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8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest

Race Queen of Little Tokyo


May Tomita was embarrassed. Her dad is a Kibei gardener and would always pick her up in his beat up truck at Carson High School, with the lawnmower, edger and other dirty garden tools still in the truck bed. Compared to the Cadillacs and Buicks that parents drive to pick up their kids, her dad’s Ford Courier was a pile of heap that even junkyards would reject. She’d ignore the truck, walk past her father, as he drives alongside her. He yells in Japanese, “Get in the goddamn truck!”

But today May was really pissed. She saw her boyfriend David Hashimoto with another Buddhahead girl in his souped-up Dodge Charger. The Dodge that SHE helped him fix up for the upcoming street race in Little Tokyo during Nisei Week in August. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t have gotten the rebuilt engine and tranny provided by her best bud Cosmo, a half-Black, half-Japanese who works at his dad’s garage in Gardena.

May gets off the Gardena bus. She walks toward the garage as she lights up an unfiltered Camel cig, passing up the long line of cars around the block waiting for gas. Gas nowadays (1979) is sooo expensive—ninety cents to a gallon.

Cosmo, in his garage smock, approaches May. “You wanna talk about it?”

She takes a couple of puffs. “David’s cheating on me. And Pops in jail. Again.”

“Drunk driving?”

“What else?”

Her hands are shaking. “He’s seeing some hapa chick. Dick!”

She pauses, stomps out the cigarette with her U.S. Army boots before pulling out another from the Camel box. “That’s what I get for dating Westside boys.” She struts off with her daikon ashi legs.

“Hey, I’m from the Westside…” Cosmo says timidly.

May struts to her dad’s beat-up pickup truck, mower and gardening tools still in the bed. She pulls out a huge, thick wooden stick shaped like a Japanese sword, her dad’s bokken. May relishes it with glee.

“What are you gonna do with that?” Cosmo asks.

“Smash up his car. And maybe his head.”

“You know, I got a better idea,” Cosmo ponders. “Instead of getting mad, why don’t you get even?” May gives him a look.

“Race your boyfriend at Nisei Week. Beat him at his own game.”

“With what? I don’t have a car.”


Two weeks later, it’s Nisei Week, on a hot Sunday night in August. The colorful lights and sounds of obon dancing and carnival atmosphere on First Street of Little Tokyo is a celebration of Japanese heritage and cult—blah, blah, blah. BORING! No, the REAL HAPPENING, though illegal, is two blocks away, off of San Pedro Street closer to Skid Row. The crowd of teens from SoCal high schools all over mill about in a parking lot, showing off their hot rods and hot girls in their Farah Fawcett hairdos. Drinking beers, eating the carnival booth bento foods like teriyaki, kimchi, ramen and rice.

In SoCal one’s personality is based on the make and model of one’s car. Depending on what part of L.A. they are from, the Sansei kids display their automobiles as their badge of honor and identity: the Westside/Sawtelle and Valley Boys showing off their muscle cars of Dodges and Chevys; the East L.A. Chinos (chino means Chinese in español, but is generally used for refering to all Asians) with their Buick, Chevy and Olds low riders, bouncing up and down on hydraulic shocks; the Pasadena and Orange County kids in their German imports, modified Bimmers, VWs and Porsches. Then there’s the Gardena crew, with their “rice cookers,” tricked-out Japanese imports like Toyotas and Datsuns.

Suddenly there’s a loud rumbling of dual exhausts around the corner of San Pedro Street. A bright pink Ford Courier truck appears (“How did you talk me into THIS girly color,” May moaned), lowered to the ground in wide mag wheels, a huge whale tail welded to the back of the bed. The bed is covered taut with a pink canvas (“For aerodynamic purposes,” Cosmo remarks). Heads turn. WTF.

May applies her new disc brakes and turns off the growling engine underneath the hood. She and Cosmo gets out of the cab.

Both are dressed in black leather (“Intimidation,” Cosmo suggests). She’s in black leather shorts and black nylon stockings with her usual U.S. Army boots, now spit shined. But May also has her own makeover: bright red lipstick and thick eye shadow, her hair all teased up.

“I look like Bozo the Clown,” May laments.

The duo walks through the crowd, parting it like the Red Sea. She beelines straight toward David’s black Charger, where he and his new hapa girlfriend and crew are hanging out. They recognize May. “Hey, May,” they say.

“Hey,” May mutters in her closed red lips.

“Cosmo,” David nods. Cosmo nods back, trying to be cool.

“I wanna race you,” May blurts out.

“With what?” David laughs. “In your daddy’s gardening truck?” Crowd laughs.

“Yeah,” she said, “And we’re gonna mow your ass down.”

The crowd HOWLS.

David laughs, “Sorry girl, that’s not the way it works. You know the rules. You gotta race everyone else first.”

