Glittering. Gliding. Bouncing.
Hundreds of lowriders with lowered chassis and jumping hydraulics drove through the Mission District on Sunday on their way to the second year of the “King of the Streets” competition.
The contest's aim is simple: Measure which lowrider can bounce the highest. Hundreds of lowrider enthusiasts, cholos, Missionites, and Bay Area cats of all stripes lined the sun-drenched Fort Mason Center to cheer for the high-hopping cars.
Sunday's “parade” from the Mission to Fort Mason marked further distance from lowriding's checkered past, when police would profile anyone driving the stylish cars. Cops often assumed those behind the wheel were gang members, lowrider lovers say.
Benjamin Bac Sierra remembers this well.
In the '80s, when Bac Sierra was 14 years old, he was walking toward 24th Street one night. A glistening, painted lowrider passed him, and out of the blue, a San Francisco Police Department squad car flagged down the lowrider. The driver was a Latino man — in Bac Sierra's words, “a homeboy.”
“He was immediately accosted,” Bac Sierra says. Standing at Fort Mason, Bac Sierra, now 46, raised his fists to his head and explained how the officer and the driver “street boxed.”
Though gangs are often associated with the vehicles, lowriding is a Latino cultural expression in the most American way. It spins the country's love of cars on its axle, as if to say, “We're American, too, but we are also Latino.”
Flash forward to 2016, and for the very first time — despite it being the competition's second year — the San Francisco Lowrider Council obtained a permit to roll down Mission Street for “King of the Streets.”
“We've never had to do that. Cruisin' down Mission is part of the culture, part of the barrio,” says Roberto Hernandez, noted “Mayor of the Mission” and Lowrider Council member.
Jose Ramirez, 43, says lowriding is actually a way some in the Latino community avoid the “wrong side” of life.
Ramirez stood on Mission Street on Sunday before the lowriders took off for Fort Mason and laid a hand affectionately on his black '81 Buick Regal. He rebuilt it himself, lowering the chassis and personally installing the mechanisms that make his baby —named Most Hated '81 —to jump.
Ramirez's first “lowrider” was a bicycle he and his brother lowered and modified. Since then, he's been hooked. His girlfriend, O.T. Perez, says her toddlers love watching him work on Most Hated '81 —they call it his “bop-it car.”
Lowriders, Ramirez says, are about “family” and “unity.”
Perhaps, then, it's appropriate at that very moment Ramirez's family friend, 15-year-old Nico, slid into the driver's seat of Most Hated '81. With one hand on the wheel, Nico says owning a lowrider is his dream.
If your first assumption is the teen will be bangin' or sellin' to buy that car, you couldn't be more off.
“I'll have to work my ass off,” he says — at his dad's catering company.