At Chicago's last lowrider mechanic shop, community built around Damage Chicago car club

LANSING -- In the south suburb of Lansing, the last Chicagoland lowrider mechanic runs a busy shop. Owner William 'Memo' Chalifoux has been in business for over 25 years. With a full garage and a packed lot, Chalifoux's only problem is keeping up with demand.

"As a kid growing up in Little Village, lowriding actually helped me from getting into any kind of trouble. I mean, never ran with the gangs, never did drugs, nothing," Chalifoux said.

Instead, Chalifoux worked DJ gigs and mowed lawns with friends to raise money for lowriders. He started out by rigging bicycles, but eventually moved onto cars.

Years later, as the customer base grew at the auto shop, other lowriders started planning a car club. They settled on the name Damage Chicago, an ode to their shop and homebase, and started cruising and hosting picnics several times per month.

Damage Chicago is a parade of classic cars, each decked out to the owner's preference.

All white 1939 Pontiac Quality Six with air pumps instead of hydraulics. '68 Chevy Impala, flatback with a rebuilt kit engine. '57 Chevy Bel Air, painted "patriotic red." '85 Buick Regal with a chromed out engine. And on and on.

Robert Ratulowski named his '39 Quality Six "el Otro Mujer," or "the Other Woman."

Jose Gante named his '57 Bel Air "El Chido," Spanish slang for "cool."

The '85 regal? Call it the Love Machine.

Jimmy Perez, Jr., owner of the Love Machine, gave his care the name after being hospitalized for several months when he was 18.

"I was hospitalized when I was 18 with a ruptured appendix. And I was watching Cheech and Chong Up in Smoke," Perez said. "He pulled up with the Love Machine, I was like, 'Man, I'm gonna name my car the Love Machine.'"

His car's original owner was his father, who Perez calls the main sponsor behind his lowrider.

Damages Chicago is really an extension of each club member's own family.

"One of the things I like about these guys," Ratulowski said, "we'll get together on a Sunday afternoon. Take a ride to downtown Chicago. Cruise Lake Shore Drive. Michigan Avenue. Have Dinner, and then head home. Kind of like a family thing, you know we get the wives out, the kids."

Herbie Paredes, who's Impala is currently being restored, had a simple explanation for his love of lowriders.

"It just relaxes you," Paredes said. "With the windows down, letting the cool breeze hit you. It's all about the family and the friends."
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