“We’ll see.” She turns around and stomps off.

A couple of Buddhahead Chinos from Boyle Heights stroll up, dressed like their Chicano cholo brethren—bandanas, flannels shirts, baggy pants. Chino says, “I’ll race you, mamasita.”

May turns to Chino and looks at his gleaming, purple Chevy Impala low-rider. She chuckles, “With that? An Impala? My jichan used to drive one of those.” BURN. The crowd goes wild.

The Race Ringleader yells out, “Okay, I’m taking bets!” Everybody pulls out their bills.

As the Impala and the Courier line up at the other end of San Pedro Street for the quarter mile race, the Race Ringleader has gathered up all the money. May and Chino has already put in $50 each to get in the race; whoever wins get that whole pot.

May digs her manicured nails into her steering wheel, nervous. She looks over at Chino who continues staring down at her, licking his lips. “Hey, maybe after this we can go out.”

May makes a face. “You mean, like on a date?”

“Sure! Do you like Mexican food? Because I know a great place near Evergreen, bonita.” His Impala continues to bounce as he revs up his muscle engine.

Cosmo comes over, pep talking to May. “You ready?”

“Hell no, I’m not ready. How am I gonna beat a Chevy?”

“Don’t worry, you got the lighter and faster car. Just keep it ahead all the way. The turbocharger will take care of you. And unless it's a last resort, DON’T use those switches – “ and Cosmo points to two red switches marked NOS -- “NOS means no.”

“Ok, ok, I got it,” as she waves him off.

One of the prettier Buddhahead girls from Gardena stands in between the two racers. She raises her arms. “Ready…set….GO!”

Engines roar as the Impala takes off first, but the pink Courier comes up close. May quickly shifts gears to fifth. Her turbocharger kicks in and barely zips across the finish line first.

“Pink Lady wins!” the Race Ringleader yells and the crowd goes wild. No girl has ever won a Nisei Week street race before. Until now.

The Ford Courier spins around to a stop. Cosmo comes and hugs her. “Congrats! Now you got a hundred more races to go.”

“I’m not feeling so good,” she says, as the crowd comes around. She vomits.

The crowd backs away. Cosmo’s upset. “Oh, come on! Not on my Adidas!”

David’s 1970 Charger wins every race, beating out the Pasadena and Westside crews. At every victory he jumps out, screaming, “They don’t call me The Duke of Hashimoto for nothing!” referring to some obscure TV show. All his Sawtelle Boys then pound their chests and howl like something out of a Planet of the Apes movie. The Hapa Girlfriend and the other girlfriends look on, shaking their heads. “Boys and their toys…”

May’s truck, now known as the Pink Lady, barely eeks out wins from the Gardena rice cookers, the Valley and the Orange County cars. She’s getting her newfound respect, especially from the girls. Now the boys are curious.

“What you got under there?” they ask. Cosmo opens up the truck’s hood. They check out the engine. “What kind of engine is that?” “Where are the pistons?” “What’s the horses on this thing?”

“It’s a Mazda rotary engine,” says May. “A Wankel engine, less moving parts. More power to weight ratio.”

“With a turbocharger,” Cosmo adds.

“But that’s a Ford,” someone yells out.

Cosmo explains. “It’s made by Mazda, imported by Ford. So it can fit a rotary engine. Right, May?”

But May is distracted. She’s watching David kissing his Hapa Girlfriend.

She’s filled with rage. Chino with a beer in hand, approaches her. “Hey, you’re a pretty fast woman –“ May just grabs his beer and downs it. “Ok, yeah, you’re welcome,” he says.

As she stomps her way through the parking lot, ignoring her newfound admirers, May hears a commotion.

“Leave us alone!” A couple of the Orange County guys are hassling David’s Hapa Girlfriend and her girlfriends. They get all handsy as the girls keep pushing them away. Suddenly, Orange County Guy’s hand is grabbed. It’s May, twisting the guy’s wrist in an aikido move called kote gaeshi; he screams in so much pain he falls to his knees.

“Are you done?” May yells. His Orange County buddies try to grab her, but she swings her daikon ashi legs into their groins. They yelp and grimace in pain.

David and his Sawtelle boys show up. “We got a problem here?” David asks.

“No problem,” Orange County Guy says, as they slink back away.

“You okay?” David asks his Hapa Girlfriend. “I’m fine,” she says. She turns to May, “Thank —“ But May already left.

Chino and Cosmo just saw what happened. He asks Cosmo, “Hey, man, what’s her deal?”

Cosmo replies, “Her boyfriend just broke her heart. And her dad’s in jail.”

“In jail? For what?”

“He’s a black belt sensei. Killed some yakuza.”

“For reals?” Chino says incredulously.

