Interview with co-founders Kim Cooper and Richard Schave of Esotouric Tours – Part II

Feb 15, 2010 by Tom Jones

Join me in the story behind the story of the famous and storied past of the bygone era of Tinsel Town and the City of Angels. It reads as exciting as any film noir movie, or engrossing book. In case you missed the first part of the interview, here it is.

So, let’s resume where we last left off:

2.Did you expect to have such a positive response from the public and their desire to go on these tours?

Absolutely, for years we’ve volunteered to show out-of-town friends around Los Angeles, with a focus on the offbeat, dark and extraordinary, so we already knew how hungry folks are to discover the real L.A. And there’s just something about traveling around town in a pack of like-minded people, in a comfortable bus seat, that seems to make a lot of people giddy.

LA looks very different

3.  In Esotouric’s about us section you talked about how you met and then re-met your husband, Richard. How did the relationship take hold so many years later after you first met him?

About 18 years passed between the time when, as college students, Richard and I experienced such a visceral loathing for each other that it stood in the way of our even having a conversation. But the next time that we came face to face, introduced by a mutual friend at a party at an historic house in Glendale, we found that the years had mellowed that hatred to a warm mutual interest And after discovering that we’d found someone to explore decaying trailer parks in the San Gabriel Valley with, we quickly became inseparable.

4.  How did you and Richard come to organize the Esotouric tours, its concept, and organizational aspects, and anything else you’d like to share. Who does most of the work– just joking.

God Bless America

Esotouric began with my true crime tours that spun out of the 1947project blog, but it was once Richard decided to sink his teeth into the mechanics of bus tourism, and write his own literary and architecture tours that things really got interesting. He really enjoys the challenges of driving a bus full of people through a complex narrative that unfolds along city streets. His routes are like secret geometries of the city, with shortcuts and freeway offshoots that somehow emerge just when you need them most, while the thematic layers in the storytelling provide unexpected insights that passengers really respond to.  My crime tours are like a journey through an urban museum, where the lights illuminate some ghastly happening every few minutes, while Richard’s architecture and literary tours are multi-media explorations into the nature of history and mass transit.

5.  How would you best describe the entire experience of the Esotouric Bus Tours? Why did you choose its running themes of crime, literature, architecture, and rock and roll for the tours?

Wow, not too much traffic!

Our tour subjects evolved organically once we moved beyond true crime tours. There are certain writers, and certain places, that simply evoke the real Los Angeles experience, and during our first year on the road, we wrote and created a core group of tours to explore those elements of the city’s history. Now that we have our basic repertoire set, we find that we’re adding a few new tours each year, and refining existing ones, to make them run more smoothly, and be more meaningful for the audience.

6.  You have different tour guides who are engrossed and superlative in their knowledge of the content of each particular tour’s subject matter, how were you able to find people who have such diverse knowledge and willing to join up with you and Richard?

It’s the nature of what we do that gifted and interesting people come into our orbit–and that goes for passengers as well as guest tour guides. We’ve been blessed to be able to work with some terrific people and help them to adapt their books and research into the very different medium of a guided bus tour. The bar is set pretty high for these guest tours, since our first ones were with James Ellroy, and our guests Maja D’Aoust, David Smay, Gene Sculatti, John Buntin and Erik Davis have all risen to the occasion beautifully.

I Love LA

7.  Tell us a bit about each type of your tours. Are the emotions different for each one, because the category covered is?

We find that each of our tours is a unique experience, though obviously there are similarities between the tours that share a theme. For instance, while all of our crime tours have some basic similarities, we use crime to tell the story of specific neighborhoods–and because each neighborhood’s crimes are reflective of the culture and history of that particular area, the mood and experience of each tour is, too.

8.  Why Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits as part of your artist tours? Are they artists that you have a special connection with, including that they’re from Los Angeles and left an indelible mark.

Our Bukowski tour grew out of the tour dedicated to the Bunker Hill novelist John Fante, which itself grew out of a true crime and cultural history tour set in the lost Victorian neighborhood of Bunker Hill, which was redeveloped as a business center. Fante was Bukowski’s favorite writer, and we think they’re both uniquely local authors with wonderful stories that can be told well during a bus tour.

Swordfishtrombones

The Tom Waits tour was launched when Kim’s longtime collaborator David Smay wrote his first solo book, about Waits’ "Swordfishtrombones" album—we approached David about the possibility of turning the book into an occasional tour, and so when David’s free to come down from San Francisco to host it, we schedule a bus and have a blast with it.

9.  How many trips a week, month, year do you conduct, and any plans for some new tours. I see that you’ve just started "The New "Chinatown" tours. Tell us some background about that.

We roll most Saturdays (and a very occasional Sunday) during the year, taking time off around major holidays because our audience of mainly local folks tends to have plans then. The New Chinatowns is not a new tour, but one we have only offered once before–in Spring 2009. It’s part of Richard’s four-tour architecture and urbanism series Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, and tells the semi-secret history of how the sleepy communities of the Western San Gabriel Valley evolved into a new type of suburban American Chinatown.

