The key turns in the ignition and the pickup explodes with sound as a battery of amps ramrods enough juice into the night to fry the carbon off the engine. Another week survived, seven days endured, for this: Saturday night, party night, cruising night.
The eight pickup trucks are lined up at parade rest, side by side in the shopping center parking lot, tailgates toward Bristol Street, noses toward Edinger Avenue, wiped clean one last time, tires Armor-Alled on the spot.
Saturday night, party night, cruising night, time to put the trucks on display, ride up and down the streets of Santa Ana, look for the promised parties. Those with jobs and those without, kids on summer vacation and young men with jobs too tough and pay too low, singles looking for dates and unmarried fathers on a night out, a minority who belong to gangs and a majority indifferent or hostile to the gangs.
Summer in the city, in the barrio.
The teen-agers of the various beach communities can while away their hours on sandy shores next to the Pacific Ocean while the youngsters of most of the inland areas have more money and more options than the teen-agers of Santa Ana--particularly the Latinos in Santa Ana, especially the Latinos in the barrios of Santa Ana.
The Jerome Pool in Santa Ana is popular in the long, hot summer, but it's closed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it's open only from 2 to 4 p.m.
Memorial Pool in Santa Ana is popular too, in fact the most popular of the city's four pools. But a major renovation of the pool did not start until mid-April. Once, it was thought that the pool could reopen July 16. Now the city figures that maybe it can open July 30. Much of the summer will be over then.
The Boys Club, YMCA and Salvation Army run summer programs in Santa Ana, but most of their participants are 12 or younger. The older youngsters don't want to hang around with the younger ones.
Governments and private businesses have summer job programs, but not all the teen-agers who want jobs get them.
Santa Ana teen-agers say their parents worry about them during the summer. So do the police.
Lt. Robert Chavez of the Santa Ana Police Department says there is a "natural tendency" for young people without jobs, camps or some program to "congregate and sometimes get into trouble."
Tom Wright, the Orange County Probation Department supervisor of the gang violence suppression unit, says gang activity increases in the summer. Years ago, he said, "summer was just kind of the lull" for gang depredations. "Now it starts picking up as school ends, and it gets hot all summer long. . . . And mainly it's because these guys don't work, don't want to work or can't get a job and they're just out there."
For those without work, time can hang heavy.
"Yeah, I get bored," says Nellie Vasquez, 16. The previous day she got out of bed at 10, went to Lake Perris with friends and was back to her Santa Ana home by 3:30. At night, "I partied" and got home at 1:30. She does not understand the word "curfew," but when her friends explain, she shrugs that her mother prefers that she be home by 1 a.m.
No matter how boring the summer, vacation beats school, she says. Ahead of her lie weeks of "visiting my boyfriend, going to the beach, kicking back with my home girls."
Patti Hinojosa is 14 and a ninth-grader. She waits with Vasquez in the parking lot, eyeing the pickup truck club members and wondering what this Saturday night will bring.
"I love everything about summer," says Hinojosa, a bubbly teen-ager with sparkling eyes. Yesterday brought the trip to Lake Perris. Monday will bring a trip to the Orange County Jail to visit a friend behind bars.
Jose (Eddie) Gomez is in the parking lot too. He has come with a pickup truck club member specifically to cruise. Gomez is 19 and either unemployed or on summer vacation, depending on whether he returns in September to the school where he dropped out in February, four months shy of graduation.
Gomez's brother is in a San Francisco-area prison whose name he can't remember, one year into an eight-year sentence for "everything; you name it, he did it." Gomez's mother has sent his brother a television for his cell, so he figures at least the brother isn't too bored.
Gomez himself tries to steer clear of the law. "I can't afford to get in trouble, I've got a 17-month-old baby," he explains. He lives separately from his child's mother because "we're having some problems right now."