By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
by example — probably the most expeditious way to capture the respect of his crew. “I’m here 18 hours a day with these guys, sweating under a welding mask, in the shit, really.”
Watson reminds me, if not in body at least in temperament, of charismatic self-help guru Tony Robbins in that he must be a constant source of motivation, a tireless cheerleader. Because his troops are indeed human, they hit mental and physical peaks and valleys through the week and, yeah, sometimes want to walk out on the whole damn thing and quit; ultimately Watson needs to convince them that fearless homeowners’ pipe dreams are worth grueling hours, chaotic working conditions and varying personalities — one of the 12 preceding episodes included a fistfight between two builders.
In the end, Monster House panders to the inner caveman by combining swagger, imagination and technical know-how. Consider the amenities of previous builds: a vacuum-tube delivery system connecting kitchen, mailbox, living room and office; a wall-to-wall, multicolored disco dance floor with musically sequenced lighting; and a floor-to-ceiling tiki-god fireplace with a mouth that spits propane flames. No doubt these drastic changes can freak out a homeowner. Surprisingly though, no one has initiated recourse against the show. Not yet, anyway.
With just 36 hours to complete Muir’s Halloween surprise, the singer, jocular as he relaxes by the faux fireplace of his temporary RV residence, already looks like a satisfied customer. When the moment comes for Watson and company to reveal what they have wrought, this is how Muir predicts he’ll react: “I’m either going to go ‘Wow . . . Cool’ or ‘Woooooow . . . Cooooool.’”
It’s 8 in the morning. I’m taking my first bite of a surprisingly decent cheeseburger and watching, warily, as my husband, Mike, swigs a $4 beer. The Bakersfield air, already heavy with the stink of various agriculture products, is slightly sweetened by the smell of burned rubber, nitro methane and the body odor of 10,000 car freaks.
We had awakened at 4:30 a.m. to drive the 1930 Ford hot rod Mike built over the Grapevine to Famoso Raceway for the 12th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion. Mike has a business building hot rods and restoring collector cars, and he was here to convince a guy named Zombie to do T-shirts for his shop, talk to a guy named Newt about featuring his car in a hot-rod magazine and, finally, to get a guy named Squeak to sell a part Mike had just invented.
The names might be funny, but the hot-rod industry’s laughing all the way to the bank. In fact, the automotive aftermarket is like the fashion industry for men, where speed rivals looks in importance. Just as with fashion there are cliques, so don’t let the dirt and grease fool you: The level of snobbery in the hot-rod world makes Anna Wintour look like a community activist.
Famoso has a more than 50-year history of being an outlaw track where speed and performance reign. We walk by a 1936 three-window Ford with a Chrysler Hemi still in primer (not yet painted), the very height of Bakersfield chic. Here, it’s considered prissy to be obsessed with the flawlessly restored cars you might find at the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. A bearded, pot-bellied retiree standing near the Track T roadster he built in his Anaheim garage describes those kind of cars — for which owners search the planet for every original nut and bolt, repaint in some garish color and then stash away in a garage never to drive — as “just dipped in shit and money.”
Naturally, the very definition of the words hot rod is in dispute. According to the National Hod Rod Association, a hot rod must be pre-1948. On the other extreme are those who call any car with any alteration affecting speed, performance or aesthetics a hot rod. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, but if your cousin puts a fart-bag exhaust and a spoiler on his 1994 Toyota Camry and calls it a hot rod, feel free to call him an asshole.
At the Concours d’Elegance you strain your neck for a glimpse of Leno or Cage, but here in plain view are “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and “TV Tommy” Ivo. We walk between the rows and rows of “hot rods.” To our right is the racetrack. There, vintage ’50s and ’60s nitro-burning, top-fuel dragsters blast down the quarter-mile at speeds of up to 260 mph, making a sound so ferocious that when they pass you can feel the hollowness in your organs. Beyond a strip of shacks selling beer, sodas, burgers, chicken strips (health-food nuts are shit out of luck) is the vast vendor section offering everything from $5,000 custom wheels to $2,000 vintage intake manifolds.
At the end of the day, Zombie agrees to do the art for Mike’s T-shirts, but we are at an impasse with Newt. “We’d like to put your car in the magazine,” says the 25-year-old, who looks like Donny Most, except that he is about two heads shorter and covered in tattoos. “But our editorial board only accepts cars with bias-ply wheels. If you want to put bias-ply wheels on your car, we might accept it.” Mike says he’ll think about it, but walks away rolling his eyes.
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