Stephen D. Gutierrez
Fellowship of Wheels
I'm in the market standing in the magazine aisle flipping through a copy of Lowrider Magazine with all those chicks casi en cueradas in their skimpy bikinis draped over the hoods. They're staring at me, fondling trophies, the roar of the cars starting up in the background. "Shit, what's that?" I look up and I'm nearly run over by every lowrider in my old neighborhood cruising toward me out of the aisle next to mine, curving around past the yoghurts heading straight at me, bright sparking grilles lifted and performing the hop-hop-hop of the lowrider jump. I study the trophy cars and smile, relax, nudge my basket clear of a large woman pushing her own weekly stores flowing over the top, potato chips and frozen pizza and two gallons of gourmet ice cream holding it down. "Sorry."
"That's okay, you go ahead and enjoy your magazine. I'll just get by here." I hear the wheels squeak her past me. I see a colorful caravan heading toward the park where it snakes in and disperses under the trees, each car a solitary jewel shining brightly, attended by guys milling in the parking strip with small towels in their hands to wipe the spots off. They'll squat and talk. I buddy up with Sergio one Sunday afternoon watching him baby his ride in his driveway after a wash, Sergio circling her with a keen eye meant to shape her up for the Boulevard that night.
"How's it going, man? Just washed my car, man," he greets me coming off the sidewalk.
"I know, man, looks good." We both check it out, his parents' Monte given to him to do what he wants just as long as he stays out of trouble and doesn't knock up his girlfriend. "Don't get her goddamn pregnant, Sergio!"
"I won't, like somebody else's parents I know."
"ˇCabrón! Smart aleck! I oughta take that car away!"
"Okay, Dad, I won't!" Ha ha ha!
Examining his ride, Sergio pulls a frajo out of the box sticking out of his shirt pocket, Marlboro Reds like everybody is smoking, strokes his new goatee and launches into a monologue on trends and happenings in the lowriding scene.
"Yeah, man, the Cadillacs are coming on strong, but I'm still a Chevy man; got my Chevy forever." He pats the semi-vinyl roof — beige against a gold hardtop — more like rubs it with a worn rag he only uses on his car and keeps hidden under a pile of lesser rags, and stands back in the yard taking in the sky.
It's so blue it's almost a mirage of a sky in L.A. We're used to the gray and the dirt.
"Hey, man, here comes Rodney."
"Yeah, there he is."
Rodney O'Reilly makes an appearance. He's the pimply white dude in the neighborhood dating a Mexican broad with three kids and a mean ex he doesn't give a shit about.
He shows up in a burst of sunlight, piloting his battered hand-me-down towards a spot where he can land her. "Yeah, man, he's fixing up his ride," Junior explains on this shockingly blue afternoon approaching the curb to greet him. "Yeah, man, looks cool," he generously adds, making room for him in the fellowship of wheels and I myself, left out of this scene by my own puttering interest in grander things, could only marvel. I held my own beliefs then, not sharing my faith in capital L Literature as the superior tonic for the soul but have been proved wrong.
"No church on Sunday and haven't read a good book in months," I remind myself.
"All the new stuff sounds the same." I propose to boycott literature. I laugh at my own insincerity, getting to the back of the magazine, hubcaps for all makes and models advertised under another broad pursing her lips with those wide-open serious eyes. Oh, yes.
"Maybe turn into an atheist." But that would be stupid.
As if stuck in mid traffic crawling along, hood thrust violently in the air with a natural lowrider tilt, Rodney navigated the slow trickle of water in the dip in the road, making sure not to splash his hubcaps that threw out rays back to the sun, his tongue hanging out in a demonstration of absolute devotion bordering on madness. He perched over the wheel to see what was up ahead, guiding his sore beater that was painted primer gray and a little banged up still.
It was beautiful, man. If I don't see anything, again, I've seen enough.
"When you gonna get a car, man, even Rodney's got one?" Junior signaled him to park at the curb, using his rag.
"I don't know, man, whenever." I put away the magazine, go to the check stand; pay. I've been a fool all these years.