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Lowcura

    An introspective virtual cruise through an American sub-cultural tradition

                                                      

     “… nostalgia gleams with the dull brilliance

                                    of a chrome airplane on the rusted hood

                                    of a ‘56 Chevy

 

                                    ...daydream’s of walking bare foot

                                    on the soft grass

                                    down by the river

                                    where dragonflies buzzed all day

                                    have now decayed

                                    like the fallen cottonwoods

                                    along the gnarled paths

                                    of the Rio Embudo

 

                                    where free form poetry

                                    mixed with cheap beer

                                 on warm nights by the riverbanks

                                    and stories of lowered ’49 Fleetlines

                                    with flamejobs and spinners

                                    were cast into the dark wind…”

                                                                Hearts and Arrows

 

 

Years later, I would hear stories

 

I remember it this way, Magdalena. As a small child I would accompany my grandmother on her walks to or from my mother’s house, which was about a mile and a half away.  We would follow a walking path along the Rio Embudo, a small stream weaving along the northern edge of the village where I grew up. There was a certain place along this walk that we always looked forward in coming to. It was there, just off the sand and gravel trail under the shade of the towering cottonwoods and heavy scent of river willow and summer heat where we would stop for a short respite. It was at this section along the river where some of the villager’s discarded automobiles sat in abandonment, a sort of village car cemetery. One car in particular attracted our attention, a faded pink 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline flipped over on its back and succumbing to the rust and ruin of cars that meet such a fate. Grandma’ would walk over to it and we would stand there momentarily, our hands caressing the fat-fendered Chevy. “Este era el carro del Levi “ she would say. We would silently pay our respects and then move on. Years later, I would hear stories about my cousin Levi and his lowered Fleetline, and learn that he had been one of the first Lowriders in northern New Mexico, the region around Española that in time became regarded affectionately as the “Lowrider Capitol of the World”.  

 

Resuello y Alma

 

I began cruising when I was about 12 years old with some older cousins who would take me along on their nightly cruises into town. It was in the early 1970’s and still in the early stages of lowriding in Española, when the factions between the Hotrodders and the Lowriders were visibly displayed under the street light’s glow of shopping center parking lots and Main Street. One of my cousins, known as lil’ Joe, had recently moved back from California and had brought his passion for lowriding with him and transplanted it into the quickly forming popular pastime. Lil’ Joe would pass on down to me my first lowrider, a copper brown 1959 Chevrolet station wagon with velvet curtains, shag carpeting and a donut steering wheel. In all honesty, I never replaced the dead battery in the car and therefore never got to take it out on the cruise. Nonetheless, I’d accompany my cousins into Espa’, usually cruising with my cousin Raymond in his dropped 1955 Chevy pick-up. It was a beautiful piece of nostalgia painted a Diamond Black, rolling on baby-moon chromed rims on gangster-wide white-wall tires, with hood mounted dummy spotlights and Bob Dylan on his stereo.

 

And, so Magdalena, there begins my story, my earliest recollections of lowrider’s and some of my own first experiences and observations from within the breath and soul, resuello y alma, of a distinct American cultural tradition, Lowriding  

 

Eran en los dias de Los Heroes

 

The lowrider has always been a representation of individual expression and identity with connotations of a rebellious and non-conforming nature. The vato loco archetype became the model for the lowrider, and it was that paragon of social deviance that formed the alluring quality that sometimes attracted a young Chicano feeling the need to affirm his own social status within his proper world. In my contemplations regarding the Lowrider lifestyle, as I have witnessed it and lived it, as I have loved it and have attempted to outgrow my attraction to it, with no success - have come to recognize that the Lowrider bore not only the burden of his own individual identification, but also sustained the cultural traditions of language, religion, spirituality, allegiance to his own community and proclaimed proudly and even arrogantly his human existence in the reality of a social status smirked at by the status quo. I can recall as a young boy seeing these individuals, parked in their lowered cars in the shade down by the river or along roadside turn–around’s or cruising slowly through some dirt road weaving through the village, their slow rides bouncing rhythmically to the grooves spilling out from their car radios.    

