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And if you get a ticket, you better deserve it
As long as you can say, "Man, I let em know"
Then peace, you did it at the sideshow
-- Rapper Richie Rich, "Sideshow"
Before he developed a passion for videography, Zazaboi was drifting down a path familiar to many black youth -- one that begins with drug slinging and jail, and often ends with prison, death, or both. Sitting at the table of his family's East Oakland house, he tells his story with a mixture of reticence and quiet defiance, Snoop-Dogg braids framing his lean face, a black peacoat draped over his narrow, sloping shoulders. He doesn't care if people know about his past, he says. He wants people to know how far he's come.
Zazaboi dealt drugs in San Francisco as a youth and got caught and put on probation. By the time he enrolled at Laney College in the fall of 1999 he thought he had put his past behind him. But it wasn't that easy. He was arrested on an eight-month-old warrant for what he'd thought was an offhand remark. He'd been standing on a San Francisco street corner a year before, when a stranger came up and asked to buy drugs. Thinking nothing of it, Zazaboi pointed to some men down the street and said, "Ask them. Maybe they got some." They did, and the stranger bought. The stranger, it turned out, was an undercover police officer. Zazaboi was eventually convicted of aiding a criminal act and spent six months in the San Francisco County Jail, temporarily putting off his college career. His three-year probation ended in December.
Zazaboi -- or Yap, as many of his friends call him -- doesn't see his jail time as a bad thing. "I used that time to get myself straight," he says. "I stopped smoking weed. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I stopped drinking alcohol. I didn't need those things." After he got out, he crammed a semester's worth of media classwork into two weeks, winning such respect from his teachers that, when the next semester began, they allowed him to take the school's expensive camera equipment out to tape sideshow footage.
That's where Lopes first observed him. Watching Zazaboi wield his camera, Lopes began developing a growing respect for the way he went about his craft.
"You'd look at him, he had braids, he looked like a lot of the people out there -- he interacted just like everybody else," the Oakland High graduate says. "But at the same time, he wasn't hella ghetto. I didn't know at the time he was going to Laney. But you could see he was professional. You used to see a lot of people out there dancing while they're shooting their cameras, and you know their footage is going to look like dick. But Yap, he was somebody to watch ... He always knew how the cars were going to react. He always knew where to stand. I never really knew that, because I'd never really been around cars like that. So Yap's standing there in front of me, and I see the car coming at us -- you can see the headlights coming, and my eyes are getting big -- and I'm jumping out of the way, and Yap's still standing there. And I'm, like, 'Man, he ain't scared of shit!' He'd just get in the middle of the cars spinning, and the cars would be sliding all around him. Just like bullfighting with a red cape, but just with a camera."
Lopes, who comes from a family of photographers, also had begun videotaping the sideshows with a small camcorder. One night he met Zazaboi out at Pak'N Save, and learned that Zazaboi was making a video. "At the time, I thought he was just making something like a music video," Lopes says. "Maybe put some footage onto a tape and throw some music over it. That got me to thinking. Not to say I was copying off of him, but I was thinking that I had footage, too. Maybe mine wasn't as good as Yap's, but I was out there every night, taking the same chances. I started thinking about how to get my shots cleaner. And I went home and studied my tapes. Like a football coach, you know? To see how the cars moved, and to see where to get myself in the right location. I started to experiment with different kinds of shots -- get different kinds of effects. And I started noticing how important it was what was going on out there. How historical it was. I wanted to document it." Lopes eventually followed Zazaboi's lead and enrolled at Laney.
There was more to document practically every weekend. The Hegenberger sideshows, which occurred in plain view of the street, attracted more than just crowds. They quickly attracted police attention. Instead of leaving the events alone, as they often had at Eastmont, Oakland police officers often intervened.
"Sometimes only one or two would come through," Lopes says. "And when that happened, people would boo them and throw bottles and send them on their way. If they weren't going to come with many cars, people would just sit around and see what they were going to do. When the police came in force, everybody would run for the exits. Sometimes they'd come even harder. They'd come walking through Pak'N Save with their riot gear on -- helmets and rubber bullets -- like that was needed. I've got some of that on tape."
But the police didn't stop the sideshows; they merely dispersed them. By the summer of 2001, sideshowers were riding all the East Oakland corridors, playing hit-and-run with the police, communicating by cell phone, converging on vacant intersections, swinging donuts until they were dispersed, and then scattering and re-forming blocks away. The caravans grew so large on Foothill and MacArthur Boulevards that they became impossible to stop. Lopes remembers seeing as many as five hundred cars and more than a thousand people at some of the larger gatherings. "It got crazy out there," he recalls.
For Oakland police, it was probably the most frightening of times. Clearly, they had lost control.
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