Hurricane Katrina: This Bus for You?
The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, and with it an avalanche of press coverage emphasizing how far New Orleans has come and -- more often -- how far it's got to go. (Okay, Anderson, we get it: you're keeping them honest.) For a time, the media turned a seemingly inexhaustible eye to the glacial rebuilding efforts -- the half-collapsed houses still half-collapsing two years later, the boats still marooned on the lawns. But despite the attention (now shifting elsewhere with the speed at which it arrived), the Katrina tragedy remains something of an abstraction for many Americans.
Which is presumably what gave rise to certain tourist options in the Crescent City, both of them raising interesting questions about the fine line between entertainment and exploitation. Gray Line's Hurricane Katrina bus tour, equipped with the tabloid title "America's Worst Catastrophe," takes roughly 30-40 visitors on 3-hour tours of New Orleans' hardest hit areas -- Gentilly, Lakeview and the Ninth Ward among them -- twice daily. Another company, Tours by Isabelle, uses smaller buses (maximum number of passengers: 13) whose size supposedly allows visitors the opportunity to explore narrower streets in the affected areas. A city ordinance has declared some areas of the Ninth Ward off-limits to buses, but enough is accessible to give visitors a fair idea of what Katrina hath wrought.
Portions of the Gray Line proceeds are earmarked for charity, and by all accounts the tours are presented with sensitivity and tact. And yet ... you've got to wonder how odd this spectacle must look from the standpoint of struggling New Orleans residents, who now, in addition to trying to save their neighborhoods, must also contend with mobs of tourists snapping photos from a comfortable Plexiglass distance. And the popularity of these drive-bys is only growing: the buzz among travelers is that no visit to New Orleans these days is complete without a Katrina tour of some sort.
And so, inevitably, some are now wondering if New Orleans isn't missing the boat by not further exploiting public interest in the hurricane's aftermath. After all, giving people another "attraction" to visit can only help the city's struggling tourism industry, which can only aid in the rebuilding effort, which ... might one day make the "America's Worst Catastrophe" tour obsolete. Or so the thinking goes.
Still, the heart cries out for something less convoluted, like -- oh, I dunno -- stopping the bus, opening the doors, and asking the tourists to put some actual muscle into the recovery effort.
Anyway, that's my take on things. What's yours?
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