Time for the final race. But May is drunk, after consuming other people’s beers. She’s been hanging and flirting with the Westside and Pasadena crews, barely being able to stand. They catch and hold on to her. Cosmo suddenly grabs her, pulling her away.

“Hey, come on,” May slurs. “I was having so much fun…look how many phone numbers I got,” and she holds up a stack of paper with numbers. Suddenly, water splashes all over her.

“What the he--??!!”

“You’re drunk, May,” Cosmo says, holding a bucket. “Sober up. You still gotta race.”

“Hell with that!” She storms off and goes into her truck.

Cosmo approaches the cab, where May is wiping her makeup off dry and slicking back her wet hair. She’s crying. “Get away from me,” she says. “I can’t do this. I can’t beat a 426 V8. Forget it!”

“You can beat him. You beat everyone else. And you won all this money. Come on. You’ve made it this far. Hey, we didn’t work out butts off and souped-up your dad’s gardening truck for nothing.”

May cracks a smile. “He’s gonna be so pissed when he gets out of county,” she says.

“Are you sober?”

“Now I am,” she says, putting on her dad’s gardening hat.

At the other end of San Pedro Street, the Dodge and the Pink Lady are lined up, engines revved up. Cosmo hears something wrong. He pops the hood to check.

An impatient May says, “Come on, Cosmo, let’s go!”

“We got a problem, May.” Cosmo holds up a broken fan belt.

May jumps out, angry as hell. “Oh, c’mon! Really?”

She gets out. She throws off her black jacket and screams into it. She then reaches into her pockets.

“What are you looking for, an extra fan belt?” Cosmo asks.

“A cigarette!”

As she pats herself down, she looks down at her stockings. An idea.

She takes off her boots and removes her shorts. The crowd, especially the boys, are staring at her. “What the hell are you doing?” Cosmo yells. She removes her black nylon stockings, as Cosmo tries to cover her up, blocking the lookie-loos. “Stop staring!”

May wrings her stockings into a rope, then ties it around the fan and alternator pulleys. She makes it taut before tying a knot.

“Start the engine,” May says.

Cosmo turns the ignition and the makeshift fan belt turns the pulleys. May’s relieved.

“Ok, May, maybe you should put your shorts back on.”

David looks over to the May, who is back behind the wheel. “Hey I just wanna say thanks. For saving Jade back there.”

May gives him the middle finger.

The Gardena Starter Girl raises her arms. “GO!!” And the two roaring hunks of metal take off.

The Dodge Charger gets the lead right off, and every time the Pink Lady tries to inch its way up, the Dodge charges further. May looks at her tachometer, going to 5000, 6000 RPMs, then 7000, 8000 RPMs… Even with the turbocharger full on, she’s still behind. Hell with this; she’s about to flick on the nitrous oxide switches when suddenly

David’s Charger sputters and smokes, slowing down. The Pink Lady passes it up for the finish.

The crowd cheers. David gets out of his smoking Dodge, coughing and upset. He opens up his hood and sees a broken fan belt; it’s been cut.

An incredulous May jumps out of the cab, grabs her dad’s bokken and approaches David.

She slaps him across the face. “That’s what you get for cheating on me.”

She then walks to the Dodge and swings the bokken into his windshield, smashing it.
“Hey, I didn’t cheat on you! We were already broken up!”

“I don’t care!”

Suddenly, there are sirens and flashes of red and blue lights at the other end of San Pedro.

“It’s Five-0!” someone screams and the crowd scatters like roaches.

May and Cosmo gets in the truck, peels out. She says, “Hey, how could I beat David? I didn’t even use the nitrous.” Cosmo pulls out a pair of garden shears from May’s dad’s toolbox. He smiles widely.


May’s father walks out in front of the L.A. County Jail, wearing the same clothes he wore the night he got stopped by the LAPD. He looks around the empty streets and sees something odd…

The Pink Lady pulls up to him, with a hungover May in dark sunglasses behind the steering wheel. “Hey, Papa, how was jail?”

He responds in Japanese, “What the hell did you do to my goddamn truck?”


*This story received honorable mention in the English Adult category of the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s 8th Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest.


© 2021 Chiharu Cohen

fiction Imagine Little Tokyo little tokyo short story contest

Sobre esta serie

Each year, the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest heightens awareness of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo by challenging both new and experienced writers to write a story that showcases familiarity with the neighborhood and the people in it. Writers from three categories, Adult, Youth, and Japanese language, weave fictional stories set in the past, present, or future. On May 23, 2021 in a virtual celebration moderated by Michael Palma, noted theatre artists, Greg Watanabe, Jully Lee, and Eiji Inoue performed dramatic readings of each winning entry.


*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

1st Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
2nd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
3rd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
4th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
5th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
6th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
7th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
9th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
10th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>