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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Sep 13 1995
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Seven cop cars sit in front of the Cow Palace on Sunday afternoon. Taunting them directly across the street is a group of 40 or so red-clad gangbangers who had been kicked out of the 1995 Lowrider Classic Tour for doing the "walk" (a prison term used when a gang makes its presence known by circling the yard).

Alcohol is not served on the premises, and registrants must face a pat-down and a metal detector before entering the convention. "Good, good," a female guard says every time someone makes the grade, like a mom trying positive reinforcement techniques. Still, the security guards are visibly tense.

"We don't have anything to protect ourselves except for these," says one small guard as he waves his walkie-talkie around. "We're expected to kick these gangbangers out of the convention? Expected to risk our ass for five bucks an hour?" He shakes his head.

But despite the tension outdoors, the mood inside the Cow Palace is festive and easygoing. Beautiful Latina women with thin gold chains twinkling at their midriffs don dark shades so that they can "check out the hot dudes"; young fathers kneel next to their children, posing in front of spectacular chrome-plated shocks; sun-soaked men with muscular chests and bluish tattoos sincerely excuse themselves for bumping into you; members from dozens of car clubs, including USO, New Life, Sabor, Endless Dreams, and Oldies, make their rounds of the competition cars.

The event features a "car hop" contest, in which autos fitted with hydraulics vie for the most bounce to the ounce. In another, owners pit their booming stereos against each other in a "sound-off challenge." Scheduled to play the supporting Latinpalooza III concert are locals Rappin' 4-Tay and Spanish Fly, but we're too busy checking out the rides to catch the music.

Out back, the parking lot-cum-showroom is dazzling, an ocean of glimmering surfaces: chrome-plated engines, gold-plated rims, sparkle-paint bodies, mirrored hoods -- but shine is just the beginning. Many of these classic cars, some of which took up to six years to customize, are now equipped with Nintendo, VCRs, velour-covered swivel chairs, and gadgetry that would put James Bond to shame. The most extravagant ones recall the inside of a casino, sporting built-in fish tanks, champagne racks, poker tables, and sexpot showgirls airbrushed across the sides.

Steve Bastress, a 48-year-old from Paso Robles, sits beside his '67 Olds Cutlass, an orgy of pale orange, purple, and blue velour that took five years and $17,000 to get right. Now, after hundreds of first-place prizes, Bastress is ready to sell -- but he will never give up the lowrider circuit. "I've been working on cars all my life," he says with a smile. "I do 160 shows a year, at least two shows a week."

Behind him, Gilbert Casares, the 55-year-old owner of a golden '54 Chevy truck, stands near his dream machine. He completed his creation for under $15,000 and has won over a hundred first-place trophies. He notices my interest and pushes his card into my palm: L&G Detail, Watsonville.

"We don't get your paper in Watsonville," he says.
Showcased along the perimeter of each room are the lowrider bicycles and choppers, a lesser-known, but no less exceptional, aspect of the competition. They look like miniatures, but are fully loaded and fully functional. Profit and Deborah, a thirtysomething couple, display their 1995 model, a silver-and-white number equipped with a cellular phone and running lights. Their first bike and their first show, they are clearly excited. "Do you think we have a chance?" Deborah asks. Profit kneels on the ground, carefully shining the forks.

Nearby, a child of about 8 tends his family's display of two 1970 street custom pedal bikes and a tricked-up '70s tricycle. He polishes the handle bars and brushes away any dust that collects on the tile under the gleaming beauties. Noticing us, he considerately moves out of the way so that we may get a better view.

Someone taps me on the shoulder. "Hey, mind if I take your picture?" asks a smiling man with a beard and a camera. "I'm from Low Rider Magazine."

My photographer, David Duprey, and I glance at each other nervously. The tables have been turned. Suddenly, we are on the receiving end of the lens and it's pretty unnerving. "OK, get closer together," the man says. "Pretend like you know each other." David and I smile at the familiarity of the words.

"Well, that proves it," David laughs as we make our way between the rows of lowriders. "We stick out like a sore thumb."

By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

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    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

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    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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