A Photo Essay From South Phoenix6 min read by
Frankie J caught my eye, and I asked if I could take his picture. “Hell yeah.” I said I liked his ride, a Cadillac from the early 2000s, fading from an ivory roof to a gold-flaked champagne at the bumpers. “I added those gold flakes myself,” he said. And then, “if you like this, you should come to my Cadillac Club. We meet in a park east of here. On a good day, we get 15, 20 cars lined up, clean. We hang out.”
I took him up on his offer and showed up to most of the meetings through 2020 and 2021. I pulled up in my ’97 Honda CR-V. Junior, who would lead the club after Frankie J moved out of state a couple months later, introduced me to the others: “This here is J. He takes pictures. Maybe FBI, CIA. Who knows.”
I’m not a fed, but here are some things I saw and heard.
“You still got that blue one, like sea foam blue?” “I’m selling it. Cars like insurance: sell them when things get tight.”
“You gotta come back when we cruise. I lead. One time, came through a light, turned, and I start weaving between the lanes. I got 10, 12 cars following me. They weaving in and out. Cop shows up, lights. I pull over. He comes up, asks what we’re doing. I said I came through the light and I’m the lead and pulled into the other lane to make sure I got everybody with me. He looks at me, says, ‘Bullshit.’ But then he was like, ‘I guess this is better than a lot of the stuff you could be doing.’ So he let us go!”
“We’re about to fuck up the Circle K.”
“Look at this. He got three right here. And in case you didn’t see the other shit he got the plate holder that says ‘Cadillac’!”
“That’s what I like about you, J. You notice the details.”
“Always the pictures.”
“I drove around a hearse, man. Cadillac, too.” “Like that?” “Yeah, man. I didn’t know what to name it. Then I got in and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ came on the radio and I said that’s it! Thriller! Smelled like formaldehyde. Kept a coffin in the back. This one time I was at an intersection and people couldn’t tell which should go first. Guy across from me kept waving me on, all excited, making the sign of the cross.”
“I couldn’t believe that gun didn’t have a history! But God is good! God is good.”
“This is how God works in my life. I had a cousin who’d just gotten out and had this beat up truck. Drove up to my house with his girlfriend. He had gear with him, he was starting a business. I told him to put his gear in my truck. And he had to walk down the block so he wouldn’t cry in front of his woman. ‘You don’t even know me,’ he kept saying. ‘You don’t even know me.’ I told him my son told me who you were and that’s enough. That’s how you gotta do it.”
With thanks to Frankie J, Junior, and the rest of the Cadillac Club in South Phoenix.
Photos taken with Nikon FE2 and Mamiya C330, using Kodak TMax 400 and Ektar 100.