Despite stereotypes, car meets embrace diverse groups, support local businesses, and fund charities

Photo by Ethan Darnall

This GMC Sierra HD announces his presence at the St. Jude’s car meet by flexing his modifications and creating black smoke on May 2

“When the cops arrived, they claimed we were doing drugs and burnouts.”

Freshman Noah Gallegos recalled this incident at the drug-free car meet he hosted on May 2.

This is just one example of police targeting the ever growing car meets students participated in to find a safe way to socialize during the pandemic.

“The police made us dispurse and claimed they had reports of us doing ‘very illegal things’,” Gallegos said.

To put it simply, a car meet is a gathering of people who all have a collective interest in cars. Whether you own a car at all, or you have the craziest modified car in the country, all are welcome.

Gallegos had decided to host a super car meet where photographers gathered to appreciate these cars. Despite their most careful efforts to be as appeasing and inoffensive as possible, they were kicked out of the Birmingham SP+ Parking garage.

“Except for driving up and down the parking structure, the cars were parked and turned off to have photos taken of them. The car meet was also invite only, so I could choose only responsible people to come,” Gallegos said.

As a member of the car community myself, I have recently realized just how many people have a genuine interest in cars. Unfortunately, many people don’t know what a car meet is, how to become involved, or are scared away by these stories of cops cracking down on anyone who loves socializing through car meets.

Photo by Ethan Darnall

After raising $1,009 for St. Jude’s children’s hospital by charging a minimum of a $5 entry fee, a few cars and all the people who helped lined up for a group photo on May 2.

Since many are struggling to get involved in the car scene, Gallegos provided insight on the best and simplest ways to get involved in the car community.

“To be honest, it's not that hard to find different car communities on social media. Just check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. Another way to get involved is, if you see a nice car driving around, and if the owner is easily approachable, just ask them how they got involved. They most likely know of a car club to follow on social media, or a car meet that might be going on right at that moment,” Gallegos said.

With the CDC declaring a fully vaccinated person to be mask free except for local business laws, you would think that police departments breaking up public gatherings of cars would also be a thing of the past. This is far from true for car meets. Overly sensitive and offended adults, commonly addressed as “Karens” or Social Justice Warriors, and cops alike have seemingly developed a toolset of reasons to hate and shut down any form of car gatherings. This recently emerging vendetta against car enthusiasts has proved detrimental to the hobby of enjoying cars as we now know it.

Jim Allen, a senior at Groves High School and frequent at car meets in the Birmingham and Woodward area, weighed in on this problem.

“The police in our area are given a much larger budget than other areas in the state, and because of that, I think they get carried away. There is very little crime in our area, and because of that large budget, the police get bored. Busting up a car meet or giving tickets for going 5 over the speed limit has become their main objective. I understand that some parking lots are private property and it makes sense that some property owners do not want car meets occurring on their property. Nevertheless, abandoned or vacant lots should not be patrolled for car meets. For example, the old Pasquales’ parking lot on Woodward has been blocked off, and it’s constantly patrolled by the Birmingham police because of car meets,” Allen said. “But I ask why? They aren’t hurting anyone, there isn’t an excessive amount of noise, and they aren’t disturbing any business. Overall I think the police should only break up car meets if the owner of the establishment has specifically asked them to.”

Recently, Allen has noticed that the Birmingham Police Department has gone out of their way to effectively close down all meeting places for car enthusiasts. He said the worst part is that they are inconveniencing the general public as well.

“The Birmingham police now barricade all parking lots on Woodward, once the sun sets, to stop car enthusiasts from parking. This is incredibly rude and unjustified as the businesses are closed, and it makes it harder for average drivers to pull off of Woodward. The Birmingham police have also frequently closed the tops of the Birmingham parking garages to prevent car meets from occurring,” Allen said.

Photo by Ethan Darnall

Mustangs are commonly addressed as “crowd killers” due to their powerful v8’s and generally inexperienced drivers. This recipe usually ends in the Mustang careening off the road and into a crowd. This Mustang owner, parked at the St. Jude’s charity event on May 2, decided to put a humorous twist on that stereotype with a fake arm hanging out the trunk and a sticker saying “don't follow me, you won’t make it.”

