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Cruising Crenshaw


Lowriding Monte Carlos and souped-up Chevys may be things of the past, but cruising along Crenshaw Boulevard is still going strong every Sunday night.

Cars, of course, are a big reason people come to Crenshaw. But they're not the only attraction.

Cruising is a social ritual among 18- to 25-year-olds that has played out in the heart of the Crenshaw District since the 1960s. And although police say the practice is relatively harmless, some local business owners and residents want it shut down.

Starting about 9, as many as 1,400 cruisers travel the 3 1/2-mile stretch between Jefferson Boulevard and Florence Avenue, filling the night air with roaring engines and squealing tires. And although the older Detroit cars are still around, they don't command nearly the attention of the gleaming Acuras and pickups that shake from the bass of megawatt stereos.

On a recent Sunday night, Tametrius Briggs was at The Boys market parking lot at Crenshaw and Rodeo Road, checking out a tall man leaning against a Volkswagen bug. Briggs and her friends are from Fullerton, making them rarities; most cruisers are from either Southwest or South Los Angeles.

"The guys in my neighborhood are boring," said 18-year-old Briggs, who treks to Crenshaw every week. "We like to chill, exchange phone numbers with guys. After midnight, when Boys closes, it really gets packed here . . . then we dance, have a good time."

Veteran and novice cruisers alike have favorite pit stops--or "chill shops"--where they park to talk or simply watch the world roll by. The best-known is the Crenshaw Wall, a block-long mural near 48th Street; another is in front of the Angelus Funeral Home near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"This is my time to kick back," said Cedric Gunter, a 22-year-old construction worker. "After I work all week, I look forward to this." Gunter said he spent the past three years--and $10,000--fixing up his metallic-gold '64 Chevrolet Impala, which boasts a gleaming white interior and a show-stopping suspension that can lift or drop the Chevrolet at the flick of a switch.

Bringing an old or uninspiring car--a "bucket"--to Crenshaw can put a serious crimp in a cruiser's chances of attracting admirers.

Cynthia Morris, 22, normally passes on buckets. "Of course, the person could be nice whatever his car is," she said with a laugh. "But we go for the good-looking ones. That's our mission--guys and cars!"

Nicole Riley, hanging out in the parking lot of a doughnut shop on Exposition Boulevard, comes to Crenshaw to see "different cars, hear a lot of music, meet different people."

"I got seven phone numbers tonight," said Riley, 19, as she eyed a group of young men gathered around a white Volkswagen across the street. "Next week my friends and I are having a numbers contest--see who gets the most!"

Still, it pays to be careful along Crenshaw.

Briggs, for example, said she uses a "street alias" with most men until she can thoroughly check them out. "It can get out of hand sometimes," she said with a shrug. "One time a guy I didn't want to talk to fired off his gun. Another time a guy snatched my gold jewelry from around my neck."

Did she think twice about coming back?

"No. There are some gangbangers, but it's mostly cool. Guys hook up with girls, girls hook up with guys. It's a chill shop."

As if on cue, a bright-green lowrider tore out of The Boys parking lot and onto the street. In what resembled a crazy mating dance, it spun around on its back wheels, tires screaming--all to shouts of approval from Briggs and company.

Such antics don't amuse Ron Smothers, owner of a Burger King at Crenshaw and Jefferson boulevards that is a major chill shop among cruisers.

"Customers don't want to come in when they see kids--who are sometimes drinking--parked in the lot. It needs to be broken up," Smothers said. "It would be OK for these cruisers to congregate in one spot--say, a park--and hang out. But cruising the whole boulevard is a nuisance."

Tony Marco, manager of the Boys Market at Crenshaw and Rodeo Road, said there have been times when his employees couldn't leave the gridlocked parking lot at 2 a.m. "Customers couldn't even get in," said Marco, whose store is open until midnight on Sundays. "Now, since the police have been doing sweeps, writing tickets, it's better. The kids can be a little bit intimidating, but I rarely have trouble with them."

"The kids disturb the traffic and they spill over into residential areas," said Ted Lumpkin, president of the Crenshaw Neighbors community group and a resident since 1964. "A lot of people living west of Crenshaw, near Windsor Hills and View Park, are afraid to come out in their driveways."

It falls on the Los Angeles Police Department to make sure the rights of the cruisers and the neighbors don't clash.

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