TOUR DU JOUR
Contrarian Tours of Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Houston, and New York City
These timely tours ditch the typical spiel and confront issues like lobbyists, levees, and lowlifes head on—often with a dose of tongue-in-cheek humor.
Gross National Product's Scandal Tours
Members of the comedy troupe GNP expose the Capitol's seamier side by regaling tour-goers with cheeky, costumed impersonations and sordid tales of politicians from George Washington to George W. Bush. First on the bus route is the Watergate Hotel, naturally, followed by the Kennedy Center (a easy segue to extramarital affairs and conspiracy theories), the Vista International Hotel where former D.C. mayor Marion Barry was arrested on drug charges, the Willard Hotel where Ulysses S. Grant dubbed those pestering him in the lobby "lobbyists", and more sights that are prime fodder for poking bi-partisan fun. "There's a constant supply of new material," quips GNP member John Simmons. Gross National Product, 202/783-7212, gnpcomedy.com/scandaltours; $30, $20 for students and seniors; reservations required; Saturdays at 1 P.M.
Hurricane Katrina: America's Worst Catastrophe; City Disaster Tour
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, tourism-starved New Orleans has spawned two narrated bus tours of its ravaged neighborhoods and the uncomfortable concept of disaster tourism. The operators, Gray Line New Orleans and Tours by Isabelle, were driven largely by the need to revive their businesses and to inform visitors. The three-hour Gray Line tour passes a breached levee, the Superdome, Canal Street, the New Orleans Convention Center and the Lakeview area, where the company's vice president Greg Hoffman and many others lost homes. Isabelle Cossart's "City Disaster Tour" is slightly longer and more expensive. It begins in the French Quarter, and covers many of the same sights along with the badly hit St. Bernard and New Orleans East districts. Both highlight the area's history and development, and offer personal takes on the hurricane's timeline. (Passsengers are not allowed to exit the Gray Line motorcoach during the tour, and photography is discouraged.) Gray Line New Orleans, 800/535-7786, graylineneworleans.com; $35, children 6-12 years of age, $28; $3 donated to one of five local non-profit organizations; 9 A.M. and 1 P.M. daily. Tours by Isabelle, 877/665-8687, toursbyisabelle.com; $49 per person; 8:30 A.M. and 1 P.M. daily, provided there are at least four passengers
Lifestyles of Houston's Rich and Infamous: The Enron Tour
Yankee Sandra Lord has been leading tours of her adopted Houston since 1988, and the latest riffs on its greatest homegrown scandal: the rise and meteoric fall of Enron. While founder Kenneth Lay and chief executive Jeffrey Skilling pass the time on trial for fraud at a local courthouse, the curious can hop a bus for a five-hour, lighthearted look at offices, churches, restaurants, and jails they and other employees have frequented. Lord weaves together facts, anecdotes, biographical information, and historical precedent—a view of the 1928 Kirby Mansion calls for a quick lesson on Houston's first tycoon, John Henry Kirby, an oil man who went down in a high-profile bankruptcy. Discover Houston Tours, 713/222-9255, discoverhoustontours.com ; $30; public tours in Mar.-Apr. 2006, ongoing private tours available
Surveillance Camera Walking Tours
Each of the Surveillance Camera Players' walks begins with a general introduction on the workings and evolution of surveillance cameras, and then zeroes in to identify numerous often-discreet cameras in a single Manhattan neighborhood—some have close to 400! Far from spouting a left-wing screed, the Players present their findings and encourage healthy debate over the pros and cons of our increasingly public lives. Take a peek at their hand-scrawled online maps of cameras in Times Square and other neighborhoods. Surveillance Camera Players, 212/561-0106, notbored.org; free; Sundays at 2 P.M.