 

            Los Heroes

 

            los watchávamos

            cuando                         pasaban

            echando jumito azul

            en sus ranflas aplanadas

            como ranas de ojelata

 

            eran en los días

            de los heroes

 

            cuando había heroes

            turriqueando en

            lengua mocha

            y riza torcida

 

            Q-volé

 

            ahora nomás pasan

            los recuerdos

            uno tras del otro

            y mi corazón

            baila

 

 

 

 

            bendición

 

            bendición es

            estar contento

 

            Señor, gracias por...

 

            gracias por todo

 

Por Vida

 

“always on the outside of whatever side there was

 when they asked him why it had to be that way

well, he answered, just because”

Joey, Bob Dylan

 

For any Lowrider, his car may be the ultimate form of expression and representation of how he views himself and wants to be seen, but the story would be incomplete if one were to showcase the Lowrider only through the marvelous and beautiful creation of the customized car. I believe, Magdalena, that the last thing in poetry is the poem, as I also believe that the last thing in lowriding is a lowered ride. The defining essence of what makes someone a Lowrider is something that cannot be relegated down to a material possession. In many instances, individuals who did not own a car or have a driver’s license or the means to earn the wages that were required to posses and maintain a cool ride were those who best upheld the ideal image of what it was to be a “lowrider”, a social misfit understood neither within his own culture nor within the Western Anglo-Saxon world to which he could not relate. For that type of individual, there was no way out. His locura was with him from the beginning to the end, Por Vida. For those who didn’t and for those who did persevere, who did not buy in or sell out, sangre joven y veteranos igual que no dejaron cae la bandera, who lived through la vida loca and came out laughing, grabbing at life’s sweet hustle, for the honor and glory of not caring to know any other way, it is in their own locura and from their own perspective that the Lowrider story should also be told

 

                                    En Tu Memoria

 

                        el Leonard

            no le caiva que lo llamaran Lenny

                        sandy blonde raspy voice

            green eyes toward the distant

                        crazy

            walking out of the Allsup’s in Mora

                         unbuttoned shirt and a quart of  vodka

            stuffed in his jeans

                         ¡watcha lo que traigo aqui!

             he said, as we drove away

                         ¡que jodido, huero!

             ¿ que no tienes miedo que te

                         tuersan?

            he chuckled, popped the bottle open

                         !ponle! he said

             ¡ay, que Lenny!

                         nomas los recuerdos quedan

            aqui te va

                         un buen pajuelaso en tu memoria

Theirs is an endearing language of colloquialisms, pachuquism’s, regional dialects and a car-culture vocabulary as colorful as a trunk-hood mural, and as vibrant as the memories they’ve painted and etched across our own everyday palettes of blandness and conformity.

 

            El Chapulin y El Bionic

 

            me tope con el Chapulin y el Bionic

            en el Swap Meet en ‘burque

 

            pura ojelata vieja, tu sabes

           

            y hay se comenzo el tripe

 

            how much did you say?

 

            Fifty

           

            I’ll take that one and one of these

            and two of those

            yeah, one- and one of these

            one of those and how much for one of these?

            o.k. do I get one of those for  free

            you know, as a bonus for two of those

            one of these and one of those?

 

            well, that’ll be seventy-eight

           

            I thought you said forty-five?

           

            forty-five? One of those alone is forty-five

            give me seventy-five

           

            I’ll give you seventy

            no, seventy-five

 

            Bionic stands in the hot sun

            wisps of hair from his pony tail

            cling to his sweating forehead

 

            ¡y, wachate este, que locote!

            ¿que tanto? Ten.Ten? Ten

            bueno, save it for me

 

            that’s a head lamp ring from a ’37, no? Yup

            Cool! hay vengo por el later

 

How Can I Tell You, Baby?

 

Well, Magdalena, I hope your interest hasn’t begun to wane by now. This whole Lowrider thing, it’s actually a many layered phenomena, when I think about it. How can one begin to describe or explain something that is so big and so small, so deep and so shallow, so high and so low, that it practically defies formal definition? I mean, could a definition such as this suffice?

Lowrider (ló’ri’dah) 1. A car culture lifestyle with its origins in California. 2. An individual whose personal identity is manifested through his automobile. 3. A car, truck, or bicycle that has been modified to achieve a lowered profile. 

