Things you can get busted for

By Vincent Hsia, 18
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It is early morning. I start up my tuned Acura Integra and wait till it warms up. As I pull out of the driveway, I am careful not to wake my mom and the neighbors with my modified exhaust.
Vroommamamama and I am off.

The crisp morning air zooms across my sunroof. I turn up the music so loud all my mirrors vibrate. I then roll the windows down and let the world feel my presence. Boom, boom, boom… the sound of my bass coupled with my exhaust declares to the world that Vincent is here, Vincent is about to start his day.

Sitting in my emerald green Integra, I feel I’m somehow better than the rest—people better make way for me. I call the car Mechvin, short for Mechanical Vincent, and when I’m driving the streets become my track. Like a pack of hyenas, my racer friends and I roam the streets looking for challengers. So many places are reminiscent of scenes from the Japanese animation Initial D or from video games like Gran Turismo. Street racing is how I could test out my skills and live out my fantasies.

When I floor it, I’m on top of the world. No one can catch me. Actually, that’s not true. Several times I have been wasted by M3s and Supras. I don’t even try against the Acura NSXs and the Mazda RX-7s. But I have beaten Integras, Civics, Celicas and Preludes. Usually I win, because I am crazy like that. It is not just car against car, it is man against man.

Some people look at the import scene and they call us all "rice boys"—guys who try to personalize their cars with all kinds of clutter, like decals, extreme spoilers and other cosmetic stuff. These guys are at the bottom of the racing hierarchy. They have flashy cars but don’t know how to drive them. At high speeds their cars rock up and down because they lowered them wrong. Or they just have a crappy car with no power. I don’t even bother racing them anymore, it is simply too dangerous.

Actually all racing is dangerous, even with skilled drivers. One time while driving on the 10 freeway, I started racing a white Integra. The other driver was truly on top of his game. We hit speeds up to 120 mph, dodging around the other cars. Suddenly, the car in front of me braked. I swerved to the left, straight towardsthe center divider. I thought I was going to die. I swerved to the right. Another car appeared out of nowhere. By this time, my car was out of control. Still doing about 90 mph, I finally managed to get the car back in line. Covered with cold sweat, I drove home.

I saw the dangers of racing

The next few days, I started thinking things over. I remembered a red Civic that spun out while we were racing. The look of terror on the driver’s face haunted me. I thought of my three friends who smashed up their Integras and got seriously injured. I knew that I could be next, that I was alive because I had gotten lucky. I also remember two guys I met in a racing shop who died. They ran a red light. One was sideswiped by a semi and the other ran into a wall while he was looking back to see what happened to his friend.When I drove by the accident scene, I saw flowers placed on the sidewalk.

What if all my skills couldn’t keep me from killing someone or even myself? I had become a danger to society. Racing through the city streets, running stoplights, cutting people off, I never stopped to consider the risks. If I realized what I was doing, there was no way I could continue. After thinking about all that, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I was not going to race anymore.

About a week later as I was driving on an errand, a silver car started pulling ahead of me. I accelerated and kept up with it. Before I knew it, I was going 75 mph on a major street in San Marino, heading straight towards the police station. Then, I hesitated. I slowed down my car, and turned left, pulling out of the race. It was sickening to chicken out like that.

I felt I had dishonored myself. I had worked hard on my racing skills, pouring thousands of dollars into modifying my car. I wanted to prove to the world what I could do. Instead, I had become just another rice boy.

As time went by, I stopped worrying about the risks. Little by little, I was back to racing. Only now, I try to follow a few rules. I never race in the day, never on the freeway, and never on unfamiliar streets. These restrictions give me a false sense of security, and I end up racing harder and faster than before.

In the beginning, I liked how people were afraid of me. With my loud music, and aggressive driving, several pedestrians have screamed thinking I would not stop for them. But, over time, the constant negative feedback has started to get to me. Elderly women give me the evil eye. The police would stop me at least once a month for violations. My mother’s friends said that I didn’t look like a proper Chinese son anymore, now that I was driving that gangster car.

One time a white Civic drove up next to me on the 10 freeway. Two girls popped their heads out of the window and yelled, "Hey, where’s your piece at?"

Puzzled, I said "Huh?"

"Hey! Where’s your piece at?" They wanted to know if I had a gun.

Not only do people think I am a gangster, many think that I am a drug dealer. Strangers would come up to me and ask to buy drugs. Do they think that I bought my car with drug money?

I wish I could let them see how hard I worked to get my car the way it is. How I worked as a computer technician and as a tutor to save up enough money for the modifications. My friends too, worked their tails off to pay for the equipment, the repairs, and the cars themselves. I did most of the work on the car myself with the help of my friends. I studied the import scene as I would any subject at school. Instead of sending an image of a gangster and a drug dealer, modified cars should send a message of diligent, hard-working, skillful people.

All in all, I didn’t really get what I wanted. Here in Southern California, the center of the racing scene, I expected the whole world to recognize my superiority. Instead, I am constantly checking for cops in the rear view mirror. When I give rides to girls, they complain about my loud exhaust and the way my mud flaps rub against the asphalt because the car is too low. The only ones who understand are my racer friends. They know how to appreciate a performance machine.

My car frees me—or does it?

I feel so free when I race. I wish I could be allowed to race at any time. I wish that skilled drivers like myself didn’t have to follow speed limits. There are radar detectors and cameras on top of traffic lights. There are cops and disapproving glances on every street corner. I can do so much with my car. I want to do so much. Yet, I am not allowed to. I feel trapped by the very thing I love.

Often, I see wide-eyed youths staring at me with admiration. Sometimes, their mothers tell them not to look at me. When I notice their stares, I never look back. Instead I flip them off and drive away. I don’t want them to look at me. I don’t want them to race like I do. I don’t want them to waste their time and money on a sport that will bring them disapproval and danger. Most of all, I don’t want them to be as reckless as I am. Life is something precious. These youths have so much to live for. They should not give it up by following my path.

Even now I am growing impatient with my Integra. I dream of something faster and lighter, perhaps even the G7 Civic type R hatchback, which has so much speed it is like a coffin on wheels. I have so much to lose, yet I keep on gambling.
I can hear the asphalt beckoning, "How about another go?"

What to do when you get you get a "fix-it" ticket

1) Be polite when a cop pulls you over and gives you a ticket for an illegal modification.

2) Check the vehicle code. Make the modification legal either by returning the original part or by altering it.

3) Go to a sheriff’s or a CHP station and pay an inspection fee in cash ($15).

4) Get the officer to sign a paper saying your car is legal.

5) Go to court on the specified court date, and be on time.

6) Plead guilty if you are guilty and show the judge your ticket and the paper saying your car is legal.

7) Pay a court fee (bring a credit card or cash). The fee depends on your violation. Then your "fix it" is cleared and won’t be on your record.