Listen to the audio version of this story here
The red interior of Max Nagel’s father’s fully-restored Oldsmobile Cutlass was mesmerizing; it awakened his love for cars and kickstarted his future fleet.
“He would drive it around and he would get looks from everyone,” Nagel said. “I kind of made my own bond to it, as I did with all my cars.”
The Tires Plus certified technician has collected cars since he was 16, starting with a $500 1997 Honda Civic coupe. Colorful sports cars like the 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse and the 2018 Volkswagen GTI soon followed.
Gainesville’s car scene is his gallery. It’s a space where he can display his work and appreciate others’.
Under a weekly Tuesday and Friday night sky, attendees liven empty parking lots with headlights, car speakers, dogs and drinks. Friends park their matching red sedans in a row and others open their doors, blaring their speakers with chill trap music as admiring eyes devour the sight.
The meets are a simultaneous social event and showcase, but increasing gas prices and police presence can pose obstacles for the onlookers.
Attendee ages range from 17 to 28 years old, but some older enthusiasts attend as well. Regulars and newcomers show up in cars, on motorcycles and on skateboards.
Trent Withers, a 23-year-old Buchholz Paint and Autobody employee who owns a gunmetal gray 2013 Hyundai Elantra Limited, said the environment is welcoming and people are generally treated equally for their rides.
“We enjoy coming out here to look at other people’s vehicles,” he said.
His friend, Michael Stewart, a 27-year-old parts associate at Buchholz Paint and Autobody who owns a black and red 2013 Chrysler 300 S, said cars are judged on the time, money and labor put into them.
Soaring gas prices can put a damper on the drivers and limit how much they can invest.
“It hurts so much to go to the pump,” Nagel said, noting he now has to limit his racing. “It definitely has limited some of my contact with people I’ve met here.”
Colton Maddux, a 19-year-old Hyundai automotive technician who drives a blue 2017 Ford Focus RS Hatchback, said he doesn’t attend meets if they’re far away and he’s more cautious with his driving.
Others find the prices draining — a frustration expressed through tongue-in-cheek Facebook posts. A June 6 post in “Gainesville Car Friends” depicts a siphoning gas with mouth image with the text: “Cute date ideas” above it. Another depicts a car made of rocks and logs with the text: “My car if gas prices keep going up” above.
“When gas used to be $1.60, I used to drive around to clear my mind, now these thoughts are livin with me lol,” the caption, posted by Ra’ed N Ayoub said.
But the packed “Park ‘n’ Chill” provides evidence that high prices can’t stop the committed. Nagell said the prices have not been able to dial back the community. Some members opt to enjoy their more practical rides.
“I ride a motorcycle now,” said Hector Jayson Crespo, a 28-year-old UF mechanical engineering graduate student and the driver of a yellow, gray and blue custom wrapped Honda CBR 600 f4. “The fuel economy is pretty good.”
David Glass, a 20-year-old Murray Ford mechanic, said variety is valued.
Some keep their cars in their original condition, while others customize theirs, even “murdering them out” — a term for stylishly blackening a car. The process covers every detail down to the windows and tire plates.
Facebook groups “Alachua County Car Meets” and “Gainesville Car Friends” provide the main communication for Gainesville’s decentralized car scene. There, motor enthusiasts get the latest updates for where to meet.
The “Friday Night Park ‘n’ Chill” meets are a constant, but the location isn’t. According to attendees, police have shut down meets, so they often shift spots.
“We’re like nomads,” Stewart said. “We go wherever the parking lots take us.”
Everyone got their start somewhere.
Gainesville Police Department spokesperson Graham Glover said he was not aware of reported incidents, but there aren’t any filed reports referencing the meets. Attendees said police intervention can shut down a spot and force the scene to find new locations. Noisy revs, pulls and pops and smoked-out-lots create conflict for the community.
PSA posts about police presence aren’t uncommon in the Facebook groups, which also implore members to behave when they pull up to meets.
“Please respect the spot we do not want to get booted,” a capitalized May 27 Alachua County Car Meets admin Facebook post read.
“They like to hate,” Crawl said about the police. “They think we’re going to do crazy stuff.”
Burnouts, donuts, spinning tires, smoked-out-lots and exhaust-pipe flames-remain.
The car scene has maintained its current locations, the Electronics World, located at 1261 NW 76th Blvd., and Harbor Freight Tools, located at 2520 N Main Street, for the past few meets.
To outsiders, it’s just another car-filled lot. To the scenes’ supporters, it’s a starlit showcase of the streets.