 

And even if a definitive description could be applied to illustrate the aesthetic qualities and physical characteristics of the Lowrider, there are still other insights that can be presented with underlying social, cultural and psychological parallels. It’s been proclaimed that New Mexico’s cultural landscape has changed more dramatically within the last 30 years or so than in the previous 400. For the Lowrider del norte de Nuevo Mejico, whose daily life revolved around a direct ancestral lineage and tradition linked to la santa fe, madre, familia, tierra y agua- cosas nuestras y sagradas, a nurturing unconscious manifestation of spiritual sustenance formed a shield against the eminent winds of change and strengthened that inherent will of perseverance. Social commentaries and observations, equally humorous and ironic in their perspective, were interwoven into the riff-raffing, bullshitin’, teasing, dialogues and oral story reverberations de platica y caria.

 

Wheels

 

            how can I tell you

            baby, oh honey, you’ll

never know the ride

the ride of a lowered Chevy

slithering through the

blue dotted night along

Riverside Drive Española

 

poetry rides the wings

of a ‘59 Impala

yes, it does

and it points

chrome antennae towards

 

‘Burque stations rocking

oldies Van Morrison

brown eyed girls

Creedence and a

bad moon rising

over Chimayo

and I guess

it also rides

on muddy Subaru’s

            tuned into new-age radio

on the frigid road

to Taos on weekend

ski trips

 

yes, baby

you and I are two

kinds of wheels

on the same road

 

listen, listen

to the lonesome humming

            of the tracks we leave

behind

 

And how descriptive or accurate could a portrayal of the Lowrider be without exemplifying the linguistic orations of a slow-riding, time-stealing story? Are you with me still, Magdalena ¿Tiraremos otra vuelta? Bueno, sit back- turn up the jams and enjoy the ride.    

 

Easynights and a Pack of Frajos

 

Rosendo used to ride the buses

scoring phone numbers from rucas

he’d meet at the parque or

along Central’s bus stops and diners

 

three to five numbers a day, homes

he’d say, by the end of the week

I know I’ll get lucky with

at least one, ‘ey

 

maybe she’ll have her own canton

and  I’ll drop by with a bottle of wine

and some good smoke

¡ y  vamonos recio, carnal!

 

and he’d laugh, tilting his head back

taking a long drag from a Camel regular

and then he’d look at me

and laugh again, saying

 

¡ iii, este vato!

sometimes, I just don’t know

about you, bro

 

one night I was down at Jack’s shooting pool

when the bartender yelled out

that there was a phone call

for someone whose name sounded like mine

and I was real surprised

that it was for me, you know

 

well, it was this fine babe from the Westside

that I’d met a few weeks before

she said that my roommate

had told her that I’d be there

she said she’d been wondering 

what I’d been doing

and how come I hadn’t called

 

she wanted me to go over

so I said, great! but that

I’d like to shoot a few more games of pool

and that I’d be there in a while

 

not that I was really interested

in pool anymore

but, hey I couldn’t let on

like I didn’t ever get

those kinda calls, you know

 

not like those vatos down at Tito’s

with tattoos and dead-aim stares did

leaning back against the wall

flirting with some ruca over the phone

laughing and teasing while the jukebox

plays Sam Cooke and me sitting there

watching and wondering where I

went wrong going right

 

I asked her if there’s anything

she wants me to bring over

some wine, maybe

and she says, yeah

that sounds good

and could you bring some cigarettes too?

so there I am going down the street

being all truchas for the jura

‘cause I didn’t want nothin’

to ruin this movida, you know

 

well, I pulled into the Casa Grande

and asked for a bottle of Easynights

and a pack of frajos

and I sat looking through the drive-up window

at the naked pinup girls on the wall

 

and I started thinking of  home, so far away

and how oftentimes I had nowhere to go

wishing I knew some nice girl

I could drop by to visit

and watch a mono with

or just to sit and talk to

 

it was a rainy night

a beautiful rainy night

and the streets were all black and wet

neon lights reflecting off of everything

and running down the street

in streams of color

 

and I thought of Rosendo

and how he was going to laugh

and I knew he was going to want

to know everything

 

¿órale, serio?

chale, you’re jiving, homes

 

¡no, serio

her name’s Carmela !

 

serio, homes?

 

yeah!

 

no?

 

yeah, deveras!

