back to these areas for economic growth and development, provide job/entrepreneur training, micro-financing opportunities and to specialize in educating people from around the world about the Los Angeles inner city lifestyle, gang involvement and solutions.”I’d actually be curious to take the tour, which is scheduled to run once per month. It sounds like, in this case, the tour may be run in a way that takes a more anthropological, rather than exploitative, look at the community. The tour bus is unmarked, and out of respect for area residents, riders on the tour are not permitted to take photos or video.

While in Cape Town, I had the opportunity to tour Robben Island, the prison where political “criminals” were held during apartheid. When the tour guide, himself a former prisoner, was asked why he would do this – lead tours and relive the pain of his imprisonment every day – for a living, he responded with two reasons. One, he said, was because he wanted people to know what happened. The second was that every boatload of tourists that came to the island meant one more person who would have a job.

Perhaps it’s naive to think that welcoming a bus-full of tourists once a month could help solve the many problems of the area. But if offering the tours keeps one more ex-gang member employed running tours and out of gang life, well, at least it’s a start.

[via Chicago Tribune]

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Gadlinks for Thursday, 1.28.2010

The weekend is almost here! Are you headed anywhere fun? I’m off to sunny Puerto Rico to escape Chicago’s latest cold snap. Here are a few bonus travel stories to keep you dreaming of warmer days.

  • Winter in the northern hemisphere means summer in Buenos Aires. If you’re headed down south, here are a few places to gorge yourself silly, courtesy of Matador writer Tom Gates. [via Matador Nights]
  • Nothing says summer like the sight of tan surfers catching some waves. How does a pro surfer globe-trot? Find out with BootsnAll’s How I Travel profile of surfer Holly Beck. [via BootsnAll]

More Gadlinks HERE.

ABBAworld opens in London

Get ready, ABBA fans, because ABBAworld, the first official (and band-supported) ABBA museum has just opened in London.

The interactive museum will contain 25 rooms full of ABBA memorabilia, including behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, never-before-seen music videos and photos, and clothes, instruments, and personal belongings from each member of the band. In one room, you’ll even find the helicopter pictured on the cover of the “Arrival” album.

Visitors will have the chance to feel like a part of the group too, as they see images of themselves projected into music videos and photos and onto album covers (which fans can then access online afterwards). The can test their trivia knowledge with quizzes, remix their own ABBA tunes and even be a “dancing queen” up on stage with a holographic projection of the band.

The exhibit is open daily now through March 28. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster for £21.45 per adult and £14.30 for kids.

The exhibition is expected to visit other cities, but so far no others have been announced.

8 tips for surviving a visit with the in-laws

Sometimes your travels take you around the world, to dangerous locales where you don’t know the customs and need to always be on your guard to ensure your safety. And sometimes, they just take you to a visit with the in-laws, which can be equally awkward, confusing, and downright dangerous. Here are eight tips to help you survive a visit with you in-laws with your dignity, and your relationship, intact.

Bring a gift.

Whether this is your first time visiting your significant other’s family or your tenth, it’s always nice to bring a small token of your gratitude as thanks for the family’s hospitality. Flowers or a nice bottle of wine is a good, safe first time gift (unless the family doesn’t drink, then nix the wine idea), but you’ll earn bonus points if you bring something a little more personal.

Ask your significant other for details about his or her parents and buy them something that you think they will enjoy – perhaps a favorite bottle of scotch for Dad or the latest cookbook for a Mom who fancies herself as the next Martha Stewart. If the two of you have recently been on a trip, be sure to bring back a few little souvenirs for the family. Keep the gift to a reasonable amount though, generally under $20. Showing up for a first meeting bearing elaborate or expensive gifts screams “desperate to be liked.”Stick to “safe” conversation topics.
Politics, religion, money, unions….we all know these are sensitive subjects, but sometimes we get sucked into discussing them with near strangers anyway. Don’t fall into this trap, even if you think you know (and agree with) the position of your partner’s family. Until you’ve known them for a while, and know whether or not they can calmly have a debate or disagreement without taking things personally, just change the subject. Unless the family says something completely unacceptable (and even then, let your spouse take the heat for voicing a dissenting opinion for the both of you) just bite your tongue and never take sides. And remember, if you find your SO’s fam completely vile in their political or religious views, that doesn’t mean that your partner feels the same way they do.

