It’s the night before La Vuelta, on Logan Avenue. Jesse Amaro is up a ladder finishing a mural, a kind of permanent poster for the Barrio Logan festival built around low rider culture. Amaro has just finished with the part that reads “Cruising Is Not a Crime.” “The police always used to hassle us,” he says, “but we’ve proved just how great it can be, out of a lot of struggles. Come look Saturday.”
So two days later, I do. And great ain’t the word for it. Under another mural at Sampson and Logan that says “Life is a Dream” (“La Vida Es Un Sueño”), Marisa Rosales sits back in a beach chair while hordes of folks like me swoon over her red-on-red, two-door 1949 Hudson Brougham. Low? The thing is an inch above the pavement. It has perfect chrome, the detailing lines are exquisite. The rear window has Venetian blinds. And in the trunk, the chrome cylinders of the low-rider hydraulics gleam.
It also has another plaque that says “Third Annual La Vuelta. First Place.” Wow. Number One out of all these cars?
“This is about the eighth time I’ve won,” says Rosales.
Of course the Hudson didn’t look like this back in 1991, when Marisa and her boyfriend, Arturo “Mijo” Palma, first saw it in San Ysidro. It was by the Tijuana River. “She was sinking, in three feet of mud. There’d been a lot of rain. She would be gone by now if we hadn’t towed her out.”
They decided to turn this Hudson into a special car. It might have been a little bit of destiny: each day on the way to school, Marisa had always passed a junkyard full of Hudsons.
“Also, we had a mechanics’ yard to the right of my aunt’s house where I lived, and a body shop to the left. I used to spend hours on the porch watching them work.”
So when Arthur introduced her to the low rider world, she was already hooked on cars.
“Unfortunately, my boyfriend passed away in 1999. I decided to carry on restoring her, as a kind of tribute to Arthur.”
She joined the Hudson Essex Terraplane Club, and worked on the Brougham between working, looking after her baby boy, and going to college. (She’s now a senior Protective Services social worker.) Of course, back then, in 1999, the car was just a body. The restoration has taken years.
She installed a 454-cubic-inch Chevy Big Block motor from a ’69 Camaro. She got ahold of Pasco hydraulics straight out of an aircraft where they had been used to lower the landing wheels. (Thanks to them, she can lower the Hudson to the ground when she’s parked. “I want her to look like she floats.”) She added touches like 13” Zenith wheels, spotlights, a windscreen visor, and grill guards. “I really favor the grille on this car. It has that mean look I like.”
Which is partly why she also named the car Christine.
“I named her after the movie Christine. Remember? John Carpenter directed, 1983. It’s the Stephen King story about this car that killed all its owners? My boyfriend bought it. He died. His friend bought it. He died. The old man who was the original owner, he died. But I’ve had her nearly 30 years. I’m still here. I think she just doesn’t like men.”