 

¡ iii, este vato!

then I saw myself  in the mirror

and I started laughing

 

sometimes, I just don’t know

about you, bro

 

 

“Take a little trip,

              take a little trip,

                         with me”  WAR

 

And no matter how many the years, how far removed, or how long the distance from the road once traveled, what it is still is because it was, because we were, because we still are at heart cruiser’s cruising through the homeland. So no matter how much things change, that which gave us life, sustained us, will always be with us, here, aqui- en el pecho, en el corazon.

                                   

                                                           

One Last Cruise:                                                       

            Taos Plaza                                                     

                                                                                 

this morning I decided

to throw one more cruise

through the plaza

 

 

 

en memoria de primo Bill

y de los resolaneros de aquellos tiempos

 

who had found their circle

come together

in the presence of

each other

 

            like everything else around here

            it seems all is become memory

 

some Saturday mornings

my father would make the 20 mile trip

into town

 

we’d park at Cantu Furniture

the parking lot that sits a’top

the old 7-11 building

off Paseo del Sur

 

it was exciting for me then

as a small boy

to know that our car

was moving across the roof

of the store below

 

and now, I still find it amusing

how did that sort of engineering feat

arrive in Taos?

 

the other evening as I was looking for a place to park

I pulled into that same parking lot

and for a brief moment

contemplated leaving my truck there

but, for the sign that read

 

            Customer Parking Only

            All Others Towed Away!

 

this morning

as I cruised into the plaza

 

I saw one lone, recognizable

living, remnant, figure

standing in faded jeans

white t-shirt and Converse canvas Allstars

 

 

and a bundle of newspapers

strapped around his shoulder

 

el Paulie

flat-topped, square jawed

and looking 30 years

still the same

 

but, where were you primo Bill?

 

the park benches deserted

the covered portals no longer bursting

with children clinging

to their mothers shopping stride

mama’s strolling elegant

black hair curled

red lip-stick

the purse and coat

was it that Jackie Kennedy period

or was it Connie Francis?

I look out the window

            ! nada!

 

¿que paso con la palomia

con los Indios envueltos en sus frezadas

que paso con la mini-falda?

 

I reach for the radio knob

and I crank up Santana

 

I let the sound of the timbales

   snap

     against

the vacant hollowness of memory

            against the plaza’s deserted facade 

against the songbirds mournful eulogy

 

I notice a group of tourist’s

congregating next to where the old Army Surplus

used to be

 

I look

     don’t look

 

 

         I look again

 

they pretend not to

 

I know I’m on trial

 

I let off the gas pedal

and cruise in slowly

 

I lean back

into the seat, lowdown

and make myself comfortable

controlling the steering wheel

with one finger

 

here’s one for the ol’ times

baby!

 

            ! dale huelo!

 

I remember cruising through the plaza

as a teenager with the Luna brothers, Pedro and Rupert

 

I remember Rupert

bad-ass Califas loco

coming out to spend time with his grandparents

whenever he was wanted by the law back in Madera

 

I remember him

leaning far back against the seat of that black ‘67 chevy

sporting spit-shined calco’s with one leg up on the dashboard

and finger-snappin time to War tunes on the 8-track stereo

 

his locura, cocky and loud

estilo California, nothin’ like Nuevo’s

quiet and proud

 

back then Taosie wasn’t a lowriding town

chale, low Impalas came from Espa’

I remember Rupert blurting out the window

to some Taoseño dudes staring us out

 

            “whatcha lookin’ at, ese

             we’re just lowriding!”

 

well, I remember those times

being mostly like that

the predictable unknown lurking

waiting around like some badass dude

leaning back with one bent leg against the wall

and somehow we’d slip through each incident

acting like it hadn’t mattered whether we would or not

 

this morning

the people hanging out

            by the coffee shop

                 laugh and languish

 

their carefree tourist manner void of history, of memory

neither attachment nor sentiment to time and place

no scars as enduring testaments

to the questions posed, the answers given

 

 

a young girl stretches out

against the oncoming morning

her breasts

her form

that figure

 

¡mmm, gringa!

 

what am I thinking?

 

I’m the writing instructor

of this summer’s poetry class!

 

I can’t think

act

look

this way

 

but, hell

I pull my shoulder back

turn my head

and stare

 

mmm, baby, baby!

