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What Is Down On The Street?

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Those of you who have been Jalopnik regulars for a while most likely have a pretty solid grasp of the concept behind the Down On The Street series, but what about newcomers to the site? We don't want DOTS to feel like some sort of in-crowd-only deal, so here's the Down On The Street FAQ:

Q: What is a Down On The Street car?
The original Down On The Street Series features old and/or interesting cars and trucks found parked on public streets in the city of Alameda, California, where I live. Alameda is located (mostly) on an island in the San Francisco Bay, about five miles from San Francisco and a few hundred yards from Oakland. Since the Alameda DOTS series has been so popular, we've expanded the concept with the Down On The Street Bonus Edition (DOTSBE), for vehicles found anywhere else.

Q: So does that mean that the Down On The Street Bonus Edition posts are for cars found outside of Alameda?
Yes, that is correct. If the main tag above the post's title reads "Down On The Street," the vehicle was photographed by me on the street in Alameda. If it reads "Down On The Street Bonus Edition," the vehicle was shot somewhere other than Alameda, generally by Jalopnik readers but sometimes by me.

Q: Wait, what? Does that mean I can send in photographs of cool old cars I find where I live, and you'll post them on the site?
It sure does! And this is as good a time as any for me to share some tips that will make the whole DOTSBE process easier for me... and the easier it is for me to deal with your photos, the more likely I'll be to post 'em:

  • DOTSBE vehicles must be on public property. That means no driveways or yards, unless you OK it with the owner first. Parked on the street is best, parking lots might be OK, and car shows are out.
  • Email DOTSBE photos to me, Murilee Martin, not to the Jalopnik tips email. We don't need giant email attachments clogging up the tips inbox.
  • The maximum useful size for DOTSBE photos is 1280 pixels wide. 1280 is the max width for photos in our galleries, so anything beyond that just makes the email take longer to send/receive (and forces me to resize the images).
  • When emailing DOTSBE photos, Include "DOTS" in the subject line. I have email filters set up to direct DOTSBE submissions into a super-high-priority mail folder, so an email with a "DOTS" subject ("DOTSBE" and "Down On The Street" also work) makes organizing things that much easier for me.
  • Include relevant info with your DOTSBE photos. That means the location of the vehicle (city/country), anything interesting you might know about it, and your Jalopnik commenter name (if you have one), so I can give you credit if I use the photos in a post.
  • Be patient. I get a lot of DOTSBE photos, most of them are great, and I'll get to yours... eventually. Sometimes they'll go up the day after I get them, and sometimes it takes a year.

Q: Where did you get the name "Down On The Street?"

From the song of the same name, found on the 1970 Stooges album, Fun House (see above). In addition to the song's title being well-suited for the concept of street-parked old/interesting cars, I think the song itself- with its Detroit punk rock sound, years before the genre even had a name- just seems right for cars that remain relevant and functional 20, 30, or even 70 years after they were built. Plus: Iggy Pop!

Q: How old does a vehicle have to be to qualify for the series?
There's a lot of gray area here (not to mention the occasional heated debate among our readers) but most American cars or trucks built before 1980 qualify for DOTS. For imports, I've been using a not-very-strict cutoff of 1985. As long as a vehicle is parked on the street in Alameda and seems historically significant, it might get in. DOTS Trivia: The #1 year for DOTS vehicles is 1969, with 23 examples.


Q: What was the very first DOTS car?
Technically, the first DOTS car in the series was this 1966 Datsun 411, but the very first post showing a street-parked Alameda vehicle and bearing the Down On The Street name was this 1984 Cadillac Cimarron D'Oro. Yes, a Cimarron was first!

Q: How many Alameda vehicles have been in the DOTS series so far?
297 as of today, one every weekday morning for over a year. You can see the first 200 here and the next 50 here. Initially, I had nothing more than a vague awareness that my city had more old cars parked on the street- and, in many cases, driving every day- than most places, and the plan was to share maybe a half-dozen or so cars. The '68 Pontiac GTO parked in my neighborhood was the inspiration for the whole thing, and I had no idea DOTS would continue as long as it has.

