Santa Fe Weird
The definition of weird is broad. When weird is defined, adjectives such as uncanny, unnatural, unusual and strange are listed as synonyms. Strange works for me. Synonyms for that word include: extraordinary, out of the ordinary, curious, bizarre, funny and weird. We’ve come full circle on the synonym trail, a bizarre route unless, of course, you’re looking for absurdities. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Looking for amusing absurdities, the stranger the better.
My sidekick, Kyle, a Cool Dog with attitude, who insists on hanging out where the funny stuff happens, will join me. Together, Kyle and I will celebrate the extraordinary in Santa Fe as we seek bizarre, funny and weird people, places and happenings. In Santa Fe, we don’t have to look far. My cousin, Laura Helmich, an accomplished artist, drew Kyle’s likeness so his contributions can be acknowledged.
Santa Fe is not the only city where weirdness is celebrated. Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon also celebrate weird. By so doing, these stalwart citizens, like Santa Feans, are celebrating the unique character of their individual towns as well as the broad diversity of our nation, where our differences really do enrich and strengthen us.
Kyle and I recently spotted what some would call a flash, a splash of speeding color; others a work of art; and still others a statement of cultural identity. Those who don’t know any better might even call this dressed up clunker with hydraulic lifters, that hips, hops, bounces and jumps down the road, weird. But there’s nothing weird about expressing yourself through pride in your ride. A lowrider is one of the favorite symbols of Hispanic culture. Those mobile murals, graphic-art-on-the-go, are all over the Norte (Northern New Mexico).
We saw this one, a 1983 Chevy Monte Carlo, at the New Mexico History Museum during a special exhibit earlier this year entitled: Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico. A beauty, isn’t it?
Pride in your ride, while perhaps more artful and colorful here, is not exclusive to New Mexico. Our love affair with the automobile is as American as driving your Chevy to the levy while you sing good-bye to Miss American Pie, a nasty cheater who broke your heart. The late Don McClean’s 1971 hit song reminds us that many of our memories, good and bad, are tucked behind the wheel of that first car or stored in the backseat of our parent’s jalopy, where we played license plate bingo while Dinah Shore sang, “See the USA in your Chevrolet. America’s the greatest land of all.” That was back in the early 50’s, when cars like Chevys and Buicks had grills that looked like an orthodontist had installed them.
Those antiques would look better if they’d been customized, detailed, painted and upholstered by a low rider with a sense of style. While you’re at it, Bro, don’t forget those special features – the hubcaps and the hood ornaments - that gave those automobiles their pizazz.
Being a lowrider is no easy task. You can’t buy a kit at an auto parts store. The art requires the skill of an engineer, the creative talent of an imaginative artist and patience, patience, patience. It’s worth it, though. When the work is complete, the lowrider will have a one of a kind, mobile expression that clearly states: “Look at me. I take pride in who I am and what I do.”
The Lowriders exhibit at the History Museum is long over. But keep your eyes peeled. Lowriders, hot rods and classic cars can be seen all over New Mexico, as well as Los Angeles, San Antonio, any place in the USA where the car culture thrives.
What will happen when cars drive themselves? Will the car culture die? Not likely, Miss American Pie. The levy is just a Sunday drive away, down a winding road where we all head to refresh and reset.