By Ray Downs
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Allen Baldwin's Low-Riding Rule Number 1: No seat belts.
"They're kinda pointless. You can get a ticket for it, but there's so many other things they can give you a ticket for."
Allen Baldwin is a stud. At age 40, the union asphalt paver has thirteen fake teeth, a Fu Manchu mustache (with soul patch) and three Xs branded into his back to commemorate his three ex-wives, Pam, Tracy and Brandee ("She was hot, goddamn"). Soon he'll need another one; Theresa's pretty much out of the picture, and he just moved into a new place with Jennifer Smith, a hot piece in her own right. More important, his 25-year-old new lady is 100 percent supportive of his obsession: low-riding. "My man has got his shit together," she'll tell inferior hoppers.
Not that he's got the fanciest car -- although his electric-lime 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon, equipped with suicide doors and the words 'Ass Up Hooker' monogrammed on a side window, is pretty fresh. It's Baldwin's hopping skills and techspertise that drop jaws and win him the ladies. A fixture at local car shows, he has won countless hopping contests -- bragging-rights duels in which he whose nose flies highest wins. He has even been featured in Lowridermagazine, looking spry in a red-and-black pleated skirt. He comes from Scottish blood, after all, and answers to the nickname Kilt Man.
In some ways Baldwin is kind of like your third-grade teacher. If your third-grade teacher dipped Skoal and drank while she drove.
Allen Baldwin's Low-Riding Rule Number 2: Never park a low-rider nose-first.
"You always back in -- so if someone tries to steal it, you can burn out quick."
In the lot behind the Victor Roberts Building on MLK Jr. Drive off Kingshighway, Baldwin slips a Bud Light from his eighteen-can briefcase to Jennifer Smith and another to Marty Morrison. The latter, a scrappy, smirk-faced forklift operator, likes to think of himself as Baldwin's protégé. Like Baldwin, he's white, is a member of the Playtime club and has a car with a chain-link steering wheel.
Baldwin: "He's what's known as a bottom-feeder low-rider."
Morrison's got two companions today. One is a fleshy lady friend in a zippered Hustler jacket. The other is his pit bull, Capone, a friendly pup whose mobility is hampered by eight fat feet of chain wrapped around his neck. "So he don't run away," Morrison explains. He crushes an empty Bud Light, then pours an ounce from a fresh can into the butt and sets it down for Capone.
Other clubs begin pulling into the lot. First to arrive are the Ultimate Riders, a satellite of the Riverside, California, club that has provided cars for Lil Jon and Gwen Stefani videos. The Playtimers raise their cans in salute.
Next come the 314 Gateway Ridaz, led by their co-chairman, Leon O'Hara. Unlike Playtime, whose low-riders tend to be built for the specific purpose of bouncing them, most of 314's vehicles don't hop. These are "show-quality" street riders, like O'Hara's '63 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport convertible, painstakingly detailed not merely in terms of the paint job, but right down to the engine, the trunk and the suspension. It's almost begging to have a meal eaten off it. O'Hara, who works in the construction division of the Roberts Brothers' sprawling empire, enjoys an enviable side gig: caretaker of Mike Roberts' massive collection of classic cars. An honorary 314 member, the elder of the Roberts tandem keeps his 1964 Impala, 1980 Caprice Classic and 1965 Rolls-Royce stored in a secret garage adjacent to this parking lot.
Having seen to it that the whole group is beered, Baldwin cracks one to go and the group is off, headed north on Kingshighway. They haven't been on the road five minutes when a civilian pulls up next to the Olds and makes a hand motion indicating he'd like to see the car jump.
"Can't," Baldwin mouths back, holding up his twelve-ouncer. "It'll go all over the car."
In Baldwin's world, brew comes before hops: "My car doesn't do what it does until I get a few beers in me."
Point taken minutes later: The can having been extinguished, the Cutlass' already low-slung ass suddenly drops like Magic Mountain, massive gleaming springs unleashing the front left tire from its well. Its back bumper nearly scraping the pavement, the car has been transformed into a Japanese cartoon. Gawks from bystanding preteens turn to cheers.
As quickly as he brought it up, Baldwin dumps the car back onto four wheels, just in time to avoid being seen by a cop who pulls up on a cross street. Driving a car with the nose elevated so as to restrict visibility is illegal in the state of Missouri.
Driving a car equipped with hydraulics, however, is perfectly legal.
"When we cruise, we go in the city," imparts Chris Phillips, 39-year-old president of the local chapter of the Individuals club and a frequent member of the hopping entourage. "City police don't harass you as much. They see the old cars, it's like a respect thing. The cops in the county, if they see you, you'll have to move off the lot or they'll follow you. One time in Jennings, we was getting gas and they all rolled up on us: 'What are you doing? You gotta get outta here!' I was like, 'Man, I live around the corner!' But when they pull their sticks out, it's like: Let's just go."