Screenshot: Houston Coffee & Cars (Instagram)

A red, lowered GMC Sierra stopped in the middle of a busy road to rip a fat burnout. Right behind it, a plum-colored Ford Mustang followed suit, thick plumes of tire smoke erupting from its rear tires. A white Hellcat attempted a drift across a busy intersection during ongoing traffic, nearly slamming into a neighboring Nissan. All of this happened before a watching and (largely) cheering crowd, two of whom had a “FULL SEND” flag wrapped around their legs.

This was the scene that rubbed shoulders with the otherwise peaceful Houston Coffee & Cars meet up that happened on Saturday, Jan. 4. A video uploaded to YouTube the same day and claiming to be from that meeting showed a compilation of the antics. A quick Google maps search confirmed it was shot on the corner of Interstate 10 Frontage Road and Gessner Road—right outside the parking lot of the Memorial City Mall in Houston, Texas, where the event took place.

Four days later, on Jan. 8, Houston C&C organizers took action. On both their Facebook and Instagram pages, which have substantial following (53,800 and 26,800 followers respectively), they announced a two-month hiatus and upcoming “drastic changes” in both the types of cars and people allowed that have been deemed intrusive to the event.

In full, it reads:

Due to incidents that occurred at the January C&C (which HPD is looking into to go after those involved) our monthly event is taking a two month break. We plan to restructure and build a safer and more controlled event in partnership with the Houston Police Department. We will be making drastic changes to ban the types of cars and people who continue to affect the event in this negative way so that we can stay true to our roots and cater only to those truly passionate about amazing machines and that conduct themselves appropriately without breaking rules and putting others in harms way.

We are thankful for our amazing fans, many of which come every month and even travel from around the country and internationally.

Safety is always our number one concern and we have been very outspoken about our tolerance for crude behavior, burnouts, and crowds promoting reckless driving during the event and from the side-lines. It is unfortunate that these careless individuals who have disregarded the rules and promoted the act and encouragement of these behaviors from the side-lines have ruined C&C for everyone.

C&C condemns these individuals and their actions because they endanger attendees, participants, and other drivers part of the event or not. This is something we, Memorial City Mall, The City of Houston, and the Houston Police Department have zero tolerance for.

We will be in touch with updates as they arise but rest assured that C&C will never be cancelled. We remain passionate in our pursuit of celebrating these incredible machines and about helping Houston’s kids in need. This long-time Houston event unites car enthusiasts and unique machines that weren’t previously publicly accessible. Our mission has always been to benefit under-served children of Houston.

The C&C team is an all volunteer staff who are dedicated to continuing what has become a Houston tradition for all ages. The event has always been open and free to the public and we strive to keep this aspect alive. Memorial City Mall and Houston Police Department have been tremendous long-term partners. We will keep fans updated and look forward to a greater C&C soon.

Thank you for your continued support!

-Scuderia

It always seems start this way: a nice, passion- and enthusiast-driven community event gets ruined by a few idiots with heavy feet, so starved of attention that they’re willing to endanger others to get it. And it seems more and more so to be a pattern rather than an anomaly.

What Went Down In Houston

The Houston C&C and its parent organizer, Scuderia Society, have an extremely strongly worded no-burnouts policy. A visit to the Coffee & Cars website is greeted by a big, red headline of text that reads, “NO BURNOUTS!”

Photo: Jose Ramirez/Scuderia Society

Abe Levitz, who helps handle different business aspects of Scuderia Society along with its founder Jorge Verdejo, confirmed as much over the phone. As with any cars and coffee meet, Houston C&C, which has been around since 2005, gets “flares, occasionally from people who come and test the waters.” But when that happens, Scuderia Society and its volunteers loudly and publicly denounce the behavior. They pass out handouts, increase security, and things tend to quiet down after that.

It’s a fine line to walk, Levitz admitted. On one hand, the event hires security to maintain a level order and safety. “But the second it becomes too police-heavy,” he told me, “there’s a huge cost and it takes away the organic fun.” Which is the whole point of a cars and coffee.

This time was different, though. It wasn’t just a few attendees revving too loudly.

“In this instance,” said Levitz, “there’s been a group that’s been targeting car events in the Houston area. It’s a group of 50-plus cars and owners and they come to a car event. We [Scuderia Society] pay for security but this Coffee & Cars got so big and down the road from where we was hosting it, this group of individuals targeted our event, started a takeover area, blocked it off and held a side show.”

