by Hayden Glory
A Vietnamese man's adventures with the illegal street-racing community of Los Angeles.
Friday, May 23, 1997
A bright flood of color washed over the computer's reflective screen as Jason Nguyen continued to absentmindedly click link after link on the expensive-looking website's modification photo gallery page. The colors emitted by the computer echoed in his beautiful dark eyes, and rap music blared from the strategically placed Bose speakers housed in the corners of the four walls; a seemingly futile attempt to try and block out the screaming flashbacks of the previous night's humiliation. Sadly, that attempt had not proven to be a successful one, and Jason was, once again, defenseless against the hauntingly vivid memories. He involuntarily cringed as yet another flashback shook him -- one that grabbed hold and wouldn't let go.
The entire car felt the effects of the blow -- the steering wheel shuddered from loss of control, and the unstable vehicle began to veer off course, straight toward the rear end of a brightly polished, chrome-trimmed '97 Toyota Camry. Shouting could be heard in the distance, amid the stunningly loud roar of multiple high-performance engines, followed by a loud crash; the crunching of highly-prized body kits, slamming into one another, and the unbearably loud screaming of expensive metal. And then, nothing.
And now, here he was, left drowning amid the sorrow, regret -- the pure humiliation of that loss. Anger pulsed through his veins as he thought of the effects of that one brutal mistake. He was known to be the best. Now overnight, he had turned into the laughingstock of L.A.'s street-racing community. No, he wasn't going to let that happen -- everyone looked up to him. People thought of him as impossible to beat...invincible. He had to do whatever was possible to earn back his good name. Hence, the heated Internet search.
With each unsuccessful link, it seemed that Jason's eyebrows drew a little closer together, an involuntary frown gradually appearing on his beautifully sculpted face. A tough looking yet somehow soft face that put the taste of fear in competitors, but made his opponents' women go weak at the knees. This wasn't always a good thing, as his personal history had proven. Opponents were usually also surprised at his expansive knowledge of all things vehicular -- his experience seemed to be far more than that of a twenty-two year old. Early that morning, the process had begun. The process of scouring every single one of his available resources, just to try and find new and better ways to trick out his ride. And, considering the bone-crushing collision from the night before, he would be in desperate need of a new car. Fortunately, he himself had walked away from the crash with nothing but a few minoor scratches, and a significantly bruised ego. Luckily, the same could be said of his opponent -- he, however, had been persuaded not to press charges against Jason only after realizing that the law wasn't on his own side, either. After all, he had no one to blame but himself -- no one had twisted his arm into participating in an illegal street race. Therefore, involving law inforcement would only make the situation worse for everyone involved. Jason rolled his eyes at the memory of the argument. In any case, one thing was for certain: when the next race came, Jason would be ready. He would be ready to prove himself to once again be the best.
* * *
After a few hours of mindlessly searching the Internet for any miniscule piece of advice that might prove to be useful, Jason finally decided to surrender to the pressure that was weighing him down and, with a multi-syllabic groan of frustration, left for work -- maybe that would take his mind off the task at hand. As he pulled his car into the employee parking lot at L.A.'s Advance Auto, the worry came flooding back to him. Well, he thought, there is a bright side to coming to work. Maybe I can get a tip-off on the next race. Plus, working in an auto shop is certain to give me a few semi-usable ideas for any new modifications. Jason gracefully climbed out of the unnaturally lowered car and slammed the door shut with a dull clunk. As he strolled around the rear end of the stunningly bright Mazda, he followed the habit of giving the lock button on his remote key ring a light tap, which immediately emitted a shrill chirp sound, ensuring that Jason's prized weapon-of-choice was well-protected against any neighborhood potheads or rejects.