 

at the stop light

   a young vato

      long hair

         and a pony tail

 

looks at me

     catches

         the riff

 

he knows the movida

 

a tight smile forms across his mouth

 

Oye Como Va

     Mi Ritmo

           

!bongo, boom, da!

             Mi Ritmo!

tssssssssss_______ !!

       for you, carnal!

     one last cruise

            around

                 the plaza       

 

What does all this all mean?

 

And because you’ve asked me for my insights and contributions, Magdalena, I’ve tried. ‘Though really, what can I offer you but this? Broken-tongue stories, some thoughts, a few poems, a low-down cruise with a panoramic view into a seemingly ominous future and a reconciliation born out of a come what may resiliency-  ¡y que venga lo que venga!

 

Maybe you can find a way to break it all up, fragment it, present it in a more presentable way, wring out the blood, harness the spirit, translate the non-translatable, remove the music from the song, raise the ride back up and still call it low. Que te vaya bien. I couldn’t do it even if I knew how. Es todo- un viaje por mi Lowcura, por mi Tierra Sagrada. 

 

New And Rejected Works

 

I watched a dropped

Metallic lavender colored ’66 Lemans

Pull out of the AutoZone onto Sunset

Sporting 5/60’s, 14” Cragars and rabbit ears

 

Rabbit ears!

 

A true period piece, man!

A mid-seventies testament

A real gem of the Sunday afternoon cruise

A Hoochie-Coo Park, everyone’s eyes on it, car wash bitchin’

Piece of ass finding ranfla

 

What does all this all mean?

 

What true literary aficionado

Could understand or bare even the slightest interest

In this ghost-patterned paint, chrome, and rubber observation?

Will this poem

 

Be allowed to exist alongside other genres of poetry?

To say the least of its highly improbable publication possibilities

In reputable established “American” poetry journals

That hold in their editorial exercising power

The ability to affirm and measure a writer’s worthwhile poetic existence

 

No, probably not

 

Yet, what I saw rolling out’ve that parking lot

Cautiously avoiding the teeth gnashing, bumper scraping injury

To a 1966 Lemans dressed in accessories from a past era

And rolling literally naked to the general public mind

 

Was in itself poetry to me

 

A statement of personal taste

Much as the interest akin to knife collecting

Gun shows, or extravagant doll exhibits

As well as, say, literary journal subscribers who must have their

Poetic fix mailed to them every month

Curbing an appetite for the compositional qualities and technical structuring

Of a language that works best in literal abstraction

 

Is this poem abstract enough?

 

Does it carry a central theme engaging a universal dialogue?

Is it eastern enough to satisfy the taste of the self-absorbing

Intellectually sophisticated western palette?

 

Will the U.S. poet laureate nod his head in approval

And suggest that it at least be considered placed next

To the greatest poems ever written about cats curled up on a windowsill?

 

Hmmm, maybe, it’s just a little bit too literal

Too barrio, too East L.A-ish

Or just too Aztlanish

 

There are, of course, great literary enthusiasts

That could easily decipher the blue-dot, ‘67 Cougar taillight blinking like a Christmas tree, boogie-woogie rolas riffing out’ve the organ pipes,

And dashboard saint protecting us

From that which does not understand us, chain steering wheeled chariot

With the red lights flashing in the mirror

        

Red lights flashing in the mirror?

                            Maybe it’s the poetry police- ! ponte truchas, carnal!

 

Great literary enthusiasts who can’t even read

 

Because nothing they were ever given to read

Made sense to them either

Who do not have subscriptions to anything of self-interest

Great literary enthusiasts holed up in a lock-up facility

Who sit waiting for their final sentence to be read to them

Who without explanation and by implication are told

We are simply following due process

Whose hearts and souls and spirits and lives

Have been censored by mainstream off-the shelf everything

And who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity 

Hydrotherapy psychotherapy pingpong and amnesia

 

Oops, now, where did that come from?

 

How come nothing in the great American poetry anthology

Reads like the America I know?

Or sounds like the chrome tipped, cherry-bombed

Idle of a lowered bomba at the stoplight

With a tattered page manuscript lying

Under a pile of sorry assed

Thank you for your interest rejection letters

Carpeting the floor?

For the original web page version, see: http://latino.si.edu/Virtualgallery/LR/Lowcura.htm

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