Longform

LOWRIDER, HIGH HOPES

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James says he had to admit he freaked a little when he saw Jacobo's mirror. Morris talks him down, says you can't worry about other people. "Other people do what we do," she tells him, "but they don't really know how to do everything that we do. Besides, his didn't look as good as yours."

Which he also had to admit.
Maybe it's all a little crazy, investing so much in something so insignificant, but on the other hand, all artists are insignificant until the right wave comes along, and there are too many pedal-pushing Picassos now to ignore. Organizers of the Mesa show said they expected as many as 75 lowrider bicycles from around the Southwest, an all-time Valley high. The bikes might not work as traditional art, but in their pure, built-from-scratch form, they are tributes to the power of personal expression and dedication, even if daddy--or someone--did help a little bit. Pride is what turns the wheels, the same force that birthed lowriding from Chicanos who found industrial work in California's post-World War II economic boom, who could then afford homes--and cars. Lowriding is now a million-dollar business.

From a bare frame, James Cano created this bike, and with his vision in jeopardy, with the rumblings of the big show growing louder and his cavalry nowhere in sight, the people at Build-A-Bike say they'll give their welding process a try and do James' chain handlebars as an experiment. For free. Then, with Hollywood timing, his father finally calls and says he'll spring for the $40 required to dip the bars in chrome.

The Mesa competition will probably squash his hopes for a trophy like a bug. But in a sense, he has already won, his triumph a self-confidence found in a brief-but-palpable furor inspired among his peers that showed he had it in him.

"That right there, that's a perfect example of what I'm trying to get these kids to do," Tyler says of James' mirrors. "Be unique. Be creative. Don't just be like everybody else. That's why these kids get into gangs, so they can go be like everybody else in the gang. I tell them, be your own man. Come up with your own ideas. And that's a perfect example."

"I feel very proud of my son for doing all these things, because my son could be out there [getting into trouble] with all these other boys," Frances Cano says. "Even though he hasn't won any trophies, he has still built this bike."

Of the competition, James says: "I do think I have a chance. I believe in my bike. I believe in myself. If I don't win this one, I'll fix up my bike better so I can win next time." Then, he says, will come the real eye-catcher, the trike he says he's going to build for his mom and call "The Rapture," which in the Scriptures represents a time when those who believe are rewarded and those who don't are left behind.

He'll bondo the frame like a stretched hourglass and have an end-to-end mural that, you know, he was just thinking, will have God up here and then over here, a bunch of spirits like they're flying up to heaven, and can't you just see it, it's going to be wicked, it's going to be bad, a real eye-opener.

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Marc Ramirez