Takeovers and sideshows have been the it-words for street action in the car world for the past few years, spreading out of 2000s Bay Area hyphy culture and deeper into the 1990s with intersections and highways blocked off for donuts and burnouts. But people talk about sideshows the way they talk about boogeymen—someone you can get away with not naming. Levitz told us he knew of another event targeted in the past, but wouldn’t go into detail about this nameless and faceless group. We checked on Facebook and Instagram to see if people named any names or tagged anyone specific. Nobody fessed up. Nobody called anybody out. Mostly, people just vented.

Screenshot: Houston Coffee & Cars (Instagram)
Screenshot: Houston Coffee & Cars (Instagram)

Regardless, Levitz said poor behavior and antics during the event drew a lot of negative attention, forcing both Scuderia Society and the Mall to act. Now, Scuderia Society has to calm things down and come up with a better plan to reintroduce Houston C&C with improved security, otherwise the event can’t continue. It’s given itself at least two months to do so.

“We have to put things on pause to analyze the situation and find out how to move forward,” continued Levitz. “We’ve grown this thing organically, and we feel there’s a level of responsibility... all that’s hindered from the negative press. The community is outraged. We have people who travel across the country to attend, as well as various collectors. There are charities that benefit from us. Thousands of people are affected.”

Scuderia Society seems to especially pride itself on its ability to give back. Levitz told me proudly not only does the company seek to bring together and tap into all aspects of Houston’s extensive car culture, but also to support the community, local police and fire departments, families and children in need.

“It’s sickening that these people have zero consciousness of cause and effect,” he said. “Losing a month or two in a year is substantial.”

Photo: Jose Ramirez/Scuderia Society

Levitz was adamant Scuderia Society will not rush toward a simple, Band-Aid solution that ultimately serves no one; it needs to be permanent.

Personally, I can’t wait to hear what he and his team come up with, because they currently find themselves facing a problem nearly all cars and coffee events eventually face.

Strengths And Downfalls

It’s here that the very strength of a cars and coffee meet can also wind up being its greatest downfall.

Cars & Coffee first started in LA in the mid-2000s, and it has since sprung up copycat events across the country for what was then a revolutionary style of car show: free to enter and not invite-only. Normal car shows are set up around one kind of car, one car club. Honda Day at Englishtown. Corvettes at Carlisle. Hot rod cruise nights with muscle cars taking up every parking spot on Main Street. There are applications, organizations, restrictions. C&C, by contrast, wasn’t attached to one group or club or kind of car. The whole thing hinged on being laissez-faire. The only way it restricted itself was by the nature of its format, down to unwritten rules of who was “worthy” of attending, as Driving Line recalled in its obituary of the original Crystal Cove/Irvine event, shut down in 2014. If you were dedicated enough to cross town at the crack of dawn and welcomed enough to cram next to an Enzo in a little parking lot, you were in. It was different, and it took off.

But nearly all cars and coffee organizers, the Houston ones included, must reckon with the truth: that their event will almost certainly get too big and too out of control at some point. When that happens, there needs to be some re-evaluating. Some new rules put in place. Some growing up to do.

Right now, Scuderia Society is grappling with how make future events safer for all. One possible route is registration. You don’t need to register with Houston C&C currently, but if registration became mandatory, then its organizers would have better control over who’s allowed to attend, thus eliminating the risk of a free-for-all.

Photo: Jose Ramirez/Scuderia Society

The other issue is size. Levitz estimated each Houston C&C event to draw somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 people. That’s when the tricky energy of the crowd starts being more and more receptive to spectacles of showing off, such as loud revving, burnouts and handbrake turns. Safety gets shunted the back burner, though thankfully no one was hurt on Jan. 4. It made the company’s lawyers sit up and pay more attention, though.

It’s not easy to relocate an event, but Scuderia Society is looking into that, too. “There are a lot of egresses and ingresses, multiple ways for people to come in,” Levitz said of the Mall parking lot. “Size determines location. We don’t want to be put in a position that if it’s too big, there are no proper measures. Then, it’s a safety neglect.” See also, a liability.

Longtime attendees such Kyle are frustrated. Via email, he confessed to some surprise that behavior had been more or less “pretty good” for the past year, but “then this happens.”

“In the past we’ve had issues with minor things like parking on the grass all the way up to burnouts, drag racing and one GTO losing control and climbing a tree,” he wrote. “The Houston C&C has been relocated four or five times over the past nine years, and at least two of those were due this behavior. I actually like the location where it’s held now and the property management seemed to genuinely enjoy the monthly car show, so I hope they can work this out. But I’m worried it might be moving again.”

Other reactions to Houston C&C’s hiatus announcement were not really met with surprise, but there was some finger-pointing, however.

