Tuesday, December 31, 2019

North Main - Prologue

A note from Frank: Just over a year ago, in November 2018, I posted that I would be sharing with you the first chapters of a book I am writing called North Main. As 2019 comes to a close and without further ado, I present to you the first chapter of my book:

My generation was the very last of the Baby Boomers, and as such I grew up in the 60's and 70's. It was 1980 when I started driving and muscle cars were cheap and plentiful. I had a good job at one of Southern California's largest independent auto parts stores plus I still lived at home. Consequently, there was a constant revolving door of cars in my parent's driveway (much to my mother's dismay) and fixing them up just came natural to me. Much like someone that takes to a musical instrument at an early age, I was very adept at working on vehicles. As long as I can remember I was always curious about how things worked and was very mechanically inclined. Combine that with a appetite for V-8 engines, add in the lack of local drag racing facilities (yes, even back then), some friendly rivalry, and you have a recipe for trouble.

The trouble I'm referring to is cruising and street racing. As bad as some folks think it is, street racing was just another part of growing up for me. It's not that the "events" were any safer or any less crowded, but perhaps a bit more organized as they were held in a dedicated spot and not just anywhere or at anytime. In all the years that I followed street racing, I cannot recall any deaths from it, and only one solo wreck. Sure, there were a few close calls, but that was because of the drivers being idiots. There seemed to be more potential for trouble if you went cruising, and cruising was usually the precursor to that night's street racing, so it just happened that I was part of the cruise scene also. Cruising was absolutely huge during this period in So Cal. In my neck of the woods if you were not cruising Market Street in Riverside you were on the infamous E street in San Bernardino. Cruisers came from all over, some just to cruise, some to race, and others to make trouble.

The trouble makers were almost always from out of town, drunk or stoned, and there would usually be two of them. If they didn't try and use their fists, they would brandish tire irons, baseball bats, and once I even saw a handgun. I can still see a fight that took place right in front of me in a fast food drive thru line! Like I said, there was more potential for trouble if you were cruising.   

Back when we street raced, there were no look outs, police scanners, two-way radios, or any other stuff like what is portrayed by Hollywood. When I first started attending the races, Police presence was sporadic. We figured most of their resources were consumed with all the cruisers, giving them tickets for being to low, having tinted glass, too loud of exhaust, and my personal favorite - exhibition of speed. (for chirping your tires!) We gathered far away from homes and people on a stretch of road known as North Main. By the time it was all over, anybody who was anyone in street racing knew about North Main. The bulk of my "experience" happened there and it became a very popular place to race, but it was this popularity that eventually got the undivided attention of the local Police. I witnessed Police raids, blockades, and even car chases as the authorities cracked down on us "juvenile delinquents".

You could find me almost every Saturday night cruising Market Street and then eventually ending up at North Main. I was not a huge player on the street racing scene, but I knew a few who were. My primary role was as an observer or occasionally as a wrench, as I worked on a few of the faster cars back in the day. I also had a keen eye and would often scope out the competition prior to a race. Now-a-days nitrous is bragged about and shown off almost to excess, but back then if you were on "laughing gas" you generally hid it from prying eyes. Some guys went to extreme measures to hide their N2O systems, but I would generally be able to spot them. Here is a brief list of some of the other items I would check for: the unique smell of av-gas in the fuel tank, plexi glass windows instead of factory safety glass, gutted interiors replaced with sheet metal, racing slicks, ladder bars and other full race stuff. Most of the cars were true street cars, but towards the end things were getting so crazy that full blown race cars on trailers started showing up. For me, that was the beginning of the end.

How long street racing has been around and how dangerous it is has been debated quite a bit, with pros and cons on both sides of the fence. Street racing has been portrayed many different ways in the movies, media, and on the internet, with the vast majority of those portrayals being completely fictional. We all know street racing is unlawful, but this is not a debate about weather you think it's a good or bad idea. The story that is about to unfold here probably won't change anyone's opinion on the subject either. Rather, it is a first hand account of street racing and the cruise scene in the early 80's, as I witnessed it. So regardless of what you might have read in the past or what movies you may have seen, this is the real deal. So sit back, buckle up, and lets go for a ride...

Monday, December 30, 2019

It's a Given

The other day I was working on my '56 Chevy "Time Warp" and was preparing to mount my old school Carver stereo amplifier in the trunk area. I decided it would be best to mount it on a piece of wood instead of directly to the metal, so I sauntered over to my work shed where I keep all my wood working stuff. After rifling through a few stacks of good used wood, I procured a piece that would work nicely. After some minor trimming and smoothing of the edges I perused my collection of hardware to find just the right length screws to attach everything. It was at that moment that I realized how convenient it was to have these extra items at my fingertips, as most people would have to stop, make a trip to their local hardware store, purchase wood, spray paint and fasteners, then get back home to start again and hope they didn't forget anything.

I guess I really never thought about it before because for me it was always this way. Growing up, my father's garage and basement was a literal hardware store. Lumber, nails, screws, paint, iron pipe fittings, tools, electrical switches, and even a kitchen sink! If I needed something chances were good that I would find it out in his garage. To the casual observer my dad's garage probably looked like a collection of junk. There was a labyrinth of skinny pathways that weaved their way throughout the garage. It was here that I discovered and developed my ability to visually recall items that I had seen previously, albeit only briefly, due to the fact that none of it was organized. One might say it was developed out of shear necessity but whatever the reason it has served me well throughout my work careers.

Nowadays folks like my father are called "hoarders", which is just a newer term for the old "pack rat" label or the more mellow "junk collector". My dad grew up during The Great Depression so that might have had something to do with his "saving" tendencies and the fact that he did not want to throw away anything that was still usable or good. He was a true jack-of-all-trades. One might say that he was repurposing stuff before the term was even used. Although I am a lot more organized then my dad was I do have a problem throwing away good used parts. I sell a few here and there but some of the stuff you can't even give away. People would rather just buy brand new, a few swipes on their phone or a few clicks of the mouse and before you know it, there it is on your doorstep. So much for environmental sustainability.

Maybe it was the way I grew up but I don't feel complete unless I have these "extras" around that I can utilize when needed. I think the challenge is maintaining an even balance of this stuff so you do not get overwhelmed, or worse, get labeled a hoarder. Of course it helps that I can repair almost anything, or at least try. This concept seems to be totally lost on the newer generations. For me, it's a given.