Jason entered the building through the employee entrance in the back, and punched in with his time card. He was proud of himself -- despite all the emotional chaos going on in his head, he had actually made it to work early. He sauntered over to the "to do" list by the door -- a list of all the repairs and modifications to be done -- and after carefully considering his choices, selected the fourth one down. Installation of lowering springs on a '94 Volkswagen Jetta. An easy job, no doubt, and that was why he chose it. Jason had the feeling that he wouldn't be able to properly focus on any even remotely complex job considering his current mental state, and the last thing he needed was a "motivational speech" from his boss about "work quality." He had been working for not even five minutes when a good friend of his showed up, alerting Jason to his presence with a shrill whistle.
"What's up, my man?" spoke the friend, whose name was Kai. Then, spotting the disorderly gadgets strewn all over the dirty cement floor, said, "Ooh, lowering springs. Gonna look nice on a car like that."
"Yeah, no doubt," replied Jason in his signature near-whisper. Anyone who had not previously heard him speak would have been taken aback by his natural tone of voice. He consistently spoke in an almost inaudible tone, forcing his listeners to lean in close and pay extra attention to what he was saying. His voice was just one of the many things about Jason's personality that belied his physical appearance and musculature. Among other things, he was also incredibly gentle, sensitive, and respectful of everyone around him. His loving parents had taught him these qualities at a young age, back home in Vietnam. Unfortunately, many people took notice of his prideful step, his strong and sure face, and mistook him for a convicted felon, rather than the accomplished and well-respected racer he was. "So what are you doing here?" questioned Jason.
"Oh, right. I came to help you out, brother -- you know I've got connections. I got the tip-off we were waiting for! Your next race is scheduled for Tuesday night, 11:30," Kai answered.
"So where's it at?" Jason inquired, skeptical about Kai's ability to accurately report information.
"Downtown L.A. -- Temple Street, you know where that is?" the tall, yet somewhat clumsy man pressed.
"Yeah, it's right off Freeway 101," Jason answered, already visualizing the evening in his head.
"But..." Kai continued, "If I remember correctly, you're having car issues. Isn't that right?"
"How can I have car issues with a car I don't have?" Jason questioned.
"No, that's what I mean," Kai elaborated. "You need a car."
"Yeah, what's your point?" Jason asked, getting slightly annoyed by the painfully unnecessary conversation.
"I picked up a car for you -- got it real cheap -- but it needs work. Fortunately, we have the time and resources to fix it up nice. I swear these people didn't know what they had!" Kai continued as if he'd never even heard Jason's sarcastic interjection, which he very well may not have. Kai wasn't exactly known for his ability to listen intently.
"Okay, so what you got?" asked Jason, a look of pure amusement on his handsome face.
With an eyebrow-raising flourish, Kai waved a single hand toward the employee exit, and dramatically mused, "Follow me and prepare to be astounded!"
Jason stood up slowly -- his slim 5'6" frame weak with frustration and exhaustion -- trying to prolong the headache he knew would soon be developing, and walked hesitantly toward the heavy steel door, trailing close behind his faithful partner in crime. He stepped out into the blinding afternoon sun, and let out a groan of frustration as his eyes fell upon a rusted hunk of junk parked unsteadily in the middle of the parking lot.
"What...the hell...is that?" Jason searched for the right words, all the while fighting the urge to strangle his best friend.
"It's a car, dude. Even you don't need me to tell you that," Kai replied, playfully punching his friend in the arm. Jason began to wonder if Kai was seeing the same rust-pile he was. Having just lost the last ounce of patience he had been struggling to retain, Jason began to mutter under his breath in Vietnamese, knowing full well that Kai -- originating from China -- couldn't understand a single word of it. "Waiit, wait," Kai said, realizing that Jason's frustration was about to get the best of him. "Just come here. Check it out." Kai wrestled with the clasp on the hood for a few seconds, then forced it open, utilizing every bit of strength he had. Jason resisted the urge to tell his scatterbrained friend that there was a button on the dashboard intended for popping the hood -- it wasn't a manual. Jason stifled his chuckle, struggling to keep a straight face, and walked over to the car, gazing upon the contents. Kai was right -- the car was amazing, despite the painful view from the outside. Under the rusted hood lay a good as new 2JZ engine -- the best there was -- a recently updated and breathtakingly efficient fogger system, and several other hard to find parts that made the car a masterpiece.