Remember some conversation starters.
Have your spouse help you out with some safe topics you can pull out if the conversation starts to wane. A quick rundown of current family events (who is about to have a baby, who just got married), the latest news in each person’s life and the hobbies and jobs of each person should suffice. Come armed with a few anecdotes of your own, like a quick synopsis of the duties at your new job or a few highlights of the latest trip you took with your partner. This way, even if you get nervous, you have a few topics you can fall back on to avoid any awkward silences until you get to know everyone better.

Bring everything you need to feel comfortable.
This includes bringing your own toiletries, hair dryer, and any other items you need and which might not be provided by your hosts. Since you are sleeping in another person’s house, you may need to rethink your PJs as well. I sleep in a tank and pajama pants; at my in-law’s house, everyone gathers for coffee in the kitchen first thing each morning. After being the only person fully dressed on my first trip, I learned to bring a hoodie to throw on over my tank so I could join the PJ party and not feel uncomfortable. Just don’t overdue it; there’s no need to bring your own pillows or roll in with two suitcases for a weekend trip.

Verify sleeping arrangements before arriving.
This is a job for the spouse or partner. If it’s the first visit (especially if you aren’t married) and the house has multiple sleeping arrangements, be sure to verify which bedrooms you’ll using when you are in town. It’s embarrassing to arrive only to find that the girls will be bunking (even worse if that means literally in bunk beds) in one room and the boys in the other. Make sure your significant other checks out the sleeping arrangements in advance, and if the two of you aren’t comfortable with them, opt to stay in a hotel.

Bring snacks if you are a picky eater.
When you are staying at your in-law’s house, you are at the mercy of their taste buds. While you can sometimes run out for a bite, other times it’s just not possible. You may find yourself stuck in a house with nothing you care to eat, especially if your idea of a “healthy snack” and theirs differs significantly. Play it safe by stashing a few power bars or some almonds or crackers in your bags so that you have an emergency snack if needed.

Plan some alone/out-of-the-house time.
Like being stranded in a broken down car on the side of the road, spending time at the in-law’s can make you feel a bit trapped, maybe a little claustrophobic. Be sure to schedule some time alone with your partner out of the house. Even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store for some milk or a quick walk around the block with the dog, a few moments away from the pressure of impressing your family will allow you both to relax and reconnect.

For the hosting spouse – remember to have your partner’s back.
If it is your family that you and your significant other are visiting, try to remember that this can be a stressful time for your partner. Try to make it as easy as possible on him or her. Help him remember the names of all your aunts and uncles. Remind him which cousins to avoid after they’ve been drinking. Help her get into a conversation with your grandparents. Think about how you would feel in the situation and do what you can to make it a more comfortable one for the person you love.

Stick to these tips in the beginning, tready lightly with your new in-laws, and soon you may be one big happy family. If the in-laws are coming to visit at your house…..these rules still apply, plus one more.

Go out of your way to be the best host you can be.
Think about all the little things that would make you even more comfortable as a guest. Lay out fresh towels for the visiting family members. Stock the kitchen with their favorite foods. Leave some quality toiletries in the bathroom and a bottle of water by the bed, and put a few books from their favorite genre out on the bedroom. Put together a city guide for them, complete with pre-paid transit card so they can get around easily. Do your best to make them feel as welcome in your home as you would like to feel in theirs.

“Best restaurant in the world” El Bulli to close for two years

Dedicated foodies with dreams of dining at El Bulli, long considered to be one of the best (and often the best) restaurants in the world, are in for some disappointment. The mecca of molecular gastronomy will be closing for two years, in 2012 and 2013.

The restaurant, which is located on the Catalan coast of Spain and has received the coveted Michelin 3-star rating, was named the best restaurant in the world for the fourth straight year by Britain’s Restaurant magazine and is considered to be one the places any food-lover must dine at before dying. Chef Ferran Adria assured devoted fans that though El Bulli will close temporarily, it isn’t gone for good. He did say that there may be some major changes in store though. “In 2014, we will serve food somehow. I don’t know if it will be for one guest or 1,000,” he said.

What’s the reason behind the closure? The Guardian cites Adria as saying that the long hours – he regularly puts in 15-hour days – were getting to him. Though Adria has also said before that El Bulli is not a profitable business, due to the limited seatings and the labor required to do each one. Perhaps the new model will be a better moneymaker.

Thinking you can try to get in before El Bulli shuts its doors? Think again. Seatings for 2010 have already sold out, so unless you are extremely well connected, you’re out of luck. Not that you had much chance of getting a seat anyways. The restaurant only serves 50 guests per night, six months out of the year, and according the UK Guardian, more than 2 million people have vied for a mere 8,000 seats over the past few years.