LowRider Subculture Essay Research Paper Rob BeldingAnt

Low-Rider Subculture Essay, Research Paper Rob Belding Ant 202 05/07/00 Ground Effects, Tint, Bass, and Other Aspects of the Low-Rider Subculture In researching data for this paper I spent one evening participating in the activities of the West Side Low-Rider club. Information was also gathered through my experience of living in the area where the group hangs out, West Asheville.

Low-Rider Subculture Essay, Research Paper

Rob Belding

Ant 202


Ground Effects, Tint, Bass, and Other Aspects of the Low-Rider Subculture

In researching data for this paper I spent one evening participating in the activities of the West Side Low-Rider club. Information was also gathered through my experience of living in the area where the group hangs out, West Asheville. My informant is a friend of mine who is also a member of the group. With his help I was able to move freely among club members. The focus of the paper is in the symbol which the automobile represents for the driver and how club members alter or customize the symbol to obtain status.

The West Side Low-Rider club was established in 1991. The group was started by two brothers, Bobby and Sid. Together with five of their friends, the two men have created what is considered one of the largest low-rider club in North Carolina. Although originating in the southwest among Latinos, low-riding became popular in Asheville in the mid seventies, and now there are three well established groups in Buncombe county. All of the clubs are based in West Asheville, which lies across the French Broad River, from the business district of Asheville. Other than occasional cruises through downtown, most of the clubs activities are carried out in West Asheville. My friend Casper, who is a member of West Side, informed me that “West Asheville is where the true Ashevillians live” as “new age hippies” and “liberals” have taken over the rest of the city.

The division between West Asheville and the rest of Asheville is an interesting one. As my informant stated above, there are apparent differences in the way the two sides of town view themselves. Asheville has always been a major tourist destination; fifteen years ago, however, the tourist began to stay year round. The city welcomed the mostly wealthy new residents, by catering to the needs of the many new housing developments which began springing up around the downtown area. In an exodus reminiscent of “white flight,” the old residents began moving to the less populated areas surrounding the city. It is this resentment for the rest of Asheville which led to the naming of West Side Low- Rider club, which is called by most, West Side.

“This stuff is all about boys and their toys” Mike P.

Members of the group will tell you that membership is open to the public, provided the rest of the guys like you. There are 150 “rides”{a term used to describe a person and their car}in the group. All of them are males, between the ages of sixteen and twenty seven. I asked why women where not allowed into the group, and was told by many that auto mechanics, and driving for that matter, were activities which men performed better. Probing the issue further I found that most of the members thought that women do not need to get dirty, and that the work is mechanically oriented which happens not to suit women.

Members of the club are divided into two categories, men and boys. Boys are considered so until the eighteenth birthday which marks the introduction into manhood. Sexual experience also appears to be linked to the separation between men and boys. Virginity is frowned upon, as no male can be considered a man, without first experiencing sexual intercourse. My informant told me that many boys will lie about their sexual conquest in order to raise their status in the group. The separation between the sexually experienced and those considered “cherries” is symbolically represented in name calling and jokes which bring to light the sexual na?vet? of the boys in the club. For example, one boy was referred to as “Lotion” implying that his only sexual pleasure came through masturbation.

The notion that women are not to be permitted into the club is interesting, as they are the vehicle through which members achieve ultimate pleasure and status. I speculate that this notion is much like one reason in which many Muslim women wear the veil. In order to relieve men from being distracted by their desire for women, a veil is worn to allow free movement of all. The exclusion of women from the club, allows it?s male members to interact without competing for the affection of female members. In Bedouin society one reason for wearing the veil is it?s representation of women as a separate class from men. The West Side members suggest the same separation ideas in stating that women do not need to get dirty while working on cars.

As a whole, members of the group assume status and identity through the cars which they drive. Being a low-rider club, the group views the “factory” automobile as a blank canvas, on which a host of expressions may be made. In touring the parking lot, my informants showed me what is looked at in sizing up a ride. Custom features are the most easily identified and are therefore considered the most important by many. The items to be modified include: paint job, wheels, rims{hubcaps}, lift{height up}, drop{height down}, undercarriage lighting, and aero- fittings{accessories designed to make the car more aerodynamic}. Stickers are also considered an important aspect of customizing the automobile. Stickers bearing the logos of name brands have become popular, not because of the product they represent, yet an altered meaning which the low-riders have created. All of the members of the club have a large west side sticker with the picture of a mustached bandito on the rear window.

Performance of the automobile is equally as important to the enthusiast, looking for more than a “lot ride? which sits pretty but runs like *censored*.” Maintaining a car?s engine and other parts requires a knowledge of mechanics which is coveted by many members of the group. Members of the club notorious for mechanical knowledge are revered. The top speed and rate of acceleration are two mechanical aspects which take precedence among low-riders, as drag racing is the primary form of competition among the group. Exchange of mechanical service for goods often takes place allowing for the group to contain it?s knowledge and allegiance to their friends in the club.

The reciprocity among group members is similar to that found in smaller, hunter gatherer communities. The act of reciprocity illuminates a solidarity among group members, in creating separate rules among themselves.

“The interior of the automobile is the womb.”


Low-riders spend as much time “souping up” the interior of their cars as they do on any other aspect of their ride. Members of West Side showed me cars with oriental carpet interiors, inside neon lighting, and even a covered pick-up trucks made to resemble a limousine. Opulence appeared to be the goal, as many of the cars had been fitted with wood detailing, or even faux marble. Colored window tinting on some of the cars creates a colored hue throughout the interior of the car. Many low-riders add switches and buttons to the dashboard to create whatever effect they desire. One informant told me of a car which resembled the interior of Luke Skywalker?s X-wing fighter, from Star Wars.