English broadcaster and well renowned automotive journalist Jeremy Clarkson in his narration for the release of 2011’s Forza Motorsport 4. At the end of his 3 minute monologue at the start of the game, he insinuated that the only home we, car enthusiasts, have left is in video games.“

“We are an endangered species, you and I. We— lovers of speed, we— devities of power and noise,” Clarkston said.

Ten years later, his predictions could not be any more relevant. It’s either another Social Justice Warrior who has nothing better to do than call the cops on kids congregating on public property or it’s the Birmingham and Southfield police departments, who seemingly pounce on every opportunity to ruin any car meet they come across.

Jacob Thomas, a senior at Royal Oak high school, felt this retaliation in full force. He understands that there disruptive and inappropriate car meets, but said they are a rarity and should not be the driving force behind the police department’s hostility.

“Car meets have a bad rep due to the fact that a small majority of them have people doing donuts, sometimes in the middle of intersections or highways. Events like those need to be shut down. However, a vast majority of the meets in this area are simply enthusiasts who park their cars and converse with other enthusiasts. No driving, no racing, no harm, no foul. Oftentimes, the parking lot where the meets are located are owned by a business, and the people there go and support that business. You’ll see a pizza box, a meal bag, or drinks in hands from the business, so, they are supporting that business. But the Royal Oak Police department and the Bloomfield Hills police department have been unjustly shutting down meets, as well as impounding cars with no cause,” Thomas said. “A driver of a Ford Mustang got his car impounded because ‘not rolling his windows up’ was impeding an officer’s investigation for window tint. The Mustang was an older one, so the power windows did not work well. The police are also shutting down car meets due to noise of the cars, but they only play it by ear as opposed to measuring the cars volume with a decibel meter to see if it’s within the legal limit for that area.”

Thomas, a seasoned and active member of the car community, explained where his passion for cars began and how he has recently started his own car clubs.

“My childhood house was right on Woodward, which, as we all know, is one of the most popular cruising roads for car enthusiasts and everyone in general. Every year, I had front seats for the dream cruise, and I was like a kid in a candy store each and every summer watching all the cool and unique cars come and go,” Thomas said.

After these exciting childhood experiences, Thomas was inspired to start his own car club.

“When I bought my first car and started to really be involved in the community, I decided I wanted to start the Southeast Club in June of 2020 with my friends,” Thomas said.

Photo by Ethan Darnall

On May 2 for the St. Jude’s charity car meet, each driver parks their car in the row side by side with their hoods up to showcase their unique builds and power modifications.

After founding his car clubs and having much experience with the car scene, Thomas took notice of all that the car community is going through at the moment. Their struggles of a bad reputation and trouble with cops inspired Thomas to make the best of this bad situation.

“I thought hosting a calm charity event for St. Jude’s hospital at the Royal Oak technical center would be a good way to help everyone realize that, at the end of the day, we are guys who just want to have fun with our hobbies just like everyone else,” Thomas said.

Tasked with a senior cumulative project, Thomas saw not only a good opportunity to support local charity with the car club he formed but also a window to shed light on a deeper rooted issue: car enthusiast don’t deserve the bounty that society has placed on their heads.

Photo by Ethan Darnall

A crowd develops at the St. Jude’s charity car meet around a forgotten gem, the 1991 Honda Civic LX sedan, on May 2.

I attended the St. Jude’s charity event and was pleased to see not only that all was calm and composed at the meet, but also that no cops decided to intervene. I met a very cool group of car enthusiasts there who appreciated my compliments on their unique builds and cars, and they ended up inviting me to go on a cruise with them. I felt included and appreciated even though I do not have a cool car.

Bottom line, the stereotypes behind the car community and our local car enthusiasts proves detrimental to our hobby and passion. Thomas was courageous with his innovative approach to break the stereotype that car meets are just a place for chaotic and destructive behavior.

Care meets are a home for many motorheads and a place to share interests and knowledge. My experience at the St. Jude’s car meet shattered the stigmas that have surrounded the car community for decades. The car community is no different than any other community enjoying a hobby. With more productive meets, such as Gallegos’s low scale photography meet or Thomas’s St. Jude’s charity event, mixed with a little consideration from police departments and society as a whole, we can all coexist and enjoy each other's company, and, of course, cars.

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