It’s not very often that I have the chance to head up to the Bay Area. Which is always a shame because, I really do love it up there. Coming from Southern California, the differences between the South and North is pretty drastic. From the layouts of the streets, to the culture up North, it’s definitely a different vibe. Those differences are not just on the surface either, as I’m sure anyone that lives out there can tell you. But, I’m a sucker for anything relating to travel, and any chance to head to a place that I love going to is always exciting. That was the case when in early February, we found out about a show that was going to take place up in San Jose. We had been to another Hot Import Nights event before, but, that one took place down in San Pedro (about 10 minutes east of Long Beach). It was our first show as a team, and it easily set the precedent for shows we would be attending. We had so much fun at this show, and vowed to come back to this show and any others that Hot Import Nights would be hosting.
So, when we had heard that there was going to be another show coming up, but, this time up north in the Bay, we jumped at the chance to check it out. This show would be another Hot Import Nights show. Knowing that in the past, Hot Import Nights had always treated us well, either as a spectator or as a vendor, and, we knew, this time being in a new location for us, we were sure to have fun. I had been to the Bay numerous times over the years for vacation or just to visit, but, had only been to one show up there. That show, coincidentally, was a Hot Import Nights (HIN) event. This show was just insane. It’s hard to describe the scene though, until I paint you a picture of what it was like back then.
You see, back in the late 2000’s, Hot Import Nights was on a roll. They were a beast of a show that not only appeared all over the country, but, packed a punch in terms of entertainment, media and the car culture. This show in Pleasanton was just one notch in the crazy schedule that HIN had at the time. The show that I had gone to, was back in 2008, not too long after Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift had been released. At the time, the car scene was younger, ripe with culture, and it was just bursting at the seams. Only one show managed to capture the chaos of the scene. Only one show understood what it was to be a fan of the import car scene (and the car scene as a whole to some extent), and make a place that people could flock to, and get a taste of the awesomeness of the era. Ever since Fast and the Furious had exploded onto the scene, people were chomping at the bit to become part of that crazy, underground, fly from the seat of your pants scene. HIN came out several years before this Pleasanton show, and it had a while to make it presence known, and because of that, at every show they did you saw the best of the best. It set the scene at every city that it appeared at, and the hottest models, cars, musicians, artists and personalities would show up. Hell, there was even a show that I had gone to once where I ran into Tom Green. I mean, holy moly. Of all people, Tom Green had made the trip to Hot Import Nights, and not as an entertainer, or as an act. But, as a fan of the show. That was just how HIN was. No matter who you were, or what you were into, there was something just so attractive about the hype surrounding the show, that you just had to go. It sure helped that there was something there for everyone. It was, in a lot of ways, the center of lifestyle and culture. And, for myself, that’s right up my alley.
Pleasanton was no exception to that rule. I hadn’t even heard of that location until that show had come to town. I was invited by another photographer to take a few days off and make the drive up north to attend the show. I normally wouldn’t have done so, but, considering what it was, and where it was, I was intrigued. So, without much of a fuss, I took some time off, and in just a few days, I was up in Pleasanton for my first HIN show in the Bay Area. From the moment I had shown up to the location, the show had a bit of a different vibe to it. Unlike that unrestrained chaos of the shows in Los Angeles and Orange County, this one felt a bit more relaxed. There were tons of people just like any other show in the Southland, but, there just seemed to be an air of relaxation. Music still blared, cars still bumped and go-go dancers shook the stage just the same, but, it just felt right. The highlight of the show for myself was when Lil Jon appeared on stage. Yep. Hard to believe, but, there was a time when some of the biggest names would come out and appear on stage. Sometimes, like that time, it was a little unexpected, and just like that one time, you would see some crazy stuff. This time that Lil Jon had come on stage he challenged some guy from the audience to chug some vodka right out of a bottle. Well, not trying to disappoint anyone, this random guy not only took a swig, but, he managed to finish the entire bottle. I’m pretty sure that was the last time anyone saw him onstage (or alive for that matter). But, a chance to impress Lil Jon and a crowd of his peers was worth it.
That is just a small bit of what I remembered from that show many years ago. So, with that in mind, I was excited to see what this show would have in store for us. This time though, we would be going as a team, and under our banner. It’s always a different feeling going to a show as a vendor, but, at least to me it is just as fun. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s even better. I was stoked, and seeing what it would be like after all these years had me thinking. Was that going to be the case, or would be it a bit of a bust? I was heading to the show with our two incredible models Cristal and Ily, and that alone is reason enough to be excited. Hell, just the drive up there was going to be crazy, and indeed it was (but, that is a story for another time).
