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Rim Job

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"That's the highest they've ever done," he crows.

Adrian estimates he's spent in excess of $40,000 on gear for his car, which bears a B+C decal and a sticker across the trunk reading "HOW HIGH ARE YOU?" But close inspection reveals where that money wasn't spent: The entire undercarriage, shocks and all, has been crudely spray-painted to match the green-yellow body, and the covered-up rust spots abound. It looks worse than a $500 Maaco job.

"Yeah, Adrian's a little weird," Kenny remarks later. When the shop finished with the car, the springs were brand-new and shiny red, which didn't work with Adrian's intended color scheme.

"It was a lot nicer," Kenny says. "But they're kids, and they basically destroyed it."

Adrian seeks shade. He and his friends are wearing the uniform that's seen on nearly every car enthusiast this afternoon: T-shirt, long baggy shorts, black socks, white slipper-shoes. Chicas come with tight tops, jean skirts, and flip-flops. The scent of locally grown hydroponic adds a heavy spice to the humid air. Even a baby in a stroller is clad in a "G-Unit" T-shirt.

Though the crowd is fairly evenly mixed, the lowrider movement grew out of the Latino culture of Southern California. From there, it spread and adapted to far-flung communities (Lowrider magazine's biggest circulation nowadays is in Japan). Today's picnic is really an amalgamation of different styles of car surgery, bound by one common denominator: always sacrifice functionality in favor of stylistic excess.

Despite the heat and the nonstop preening and one-upmanship, the event is completely chill, and despite the dubious legality of some of the rides, law enforcement is absent.

Florida statutes specifically outlaw "horns or other warning devices" that "emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound," but this afternoon, drivers delight in honking their train horns, startling passersby. The maximum bumper height permitted on an automobile is only 27 inches, and a significant percentage of tricked-out cars here easily surpasses that.

Back at the shop, Donnel Constantine is fretting. He doesn't want to see his beloved Chevy S-10 lowrider, which coasts mere inches above the pavement, burst into flames. A friend with a similar rig nearly lost his life last year when he hit a pair of speed bumps on a residential street.

"The first one punctured the gas tank," Donnel relates, "and the second one sparked it." His friend was lucky to escape with his pants on fire and a burn on his leg, but the truck was done. "That was it," Donnel says solemnly. "Completely gone." The modification he's seeking is simply to spare himself his friend's fate.

To avoid the same river of fire, Donnel came down to B+C, explaining to Karim how he'd like the shop to weld a series of steel plates to the bottom of the chassis. "In case I hit something," he says. "This way, I'll have play, so I can still drag, no problem."

Donnel — a real estate inspector from Pompano Beach — has always lived with a penchant for craziness, starting with dirt bikes as a kid, drag racing as a teen, and now cruising around in a freakishly unrecognizable S-10 that he once drove to Colorado and back.

"My cars have always been juiced," he says. The attention, he explains, is a thrill he can't pass up.

As Donnel gestures and Karim contemplates exactly how this gas-tank protection system is going to work, a 50-something City of Fort Lauderdale employee strolls in. He owns a 1999 Suburban, he says, and wants to put 24-inch rims on it.

"I need to lift it up," he says. "Every time I hit the brakes, it's just sittin' down in the front."

"You should be able to put 26s on there, no problem," Karim advises. "Maybe some new springs or tighten up the torsion bars."

"Damn, you know your shit," says the Suburban's owner, who promises to return when he's off his shift.

Kenny struts in, cigarette smoldering. "Off that car!" he barks at Donnel's friend, who had been leaning against a midnight-blue '72 Caprice that came in beige and broken. Now it's as sweet as anything in the shop, poised on huge chrome rims, with a custom chrome steering wheel and a grille that spells out Ghetto Fabulous.

Donnel tries to get Kenny to schedule an appointment to look at the S-10 and see what it'll take to do the work. "You'll have to call Wednesday," Kenny says, as Bobbie Jo walks through the shop. "She won't let you talk to me, so make sure you tell her your name and that I'm expecting your call."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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