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Coronavirus: Bored with dangerous habits on Whittier Boulevard, low drivers set foot – Los Angeles Occasions

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As a boy growing up in East Los Angeles, Juan "Spanky" Ramirez lived on weekends when his uncles left the family's Carne Asada parties and invited him to drive down Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.

From the passenger seat, Ramirez watched the regular parade of chrome and florid paintwork that brought worldwide fame to the streets. And when the Tíos flipped their hydraulic switches and soared their gleaming limousines high into the air, "it was the greatest feeling in the world."

Now that he's a 39-year-old father, a 1970 cruise to Whittier in his white Cadillac Coupe de Ville takes him back in time to old school days.

"I'm stressed out at work and I could just get in the car and take off," said the Baldwin Park resident. "It's like therapy."

But in the summer its asphalt Eden was broken.

On August 2, a man hit another man over the head with a blunt object during a fight in a parking lot on Whittier Boulevard, and then hit a woman before firing three bullets in the air. It was the low point of a summer on the boulevard that saw it crowded with cruises like it hadn't seen in years.

The lull in the pandemic that had closed so many people seemed to have brought others to the boulevard. Not all behaved; empty parking lots were stained with graffiti or littered with rubbish. The smell of urine permeated the air.

That was enough for Ramirez and his friends.

Juan Ramirez & # 39; father, left, and family friend in the late 1970s.

(Juan Ramirez)

Two days later he asked other lowrider lovers on Facebook to organize a kind of boycott: not to drive on the streets for a month.

"It is sad because we are the last of the generation who can keep this culture alive," he wrote. "We're going to take a break to save Whittier Boulevard."

It was a pivotal test for Ramirez and the Los Angeles Lowrider Community, a coalition of 15 auto clubs in the area. The group was formed about a year ago to clean up the image of their scene, which has long been felt to be cluttered by law enforcement and the public.

"We don't force anyone to do something they don't want to do," said 47-year-old Jesse Flores of the Elegants Montebello Car Club. "We just asked," Hey, don't come out and stay away a bit. "It's a free country, you can do what you want. That's how we do it."

"And surprisingly," he added, "it worked."

On August 29, the Los Angeles lowrider community ended its voluntary exile from Whittier Boulevard with a cruise marking the 50th anniversary of the Chicano moratorium and the assassination of LA Times columnist Ruben Salazar. Flores said he would cruise in his "normal" car every now and then in August to see if people respected the group's request and see at most one or two stragglers.

Cars arrive for a lowrider event near East 15th Street and Hooper Avenue in downtown LA.

Cars arrive for a lowrider event near East 15th Street and Hooper Avenue in downtown LA.

(Josie Norris / Los Angeles Times)

"We don't need law enforcement to let us know if something is wrong," said Ramirez. "Whatever happens on Whittier Boulevard, it's our story."

The efforts of the Los Angeles lowrider community may mark the first self-imposed cruise ban in the history of the boulevard, but it certainly isn't the first time East LA has put an end to the pastime.

In 1979, police barricaded the streets along a mile-long stretch of Whittier Boulevard between Atlantic Boulevard and Eastern Avenue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Nine years later, LA City Council passed an ordinance tightening travel restrictions that restricted the number of cars to one round trip every six hours on the same street.

As recently as 2017, LA District Overseer Hilda Solis filed a motion for increased enforcement of unauthorized cruise events.

But the lowriders always came back.

"The approach has always been enforcement, enforcement, enforcement," said Captain Salvador Suárez, commander of the California Highway Patrol's East LA station. "Well, if this is the approach that has been taken and is still going on, is there any other approach we could possibly take? I don't know the answer, but I am willing to listen to people."

Suárez has allowed the Los Angeles lowrider community to meet at his station. In a room six feet apart with chairs and tables filled with hand sanitizer, the group met with the CHP, the LA County Sheriff's Department, a county attorney, the county's Department of Public Works, and others.

During the first meeting in early August, police officers showed the pictures and videos of the lowrider group of private parking lots along Whittier Boulevard that had been devastated.

Suarez said members of the Los Angeles lowrider community expressed concerns that they had no other point of sale because the pandemic closed beaches, parks and other recreational spaces. He said he understands that the people who have been polluting and destroying local businesses in the past few months may not be part of the auto clubs, but "it doesn't matter." It's people who come to the boulevard because of you. "

    Boyle Heights' Joey Gallardo relaxes in his car during a lowrider group get-together in Los Angeles.

Boyle Heights' Joey Gallardo relaxes in his car with the roof down during a Los Angeles lowrider group get-together in downtown Los Angeles.

(Josie Norris / Los Angeles Times)

After the Los Angeles lowrider community's proclamation, the poor activity on Whittier Boulevard seemed to be subsiding, Suarez said. Local officials and law enforcement agencies are expected to meet with traders in Eastside soon to hear them. The hope is that the cruisers and shopkeepers will get together and go from there.

While this may be a new generation, this isn't the first time LA lowriders attempt to organize themselves formally.

In the early 1980s, the West Coast Lowrider Assn. 65-year-old Gloria Ruelas, a member of the Dukes Car Club, one of the first lowrider clubs in Los Angeles, brought together a group of about six car clubs with similar goals. The group has been instrumental in organizing auto shows for MEChA – Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán – at universities such as UCLA and East L.A. College.

Ramirez knew nothing of attempts by the West Coast Lowrider Assn. or another group to unite lowrider clubs in the area. But he's looking forward to seeing his community come together like never before.

"We don't put any pressure on anyone," said Ramirez. "We're just trying to get a vote on" What do you think is best for the rest of the community? "To get. And when we willingly do it together, everything works a lot better."

Rene Castellon of the Elegants Montebello Car Club teases friends across the street during a get-together in LA.

Rene "Sir. Chato ”Castellon of the Elegants Montebello Car Club teases friends across the street during a lowrider hangout in LA.

(Josie Norris / Los Angeles Times)

For members of the Los Angeles lowrider community, however, a ban on cruising on Whittier Boulevard didn't mean a ban on cruising everywhere. About a week after the break was announced, the clubs on 15th Street in downtown Los Angeles held a private, invite-only event.

"Whittier is our culture," said Rene, "Sir. Chato" Castellano, member of the Elegants car club. "But unfortunately there is a lot of negativity going on right now."

As the sun set behind the palm trees and downtown LA skyline, cars rolled over and sank to the ground. Sparks flew as bumpers scratched the road.

Participants sat in garden chairs on either side of the street and grilled while their homies pushed hip-hop and rap out of their cars. Children cycled slowly on bicycles, their seats low and the handlebars high over their shoulders. Many did not wear masks, although some quickly pulled them out as they crossed the street to greet members of other car clubs with fist blows.

A Los Angeles Police vehicle slowed as it passed and eyed the group.

Castellano said he told the cops they would move if they wanted. They're not trying to cause problems.

"We are here," he said, "for unity."

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