HIN has always been great to us, and that showed the moment we arrived to the show. We thought that we were late driving towards the show and rushed our way into the main entrance of the Santa Clara Fairgrounds (where the show was being held). It was a little weird on the drive there from our hotel because we didn’t see any cars heading our way. I thought that we were going to miss the check-in and hauled ass through that entrance. To our surprise we were just in time, and the cars and other vendors for the show were all lined up and ready load-in. This gave us a chance to catch our breath and see what it was that was going on. The first person we spoke to, is someone whom we have a lot of respect and admiration for, Gwendolyn Gee. She is one of the bedrocks for HIN, and every time we have seen her, she just seems to have the world in her pocket. That’s why when she came up to our vehicle and peaked her head inside it was a funny to hear her say, “Hi there everyone, welcome to the show. Whoa, you girls are beautiful!”. Can’t say I didn’t start laughing, and the girls (Cristal and Ily) sure appreciated it. Of course after two minutes of exchanging good comments for each other, Gwendolyn showed us where to go and whom to work with. We were one of the first vendors inside the fairgrounds, and the way that the setup turned out to be, it was just seamless. I know our team appreciated it, and no one as much as I was elated at how smooth it went. Often at shows, it’s a lot of confusion with cars, vendors and just a ton of random things going on. But, this time, that definitely was not the case.
One of the worst things about setting up for a show is the wait. That wait after you set-up the booth is excruciating.Usually, the setup doesn’t take more than an hour, and even with the wait in, one usually spends a long time just before that show. I guess that part isn’t as fun, but, in a lot of ways, it’s a good thing. I mean, if this show was going to be anything like the show we were at back in ’08 or anything like our last show with HIN (San Pedro 2015), that little bit of rest before the opening was going to be necessary. Needless to say, even with an hour before the show opening, photographers and media personnel began to funnel in. We were in a prime spot, right across the model lounge, so, it was pretty obvious that we were going to be in the eye of the storm. And, that is exactly what happened. From the moment those photographers began to pour in, to the moment the time the show ended, there were so many people that piled through the hall. All over the place, you could tell that people were excited to be there. Pictures were being snapped, people were walking around, and a bevy of beautiful people at nearly every corner just added to that experience. It also helped that in the hall we were at the music was bouncing around all over the place. For myself and our wonderful models, it sure helped to have the beats playing in the background. I don’t even know how it happened, but, once the show kicked off, man, things just started flying.
We were able to chat it up with some of the other vendors there (all nice as hell), and some of the folks with their cars on display. One of which, was right behind our booth. Azurebaby (not her real name, but, i love it so much, that that’s how i’ll forever remember her) was showcasing her motorcycle right behind us. Azure is the proud owner of a Yamaha R6. While one would think that she was a model and she was just there to talk about her motorcycle, you would be dead wrong. There were pictures on some stands right next to where she was, and on those pictures you could see just how much of an experienced rider she really was. Taking her bike on multiple tracks (including the legendary Laguna Seca track), Azure is as amazing a rider as she is beautiful. It was really awesome to have a chance to chat with her about her passion for riding.
One of the other highlights to the show were the models. You see, unlike most shows, HIN is an institution. That means, that unlike a lot of competing shows, they don’t just have a one or two show schedule through the year. HIN travels throughout the entire year and goes to tons of cities and even other countries. That give HIN an opportunity to do something that no one else really does. Every city they go to, a model is crowned Miss HIN. The title will change depending on the city, and depending on the popularity of the models, and the followings they have, HIN brings them out to other shows. So, sometimes, you’ll see models from one city make the trip to alternate cities. There are models, such as Vicki Li (born in China but living in Houston) and Danielle Lo (originally from the Bay Area) travel with HIN and appear all over the country. It’s a great idea, and a great opportunity for fans of these models from around the country to meet them in person. This was never more obvious as it was when we had our booth right across the model lounge. For hours, there were two lines that flanked our booth. Those lines went to Daniello Lo and Vicki Li. Those two incredibly beautiful women not only attract a legion of followers, but, they take the time to meet and greet every fan. Their level of commitment is a testament to them, and a living depiction of what HIN really is. Those two really showed us what their fans mean to the structure of the show. Without each and every one of the people that walk through those gates, HIN wouldn’t be what it was, and still is today. I’ve always been a fan of their series, and to see just how incredible it has gone over the years. Seeing those models and everyone else come together to put on a show for the fans is incredible. For us to be a part of that tradition really makes it what it is, and we couldn’t have been happier to make the trip up north. Especially with the great team we have.
So, as the night wound down, and the music began to subside, we began to pack things up. The night may have been over, but the friendships and memories we’ll have of HIN San Jose will forever be imprinted on our minds. While I wasn’t able to see Lil Jon hand over a bottle of vodka to an unsuspecting victim, the memories of this show are just as vivid. This is one show we will definitely coming back for next year. If it is anything like this one, we are in for a treat
Words and Photos By Daniel Navarrete
With Additional Photos by Iliana Duarte
For more information on Hot Import Nights, check out their website at Hot Import Nights
This article was prepared or accomplished by Daniel Navarrete in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spektrum Magazine, or its affiliates.