Showing Their Side 

As local media demonized East Oakland's now-infamous "sideshows," capturing the real story fell to amateur videographers like Yakpasua Zazaboi and Dallas Lopes.

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According to Zazaboi, the very word "sideshow" probably traces back not to the frenetic car culture it has come to symbolize, but to the laid-back practice of "siding," or driving at slow speed down the avenue, one hand on the steering wheel, slumped down in the seat, leaned against the door, free elbow out of the window, chilled, scoping from side to side. Latino kids would call it low-riding.

The Eastmont gatherings incorporated the East Oakland tradition of swinging donuts, that odd display in which drivers swing their car in a circle in such a way that it squeals in protest, sending up clouds of smoke and leaving marks on the pavement. But in the mid-1990s, donuts were only one of many attractions at the Eastmont sideshows. Some nights, groups of drivers came out with fleets of gold-rimmed Delta 88s or hot Camaros, parked them in a row, and let people walk by to see who'd done the best job of fixing them up. Other nights, folks just turned up the music and danced. In a neighborhood where drug-dealings and gang shootings were rampant, who cared about a bunch of kids enjoying themselves in a parking lot?

I lived five blocks down from Eastmont during some of those years. We were passing by one afternoon a couple of years later when one of my daughters looked over at the parking lot, smiled, and said, a little wistfully: "I really miss living over here. All our friends used to come over here. People would be out showing their cars. It was tight." For a child who avoided violence, being "tight" was her highest compliment. Three of my daughters were teenagers during those years. I don't remember them coming in exceptionally late, and I don't remember them mentioning trouble at the mall. I was just happy to know there was a place in Oakland where they could go, hang out with their friends, and come back safely.

Zazaboi took his first footage of a sideshow in 1994, to record the event for his own enjoyment. He and his crew soon became regulars -- even more so after 1996, when his family moved across the bay to Oakland.

His first purposeful footage followed on the heels of a 1999 misunderstanding. Flipping through the Laney College course catalogue, he found a Media Department class called "Production." Figuring it was music production, Zazaboi signed up, hoping to work on some beats he'd been developing. "First day of class, I get in there, and found out it was video production," he recalls. "But I stuck it out there, and two or three weeks into it I decided, 'Hey, this is something I'm going to stay with.'" He began preparing for the five-minute video every student had to complete. His would be about the sideshows.

By that time, others were recording the events too. But Zazaboi says he was the only one with a high-quality camera. "By my standards now it's not a real camera, but back then, it was real big stuff," he recalls. "A Super VHS. Most of these guys had little High 8s or Digital High 8s. At the time, I didn't even know the term 'DV cam' or 'mini DV.' I didn't know, and I didn't care. I had something I could handle. I could work with it, and I knew I was getting some good, quality pictures."

His efforts weren't hurt by the fact that he was already familiar to the sideshow crowd. In fact, he'd been swinging donuts at the sideshows himself, practicing on a San Francisco beach to get his technique down. "They knew me, they recognized me, they knew I wasn't out there trying to hurt nobody," he says. "I was just out there trying to do a documentary. They respected that. I got my interviews. Guys just acted like I wasn't even there."

Zazaboi finished his video and presented it to his instructor. "Oh, man, they loved it," he says. "At the end of the semester, the instructor played it in the auditorium. I think it got two or three applauses by the time it was done. Afterward, it was just people coming left and right, asking, 'Can I get a copy?' I got an A on the video. And right away, I got to work on my next project." The one he had in mind was a thirty-minute commercial video on Oakland's sideshows. He decided to call it "Sydewayz."

By then, the character of the sideshows was changing. Gone were the mellow days at Eastmont. As word spread about the events, they grew larger and younger, and more people came from outside East Oakland. It was donuts they were coming out to see.

Ultimately, Oakland police decided to chase the sideshows out of the Eastmont parking lot. Police Chief Richard Word later conceded that this dispersal was "probably a mistake." By this time, the sideshows had too much velocity to be thwarted, so they simply relocated to the parking lots at Home Base and Pak'N Save, down on Hegenberger Road near the Coliseum.

"When we first started going to Pak'N Save, it was wild," recalls Dallas Lopes, a 24-year-old store security worker who started coming out in the fall of 2000. "There were no parameters to where the cars should be, or how close they should get to the crowd. There were a lot of times at Pak'N Save where there was one car over here ... and then another car on the other side of the lot started letting loose, and everybody's flocking over there to see."

Eventually, the older sideshowers imposed order on the people doing donuts. Zazaboi describes the more capable performers as having "handles." "Handles is your ability to control your vehicle," he says. "If you didn't have handles, you couldn't even get out there through the crowd to get in the middle. But it was like an imaginary road for the guys who had handles. They just somehow or other made it from way in the back to out in the front. People was getting out of their way as soon as they seen them coming, to let them through." Lopes recalls many drivers, unable to properly control their vehicles during a donut, being booed out of the circle and told to go somewhere and practice. The key, he said, was control. The idea was to spin the car in as tight a space as possible, without hitting anybody or anything.

Lopes and Zazaboi say the veterans also began to reimpose rules on the audience. Peacemakers stepped in to break up fights. Bystanders helped with cars that stalled or had minor accidents. "People tried to keep cool with each other so they could keep the event going," Zazaboi explains. "We didn't want to rely on the police to handle our problems. It changed things during the week, too. You would see people like me trying to keep my license good so I could get out there and drive to the sideshow without getting pulled over and towed. During the week you'd be like, 'Man, if I go to jail tonight, I ain't going to make the sideshow on Friday.' So you'd be cool all week. Get the car detailed on Thursday. Get your chance to just shine on Friday and Saturday."

In Oakland, California, every Saturday night, brothers be ridin'


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