"Oh...my...lord," breathed Jason as he continued to gaze into the car, a look of pure disbelief on his face. "Kai?" Jason said to the man standing next to him, who was still shying away with the fear of what his friend might do to him. "You're amazing!" Kai breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed his tense stance. The two of them immediately set to work on their new project -- if they were going to have the car ready in four days, they had a lot -- a lot of work to do.
* * *
Tuesday, May 27, 1997
Four days and five nights later, the car was unveiled and was, just minutes later, deemed a work of art, and the most amazing vehicle to ever grace the streets of L.A. Painted twilight blue, the left side of the car featured a glazed-over, metallic silver flame design, and on the right, the word "B-Fly" was emblazoned -- a surprise addition from Kai, referring to one of Jason's favorite past memories. One of the competition's onlookers testified that the car could be seen from four miles away, its blue LED underbody glow signifying the approaching threat. Riding on authentic RO_JA rims and brand new "outstanding quarter mile" Nitto summer tires, the completely redesigned '96 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder glided into its display slot, parting the crowd which had appeared to be paralyzed with curiosity, fascination, and speechlessness. But Jason knew that he hadn't yet passed the true test.
As the announcement was made, the crowd began to trail off to the sides of Temple Street, staying far out of the way of the preparing racers. One of three, Jason had received the far right lane -- his most favorable position. As the car slowly crept up to the starting line, Kai's face appeared outside the window to wish his best friend luck, as he knew how much the success of this race meant to Jason. After they said all that needed to be said, Kai reached through the window and handed Jason a small gold object.
"What's this?" Jason asked, recognizing the tiny figure, but still feeling the urge to ask why it was being given to him.
"For good luck, Junior," Kai replied, and Jason chuckled as he heard his friend use his old nickname, which had been given to him way back when Kai could still beat him. Of course, those days were long gone, but somehow, the nickname had failed to disappear with them.
"Thanks, man..." Jason said sincerely, "For everything." A smile spread across Kai's face, and he wished Jason good luck one last time before hesitantly stepping backward into the safe zone, which lay just beyond the starting line. Jason quickly rolled up the tinted window, and stared intently at the little gold object, then carefully placed it on the dashboard, just behind the steering wheel. Analyzing the tiny, one inch tall gold Buddha, he suddenly got the feeling that it would bring him all the luck he needed. Realizing this, his mind began to slow, and he sat back in his blue racing seat, trying hard to focus on what was about to happen.
Five minutes passed, and the announcement came over the radio stating that the race was about to begin. Jason put the key in the ignition, and the engine turned over with an intimidating roar. As the other cars pulled up next to him, and the customary model made her way into the middle of the street, standing just six feet from the rumbling vehicles, Jason reminded himself how important this race was, and unconsciously began to whisper to himself in Vietnamese. You can do it, he told himself. You're the best. You can't let them down. You can't let yourself down. You're going to win. Jason nervously began to tug lightly on the wiry gold hoop that hung from the lobe of his left ear. He watched the model carefully, knowing all too well that if he missed his start, even by the tiniest fraction of a second, he could kiss his chances of winning goodbye. He watched as the model raised her arms, and prepared to shout the countdown.
"On your mark..." she said, and Jason's fingers tightened around the Sparco steering wheel. You can do it, he repeated quietly. "Get set..." she continued, and his breathing began to quicken. You can prove it to them... Watching her stance as she prepared for the racers to breeze past her, she dropped her arms to her sides. "Go!" she yelled with finality. You're the best, was the last thought that went through his mind as his foot dropped hard to the gas pedal, pressing it to the floor.