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My friend's wife had knee surgery. There were complications; a blood clot in her knee had caused a stroke. My friend hasn't left his wife's side at Kaiser Hospital nor slept in days.

The day I planned to visit them, I discovered that the Conquistadors car club was having a party right around the corner from the hospital, off of Mission Gorge Road.

When I left the hospital, I didn't feel much in the party mood, but I went over anyway.

I found the place behind the warehouses at the Mystery Speed Shop, which restores and customizes vehicles. The guy who invited me was waiting in the parking lot to show me where the building was. He said something about the Conquistadors being a bunch of "greasers." I told him, "The Conquistadors were an old San Diego basketball team that Wilt Chamberlain played for." He said, "Yeah, we saw that when we Googled the name."

Before walking in, I checked out the hot rods outside. One had a "flying eye" on the window and a Vargas girl in the interior. The pinstripes and designs on the paint reminded me of Spirographs I made as a kid.

I dug the rockabilly, '50s greaser look of the crowd. A few guys reminded me of Brando in The Wild One. The women mostly sported a Betty Page look.

Seeing at least three different car-club jackets, I asked one of the guys if there were rivalries between the clubs. "No, not at all. When you are on a road trip, sometimes you see someone with a jacket. If it's a San Diego car club...you bond. It doesn't mean we don't occasionally talk shit about each other. Sometimes we make fun of the car clubs that don't even have cars yet. There are a few. They just have the jackets and grease up their hair."

I asked about the clubs at the party and someone else said, "There are the Road Devils...the Fifty-Nine Club..." I saw a few people wearing those jackets. He continued, "Some clubs have certain hot rods. Others have pre-'63 cars."

I thought that several cars looked like they needed more work. Someone explained, "It's expensive to restore them. And some people do the engine work before they worry about the outside of the car and how it looks. A lot of us are young, and we don't have much dough. We like to restore them all original, too. I once saw someone with a '53 Chevy that had all different parts. I told the guy, 'Nice car. Too bad you fucked it up.' It's cool when older people comment when they see the cars. Maybe they remember having a similar car when they were kids. Others say it's cool that we keep the hot-rod tradition going. One old lady was touching the pinstripes on my car when I came outside. She said it reminded her of her first boyfriend."

Somewhere behind the shop they were grilling and continued bringing food into the shop. I went inside to grab a hamburger.

I talked to another person who told me that he keeps his car garaged. He said he had a lowered '61 Oldsmobile in college and that someone drove over it. I asked him if insurance was more expensive now. "Oh, yeah. It's what they call hot-rod insurance. Otherwise, you'd only get Blue Book if you were in an accident. They make you show how much you put into the vehicle. The problem is that most of us can't afford that insurance. That's why we might only drive our cars a few times a week."

I asked a woman if she shared her boyfriend's love of cars. She told me that she did. Her boyfriend overheard us and added, "I had a girlfriend once who said she was second in line behind the car. I told her she was third. She didn't like that."

I noticed that one wall had brass knuckles hanging on it and a knife sticking out. Then I saw a Ninja star protruding from the wall. I visualized these guys working on cars and tearing up walls.

The music playing at the party was the genuine rockabilly tunes of Elvis, Eddie Cochran, and others. I told a few guys that my favorite car song is "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, and I asked them their favorites. Julian said, "That's tough. I like 'Garbage Truck' by the Cramps." Another guy mentioned "Rocket 88." I told him that song was considered the first rock song ever, from 1953, and that current San Marcos resident Ike Turner played on it.

I overheard a guy trying to pick up on a girl. Within a few minutes, she gave the guy her number, which he put into his cell phone. When I mentioned that to someone, they said, "Why write stuff down when you have that kind of technology at your fingertips? There are so many ways technology has made it easier to pick up girls, too. You can go online, MySpace, it's endless."

I found out that there was supposed to be a band called the Rhythm Stompers playing, but that the wife of the guy who played stand-up bass had a baby two days earlier. The bass player did eventually show up, and I asked, "Why didn't you bring your bass?"

I told him that when I saw Lee Rocker in concert, I couldn't believe the things he did with his stand-up bass. He talked about the bassists who he digs. I asked him how much harder stand-up bass is to play. "I end up with calluses all over my hand. [The bass] can be heavy and hard to handle as well."

I walked over to another crowd that was playfully arguing about engines. I asked Julian what the deal was, and he said, pointing to a car, "Someone said something about the Chevy 350 engine in this Ford. Then a big argument started. People all just have different theories on what they'll do to their cars. I told him you don't put a baboon heart in a human. That's why you wouldn't put a Chevy engine in a Ford."

It's hard to argue with logic like that.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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