Q: Are you running out of cars in Alameda?
No. At any given moment I have sufficient photographs of Alameda's street-parked vintage cars and trucks stockpiled to keep the series going for a couple months, even if I stopped searching for new cars. I've given up trying to guess how long Alameda can keep this run going.

Q: Does that mean that every single DOTS vehicle lives full-time on the island?
No. I'd say the majority of DOTS vehicles- let's call it two-thirds- are full-time Alameda residents that I see regularly. Some are vehicles that I see only once; maybe they're just visiting, or maybe they spend most of their time parked in a garage. If a vehicle is parked on the street within the city limits of Alameda, it's fair game.

Q: Why don't you obscure the license plates in the photos?
These cars are parked on public property, with plates in plain view, which implies that their owners accept that the plate numbers may be seen by the general public. I've considered blurring the plates anyway, but the photos look unnatural that way; in any case, since the state of California has anti-stalker laws that make it difficult to trace a car's owner from its plate number, it's extremely unlikely that any badness will befall the cars' owners. I don't give out exact locations, and I don't photograph cars in driveways or yards.

Q: Do car owners ever get upset when they see you photographing their cars?
Never. I'm careful not to touch the cars or even get too close when photographing them, which is why interior shots are uncommon in this series. I've had quite a few owners come out to see what's going on; when I explain, they're usually very happy to have someone who's willing to show their car to the world. I've heard plenty of good stories from car owners while shooting DOTS photos. In at least two cases, the cars have been owned by Jalopnik readers.

Q: Why does such a small city have so many old cars parked on the street?
Good question, and one to which I have no authoritative answer. I have some theories, which are:

  • Weather: Alameda is an island in the San Francisco Bay, and the weather is quite mild. It doesn't snow here, and rain is very rare between April and November. This means rust isn't much of a problem. The sun isn't as harsh as in the Southwest, so upholstery and paint hold up pretty well.
  • Limited Off-Street Parking: Most of present-day Alameda was completely built up by the early 20th century, and the 1906 earthquake- which devastated much of the region- barely touched the island. This means most of the houses were built before cars were beyond the novelty Horseless Carriage stage, so garages aren't as common as in other cities. Many houses built in the 1910s and 1920s have semi-basement garages intended for tall, narrow cars with high clearance that can deal with a 30-degree grade. The water table is so close to the surface here that digging a deep garage requires some serious sump-pump hardware, lest you find your ride in four feet of water.
  • Hot Rod Tradition: Alameda has had a vibrant culture of hoons hopping up their cars since the days of the Model T, and so you have the old guys passing on the virus to the younger guys. Some of the car clubs on the island have unbroken lineages dating back to the 1920s. And that leads straight to...
  • The Island That Time Forgot: Alameda is a weird place, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's essentially a David Lynch movie set in a sunny California climate, among Victorian and Craftsman architecture and a small-town mentality that belies its urban grid street pattern and very high population density. The island is full of old people who never cross a bridge, whose original-owner classics never drive faster than 25 and are used only for short trips to Ole's Waffles or Lee Auto Supply. It's also full of young people who start to feel that an old car just, you know, make the most sense. You never know what this town will do to you; Jim Morrison arrived on the island as a wholesome Navy kid, and by the time he departed for LA he'd become a dopefiend weirdo poet.

Q: What is Truck Monday?
DOTS started out as a cars-only series, but there are so many cool old trucks on the island that I felt compelled to include them. Starting in late 2007, every Monday's DOTS vehicle has been a truck or van of some sort.


Q: What's your personal favorite DOTS vehicle?
That's a tough question! I think my current favorite is the '62 Chrysler 300, but I really love the '46 Plymouth and '66 Lancia Fulvia as well.