Photos and Text by Óscar Vargas
Boyle Heights Beat
Many people in Los Angeles like to drive fast, but for some people on the Eastside, driving slowly is part of the culture.
It’s called cruising, and it has been around since the 1950s. Yet an essential part of the lowrider scene is finding it more difficult to claim space on the streets of Los Angeles.
For awhile this summer, “Los Angeles Cruise Night” happened on Fridays at a choice location along the L.A. river, right by the First Street bridge, with the city skyline as a backdrop. Multi-generational families would gather in folding chairs to have a good time listening to old school music while cars drove up and down the street. You might see a stock-looking Chevrolet Impala or Caprice or a Ford Mercury – a vehicle that has been modified – producing sparks when it touches the ground as it drives away.
As the sun set, you could hear the sounds of camera shutters clicking. Almost instantly, you’d see the images posted in Instagram accounts.
The January 2016 closing of the Sixth Street Bridge turned out to be a blessing in disguise for James Solano and José Ortiz, the two low-rider enthusiasts who months before had started what they initially called the Sixth Street Cruise Night.
One day, Ortiz and Solano joined other Eastside car enthusiasts to cruise the iconic structure before it was demolished and grab a drink afterwards. After they posted the idea to their personal Instagram accounts, crowds started to grow, and the authorities started to notice.
“Once we got kicked out of the bridge, we [moved] over to Myers [Street in Boyle Heights],” says Solano, 38, a low-rider enthusiast from Montebello who drives a 1959 Chevrolet Apache truck and is a member of the Los Boulevardos Car Club. Ortiz is a photographer who uses the Instagram handle @Flikazo.
“We figured we’ll probably end up bouncing around from location to location, so we should change our name to Los Angeles Cruise Night,” says Solano.
In today’s cruising scene, social media — Instagram especially – has become what “Lowrider” magazine represented in the 1970s. Back then, “If you wanted to know what was going on the scene, you’d pick up an issue of Lowrider and see what people were doing in your city or other cities or around the country. Social media just sped up that process,” Solano says.
Solano says he and his buddies were not interested in the car shows that over the years had become the alternative to cruising. With cruising, there are no politics, no rules and no regulations. “Me and my guys don’t really care about trophies or the whole hype that comes with cars shows,” he says. “They just wanted to keep it simple.”
Last summer, authorities reported a surge in cruising on Whittier Boulevard, which led Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solís to introduce a motion, later passed by the Board of Supervisors, asking
the Sheriff’s Department to look into enforcing a 1997 ordinance that prohibits cruising. At the time, Solís said as many as 2,000 vehicles were turning up for cruising events, shutting down several East Los Angeles streets.
The Boyle Heights location on a two-block stretch on Myers, between First Street and the 101 Freeway, is ideal for cruisers, and not only because of its proximity to the river and the skyline. “It’s a side road,” says Solano. “Not a busy road, so we were not obstructing traffic or getting in anybody’s way. It’s one of the last places in Los Angeles we can actually gather.”
The city of Los Angeles has its own anti-cruising ordinances. Solano says that none of the L.A. Cruise Night participants have been fined for cruising, although he admits to having a run-in with police one Friday night.
Captain Al Labrada of the Los Angeles Police Department says the ordinance is enforced to prevent “incidences of violence, public alcohol consumption and speeding” sometimes associated with the practice. “There’s traffic congestion, modifications made in vehicles that are sometimes unsafe… a lot of issues that come with it, not just the cruising.”
Solano says the Los Angeles Cruise Night will probably take a break during the winter and perhaps change its location.
“I was feeling that Myers was becoming stagnant–the same thing, week in week out, so we are going to change things up a little bit come next year, and just take it from there,” he says.
Oscar Vargas is a junior at Roosevelt High School. His interests include photography, music, and cars. Oscar is going to pursue photography and cinematography as a career.
This post was edited on Feb. 28 to correct the name of José Ortiz, who uses the Instagram handle @Flikazo, and to clarify the origin of Cruise Night.