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I Drive, Therefore I Am

If you’ve ever seen Angelo de la Cruz ’s customized car, chances are you did a double take. The 1987 Ford Bronco II, which he bought off a friend for a thousand dollars six years ago, has had its paint entirely stripped. It’s been buffed out to create “depth” and coated in a professional sealer. Then the very young-looking 46-year-old lined the interior entirely in smoky brown fun fur. Overall, he describes the look he was going for as “glamorous desert rat.”

It should be noted that the L.A. transplant is not from the desert at all. He’s a former military brat raised in Virginia and educated in Denver. But he’s been going to the Moontribe collective’s full-moon gatherings in the Mojave Desert, “since the very beginning,” he says, and he digs rock climbing.

The impulse to alter his car was in reaction to L.A.’s whole car culture and the idea that you are what you drive. Also, this is just the kind of thing that the craftsy painter/dancer/animator/digital designer/hula hoop maker does. And at that particular point in his life, he was having a strong reaction to paint. “Why would anyone want to cover up raw design?” de la Cruz asks.

There was also the issue of the actual condition of the pre-existing paint job itself: shabby and .?.?. red.

“I am not a red-car person,” he says, seated in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, which at this exact moment is parked outside a Hollywood health-food store. “I’m not blond. I don’t have water-saturated skin, or designs on being a Hollywood star.”

But he does have designs on the opposite sex.

“It’s so much more fun to drive a sexy car,” he says, flashing his pearly whites.

Oh. So you categorize this as a sexy car?

“Of course. It is.”

Really?

De la Cruz , who is single, says his point was proved the first day he took the car out for a spin. He was at a car wash, getting all the debris from his customizing work washed off, and a pretty girl, who was coincidently in a red convertible, responded positively.

You mean she talked to you?

“No,” he explains. “Just the eyes .?.?.”

Oh, you could just tell — there was an energy?

“Yes.”

De la Cruz lives with, as he puts it, “a bunch of hippies in a house in Glassell Park.” Pausing, he corrects himself: “I’m not sure if it’s right to call them ‘hippies.’ A couple of them go to Burning Man, so I guess they are modern-day hippies.”

De la Cruz himself listens to KPFK and voted for Nader, the first time. But he’s not into conspiracy theories — unless you count the fact that he firmly believes 9/11 was an inside job.

Over the years he’s had some pretty impressive gigs in the film business, and he’s worked for major toy companies. He also makes those extra-large hula hoops under the name Hoopmon, which he dances with himself. In fact, right now he has a cut on his nose from an accident while hooping. Apparently, the activity, popularized in part by jam band The String Cheese Incident, can get a little dangerous. De la Cruz , a one-time pre-med student, is still recovering from another accident in which he suffered nerve damage and required physical therapy.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but [hooping] has been exploding all over Southern California the last few years,” he says, eyeing the handful of ribbon-covered hula hoops in the back of his car.

“It’s gonna get bigger and bigger. It’s already been in a Hewlett-Packard commercial and a Coca-Cola commercial. But the art directors are still using the smaller ones — they don’t know.”

Meanwhile, de la Cruz is stopped at least a couple times a day by people who want to talk to him about his car.Men, women, young people, old people, everyone seems to be curious about how and why he did it. The other day a guy in a Bentley stopped him, and lowriders often roll up next to him to ask questions or just give nods of approval, which he takes as a compliment. (“Lowriders are all about sexy cars,” he says with the utmost admiration.)

But the constant attention has caused him to grow more self-conscious about the whole thing.

You know, it sounds funny that you would say you feel self-conscious. The assumption might be that someone who does something like this to his car would be hoping to provoke attention, right?

“I know,” he says. “Both things are contained in this: the idea to be invisible, and the desire to be visible. At first glance it looks like any other car. But on closer inspection, of course, it’s something else altogether.”

The daily encounters have forced de la Cruz to confront another idea about himself. See, he is a person who believes it’s important to have authentic exchanges with the people. On the other hand, he says, “I am the on-the-go L.A. person — I never have time for other people.” So when someone interrupts his daily flow to talk about the car, it would be easy for him to just blow them off. But instead he is sure to make himself stop and have a real exchange, like maybe the one he is having right now.

“More natural to me is to really listen to someone,” he says, sipping from a paper takeaway cup. “At the same time, I have to check myself [to see] if I am willing to be genuine or not.”

I’m sorry, what exactly is it that you think is sexy about this car? The fact that it sort of evokes Barbarella?

“No. Just that the inside is so plush and different than ? the outside.”

Do you think the car reflects you as a person?

“I realized, yeah, it does represent me.”

What about it most represents you?

“I think, the notion of ‘Fie on your notion of pretty.’?”

‘Fie?’ What’s that?

“Fie, as in defiance: fee-fie-fo-fum.”

Hmmm.

“So, ‘fie’ on you — meaning L.A. — and your idea of the pretty car.”


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