The outrageous modifications made by custom car enthusiast appear to be attempts to separate oneself from mainstream society. This is achieved through modification of symbols and materials found in dominate culture. Individuals identify themselves with the changes they make to their cars, allowing their automobiles to project the image that they wish for themselves.

Car Stereos also are an important factor in a “bitchen ride.” The volumes achievable today in automobiles is staggering. Car Stereos often can be heard as far as a mile away, causing the whole chassis to rattle with each bass hit. West Side members, all have customized speaker kits in their cars, often in the form of a box contained in the trunk. One member told me ” a good system let?s you be heard? peoples is hearen, my music.”

The music played on the stereo is a different matter. Musical taste amongst West Side members varied between Rap/ Hip Hop and Country/ Classic Rock. These two genres appeared to separate some members of the group. Many of the Country/Classic Rock listeners felt like the Rap/Hip Hop listeners were not being true to their roots. One guy commented, “country music is American born, just like baseball, hell just like low-riden ” perhaps implying that Rap and Hip Hop were products of the African American Experience, of which no West Side members are a part.

The division of the group over musical taste gives rise concerns over the growing size of the group. Members complained frequently of how the group no longer seemed like a family. Perhaps the division of the group, via music, has allowed the group to find greater solidarity in smaller numbers. As solidarity appears to be a concern in the enrollment issue.

Cruising the strip

Perhaps one reason for the establishment of the West Side low-rider club is the cruising phenomena which takes place on Patton Avenue. Every Friday and Saturday night hundreds of young people, roughly between 14 and 25years old, drive up and down Patton Avenue, hanging from their cars, drag racing, and having a good time. Local store owners report that the young people have been doing this for roughly twenty years. Complaining about the traffic created by the influx of cars in weekend, many feel the police should end the practice all together. That sentiment is not shared by all however, many fast food restaurants and gas station employees feel the kids are just having a good time, a woman at the Amoco station on Patton explained, “I know I?d rather my kids be down here cruisen and raisen hell than off drinken and driven round the mountains ?. kids don?t usually get killed in accidents down here.” The police are visible all along Patton Avenue

With or without the consent of citizens, the street fills up, and Friday December sixth was no exception. It was this Friday that I arranged to meet with my friend Casper to cruise with boys/men of West Side. I met my friend and his companions in the parking lot of CarToonz, a car stereo business on the strip owned by a club member. The parking lot was thumping with bass reverberating from the many parked cars. This parking serves as the rendezvous point for all West Side members. After touring the parking lot, in Casper?s 1989 Nissan Maxima, we pulled onto Patton and cruised the streets. Patton Avenue has a cement median running it?s length and a U-turn must be made to turn around. As many people are circling, the U-turn lane fills quickly, and most of the time spent cruising, is actually spent sitting at stoplights. It is at the stoplight that most of the social exchange in cruising takes place. I watched as Casper leaned from his car window, talking to girls and yelling at other cruisers. He explained to me that it is not uncommon to see a girl in a car and ask her to come ride with you. Young people ,passengers, were continually abandoning cars in exchange for a new ride. I asked my informant and his friends, what determines if a girl will come for a ride? They explained that a really hot car or a good selection on the stereo can and usually wins a girl over. Perhaps make-up for men.

After an hour of driving we pulled into Taco Bell and parked. Casper ran inside to buy a drink, as loitering is not permitted, and we all sat on the hood. Our parking spot faced Patton Avenue and the group maintained dialogue with almost every passerby. Several cars were parked in the lot and young people were everywhere. One group appeared to be fighting, and Casper explained to me that the two guys at the center were members of another low-rider club which was splitting up as a result of allegiances to two feuding members. The fight began over the vandalism of a members ride. I asked Casper if fights were common and he said, “this whole thing is guys and their cars and their women, of course there?s fights here. Shit man a guys bound to get his toes stepped on, there?s a lot of bad mother*censored*ers down here.”

The Taco Bell parking lot is considered the best on Patton avenue, as it sits at the starting line of the drag strip. Watching close to fifteen tire screeching take offs, I became amazed at the intensity of the whole thing. My friends explained to me that it?s pretty much the same thing as arm wrestling and you must do it to get respect. I was reminded of a pageant of sorts. The police issue a serious fine for drag racing and their presence in the area add to a heightened since of excitement. I never got to participate in a drag race, regretfully.

Drag racing has taken place for decades, as a sport of mostly men. Many people associate the sport with aggression and fiery car crashes. Drivers on Patton Avenue have ritualized drag racing much in the same manner as many other cultures have ritualized forms of competition. The Yanomamo hold ax fights as initial form of competition or aggression. My informant told me, while physical fighting occurs frequently, the enemies have almost always raced before. Implying that drag racing is often used initially in order to settle disputes or initiate.

The night ended with my return to the parking lot of CarToonz. There were a dozen cars sitting, running, radios blaring. I hung around for a little while and then, thanking Casper and his friends, went home.

Leaving, I couldn?t help but check out my car as I approached. I began wondering about my car, and whether it represented me, like clothes. I began to think of how the West Side members go to extremes to express themselves through their automobiles. Regarding the automobile as an extension of the self, a symbol with which the identify. The symbol, automobile, becomes something with which members use to assume their identity. This phenomenon is found throughout the world and is most widely expressed clothing styles. The veil, also, has become a symbol with which many Muslim women use for identity. There is no doubt that members of West Side feel better about themselves while driving a “cool ride.”

There is no quintessential “cool ride.” Everyone seems to be taking items from within the same framework. The act of customizing ones automobile allows a person to create an individual identity while being a part of a larger group. This has led to the development of a sub-culture which is quite closely bound to the culture from which it separates itself.