October 19, 2007

First Person:


By Al Carlos Hernandez

Back in the day there was a song which included the lyrics, “Diamond in the back sunroof top, digging the scene with a gangster lean…”

For those of you who don’t know, a gangster lean is driving while resting your right elbow on the middle arm rest of your car. To do it right you have to be leaning on your right elbow, your left hand should be on the top of the steering wheel, and your head positioned almost underneath the rear view mirror.

There is an old urban adage that says, it don’t matter what your are rolling if you know how to roll it. The point is that there are various driving dignities and postures that work to express your sense of cool, irrespective of what you happen to be driving that day.

I have known folks to adopt a leaning posture although there is no center arm rest, using maybe an Igloo cooler to rest the elbow while cruising Grandma’s Chevy Citation and they made it work.

A well-rehearsed dramatic driving posture is borderline performance art.

A word of caution: Gangster leaning does not work in pickup trucks, especially if there are three dudes in a crowded cab. Invariably, the guy closest to the passenger door always ducks down at the worst possible moment, to make it look like the guy in the center and the driver are having a romantic moment and want to sit close together.

This practice gives other motorists and passerby the impression that these fools are sweethearts.

Thanks to my younger brother, I have been a victim of this humiliating practice myself on more than one occasion.

It is usually the more expensive cars that have the padded arm-rests and not the taxi cab standard bench seats. The intention of the song was to make it clear that the driver was paid and drove a great big Caddy like a sugar Daddy.

The song made reference to diamond in the back, a padded Phantom top that looks like a convertible. Sun roof top, the word “top” there being redundant. Digging the scene, an eighties term meaning driving around for no apparent reason trying to be cool, and of course the leaning thing.

There can and have been however some serious social consequences for leaning too hard during the days of big hair. Once, my friend who later became my brother-in-law, and I were throwing major daytime cruise, in my two-tone Monte Carlo when we supposed to be at work down Mission Street.

From behind — because we both had our leans on — it looked like I was out on a date with Pat Benetar. His hair was huge, mine was a little more sedate yet it looked like we were driving cheek to cheek. Nothing could be further from the truth, but thanks to the faster than the speed of light Barrio grapevine. I got an irate call from my fiancée when I got back to the office and indeed had a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Nowadays, only “OG’s” — Original Gangsters or Old Dudes — seem to adopt the classic leaning posture, and to do it right you need a Lincoln Town Car, or a Sedan De Ville on vogue tires.

What Hip-Hop drivers do now is a whole different type of a leaning thing.

The object is for the driver to lean low and far back on the driver door, such that you can use your left ear to smash down the door lock. There is an option of hanging your left arm out the window, but that can cause some serious injury while driving on the freeway, especially if there is a passenger seated directly behind doing the same thing.

This type of driving posture can be seen on rap videos, and presents the viewer with a whole new attitude: I am too tired or lazy to sit up straight in my fresh ride attitude. These same people like to attend awards shows in house shoes and shower caps.

I have tried both spine altering driving postures and have experimented with many options in between, and have come to the conclusion that nobody cares or is impressed as how you sit up or slouch down in your car. All they care about it, if its tight how did you get it and rabid conjecture if they are ballin’ or not.

Real urbanites know that the money days of a baller, hustler, dealer is usually about four years, and after that, it is usually 25 to life.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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