Photo: Jose Ramirez/Scuderia Society

On Facebook, someone wrote, “Aaannnddd this is the very reason I do not go anymore. I despise being around idiots. C&C used to be an event you could see any type of vehicle at, no matter what you liked, there was something there that fit in that category. Now it has turned into a used car dealership type of show, where you see all the same vehicles just a different color. Please bring it back to what it used to be.”

Others echoed similar concerns. “I go to C&C because I just like seeing interesting cars like that Gremlin with the bike rack, the old Marlin or Citroën or Multipla or Vanagon, the occasional hand-built monstrosity, and is that an Autozam parked next to a Model T and three DeLoreans?” wrote another attendee. “As far as I’m concerned, the newish Mopars, Mustangs and Infinitis acting up in the YouTube video can stay home. I can see those in any parking lot any day of the month.”

This type of attitude seemed counter to the core value of inclusion Levitz and his team put down, so I asked him how he felt about it. “Historically and in this instance,” he responded, “these cars are the ones that are revving and burning out. You don’t really see the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Japanese cars doing that. When we’ve had campaigns for no burnouts, they’ve pretty much been in reaction to a group of owners that have these cars and that behavior. That’s why there’s this outcry.”

He went on, “We’re trying not to segment and isolate one group and say it’s always this one group’s fault because everyone is a car enthusiast and that’s our core principle. It just so happens those people tend to cause disruptions, but we’re still considering things. We might reduce the percentage of those cars because maybe that will help.” He paused. “But that’s also auto-discrimination and I don’t like that.”

Photo: Jose Ramirez/Scuderia Society

It’s interesting. Mustangs, Challengers, Chargers, Infinitis are what you could call cheap speed, or a democratization of power. You don’t have to spend supercar money to get what was supercar performance not many years ago. They’re accessible, and that means they’re open to a lot more shitheads who will do dumb things with them. It’s the same openness that is at the heart of cars and coffee’s problems. Open your meet up to everyone, make it hot and people will act a fool.

Do It For The ‘Likes’

Another Houston C&C follower suggested, “It’s really simple. Prohibit bystanders from lining the streets to take videos of cars leaving. Once you eliminate the audience you will eliminate the foolish behavior.” It is probably the best critique of this whole issue.

Going viral. A cheering audience. An event that grew too big to adequately control. At this point, it all sounds like a refrain from the same sequence of events that plagued the famed Cars and Coffee Irvine (now shuttered) and the cultural war that eventually claimed H2O International, which we deemed “The Most Ticketed Car Show In America.”

This was a gathering that started similarly, despite being a dedicated show for water-cooled Volkswagens and Audis. But it then grew as well, and drew crowds and crowds of people that didn’t necessarily have VWs.

But that was fine; the all-inclusive nature of the event meant anyone could come and enjoy cars, cruise and hang out with their friends. The trade-off was it also opened the doors to the lowest denominator of fans. That’s when the ticketing happened and the trouble started. The official, sanctioned part of H2Oi was cancelled in 2017, but folks still showed up that weekend anyway in Ocean City, Maryland, to join in on the unsanctioned fun.

Can a free and open event exist without morons eventually turning up and ruining it? Is it possible to run said free and open event without placing restrictions on how the event is put on, and expect nothing bad to happen?

I asked Kenny, who runs Cars and Coffee Richmond in Virginia, if poor behavior at events is something he’s had to deal with.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he responded. “I’m on my fourth location. It’s a topic I try to make posts about to deter the behavior... We have an off-duty police officer at ours now. The part that kills me is the logic [from] those [behaving badly]. They want car shows and more opportunity, but social media ‘likes’ or attention means more [to them] than getting the chance to enjoy your passion with other [like-minded people].”

Photo: Jose Ramirez/Scuderia Society

For many, attending a cars and coffee gathering is their first foray into the automotive community. Hardly anyone’s first experience with messing around in a car happens on a track. It starts out as people experimenting on the street, where guidance is lacking but encouragement is aplenty. Loosing a pack of Chargers and Mustangs on the streets of Houston wasn’t going to end well.

Levitz has no intention of cancelling Houston C&C. Not in the near future, anyway. But there are some very serious obstacles he and his company must overcome if they are to continue in any capacity.

“If anything,” he said, “because no one was hurt, the only silver lining we can look at are ways to preemptively improve our event so it can hedge itself against what would have been an eventual issue.”

Here, Levitz was talking about someone getting injured. But the bigger and realer eventual issue is already at his doorstep.

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.

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