Changes

10. What do you consider unique and special about Esotouric as compared to other types of bus tours?

Because we do all our own research, and our tours reflect our deep fascination with the history and culture of Los Angeles, the Esotouric experience offers something that people can’t get elsewhere, or on a scripted tour hosted by a hired guide. If a passenger on a Raymond Chandler tour has a question about the Black Dahlia murder, or the history of the LA freeways, or where to get the best soup dumplings after the tour, odds are we can help them–and if we can’t, someone else on the bus will have the answer. We think Esotouric’s passengers are some of the most interesting people you’ll find anywhere, and we’ve seen some great friendships develop from the bus tours.

11.  Do you and Richard have any major plans for the future that you’d like to share or are there ideas in the planning stages only?

We’re in the running to perhaps receive a grant from LA’s Community Redevelopment Agency, at some future date, which we’ll use to turn the OnBunkerHill.org blog into a mobile educational tool, so people can walk around the Bunker Hill community with their cell phones, and then they’ll have instant access to historical information and images about the lost Victorian neighborhood that used to be on the site.

1920s, Hollywood and Highland

12.  It’s a New Year, and people like to take their minds off of some of the ordinary humdrum of life. Why do you think that Esotouric has captured the imagination and attraction by the public for what you’re doing?

Unlike many other guided tours, that are based on research that’s readily available for anyone with a library card or good web searching skills, Esotouric experiences can only be had on our bus. This combination of our highly original series of programs; passionate guides who are sharing stories they’ve personally researched; interesting and intelligent fellow passengers; and trips into parts of the city that are hard to get a handle on, makes this something special that our audience responds and then relates to.

Downtown

13.  Is there a movie in the works, or a book?

Yes, we’re working on an Esotouric guidebook to Los Angeles, to feature the stories behind one hundred of the most compelling historical sites in the city, plus maps and suggested strolls and drives. I come out of the zine self-publishing revolution of the 1990s (see www.scrammagazine.com for the archives of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture), and Richard’s very interested in open source software, so this project gives us a chance to be involved in all aspects of its production. We’ll be printing it locally, and using open source mapping and text layout tools, so that we can control the look and layout. Therefore, the book will come out just like we want it to–as an extension of our concept as we’ve done before in both the physical and digital communities. We’re also exploring using some 18th century promotional tools, that we think are timelier than ever. These are really strange and interesting times for publishing, and we’re enjoying exploring the ideas and possibilities.

City Hall

14. There’s different tours, packages, dates, and also presentations that you offer–tell us how it all works, and what’s the best way for people to find out whats, which tours, and dates they want to take, and hot the entire process involved in purchasing tickets works, and how they go about doing all of that.

As a lifelong thrift shopper and bargain hunter, I was startled when I realized what we would have to charge per seat to make a go of a bus tour business–but our regular $58 ticket is actually on the low side of the industry standard. However, we do try to make it easy for people who really want to join us on the Esotouric bus, to do so for less than full price. In addition to special deals that we announce on our weekly email list, we regularly offer 15% discounts for supporters of public radio stations KCRW, and KPCC. We also offer 6-tour solo passes for $40/seat, and 12-seat shared passes for $39/seat. And we also have periodic drawings for free tickets for those people that subscribe to our email list.

15.  Feel free to share anything else that you want to share about Esotouric for our readership and for all that are interested in what you’re offering them and why you stay committed to your vision.

Los Angeles Theatre

Esotouric is not our business, it’s our life. We’re very fortunate to be able to share our passions for lost lore and unwritten cultural history with an audience that’s as excited about our discoveries as we are.

16.  Summary:  What are some of your most memorable tours and why, meaning any new finds, shoot-outs on the bus–just kidding. Do you learn something new on ever tour?

Every tour has a few moments that stick with you. Some of our favorite stories that we share during our tours are things that we’ve learned from our passengers–who literally have–and bring thousands of years of real life experience, having lived in Los Angeles for a long time.

For example, we learned from a charming old gentleman named Fred, that early in the last century the firemen at a certain mid-city fire station would weld nails to nickels, push them deep into the warm asphalt, and sit around in their deck chairs watching hapless citizens try to pick them up. You can’t make this stuff up, and stories like these bring this city’s history to life with humor and pathos. We love it!

Hollywood and Vine

And so do we, our readership at Travelin’ Local is always looking forward to our next story, adventure, place, and event that’s part of the Los Angeles experience, and which has a life and story that’s a backdrop for one story–and another and another.

Life here is never boring, and our goal is to keep bringing you the best of the best that Los Angeles is, and strives to become.

Again, we thank Kim and Richard for sharing their intimate and fascinating stories about Esotouric—the labor of love that was the by-product of their interests, homework, handwork, and translating their vision into the Best Tours that Los Angeles has to offer.

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