Eric Flores was raised in Watsonville, near Santa Cruz in northern California.
Mexican urban culture was everywhere in the town – lowriders, cheap street food – along with the local surf scene.
His neighbours were into cars, and he fell in love with them, too.
He grew up, met and married a Newy girl, moved to Canberra (don’t worry, the story has a happy ending).
One day a mechanic told Eric he’d seen an old ’67 Kombi parked on a street in Kaleen, a suburb of Canberra about as far away from cool Mex culture as you can get.
Topics will let Eric take up the story.
“I drove around trying to find it. No luck.
“We went back a second day to the same neighbourhood and saw a lady at her letterbox. I asked her if she knew of one in the area.
“She said it was her husband’s but was now in storage. It had been sitting for 15 years. She said 100 per cent he wouldn’t sell it. I left my details anyway.
“Two months later he rang me and said it was time to move it on.”
(Now, Topics has been married for a while, so we can imagine the conversations in the Kaleen household that led to the decision to sell, but that’s another matter.)
So Eric moves to Newcastle with Kristy, parks the dusty Vee-dub in his shed, and waits.
Fast forward a few years and the first-generation Splittie (split-screen windshield) will take pride of place when the Floreses move their Mexican restaurant, antojitos, from Carrington to new premises in Steel Street, Newcastle, in March.
Eric, who is of Filipino background, says the car and the restaurant’s decor – not a cactus in sight – will reflect his story.
“We’re going to leave it the way it is. We’ll modify how it’s sitting, a bit lower to the ground. We’ll keep it simple and rustic. We might put some wheels on it.
“I was born and raised with them. It just suits our concept. A lot of people do Mexican food sort of old-school, mom and pop, very, we feel, over-themed in a way.
“This is just a reflection of my story. We’re taking the street food and combining that with the lowrider scene and the Mexican culture that I grew up with.
“I guess our food is people food, and the same thing with the Volkswagen. It’s the people’s car. Supposedly everyone was able to buy one back at that time.
“And Mexican culture is like that in a lot of ways. They don’t have a lot of expensive things, but they can find extravagance in certain things.”
The new restaurant is in the old Asian grocery store in Steel Street, between Domino’s and Cloud Nine, and Eric likes that the area is a “little bit gritty still”.
The Topics bunker is around the corner. We like it gritty, too.
Meanwhile, in Scott Street work continues apace on the tram line.
(Topics always wonders if the powers-that-be tremble with indignation when they hear their state-of-the-art “light rail” being referred to as a dowdy “tram”. We hope so.)
One uncharitable reader sent us the photo above with the caption: “How many men does it take to lift a manhole cover?”
The answer, which should be obvious to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of mathematics, is nine.
Newcastle council has announced a one-month extension to the “free” part of its free park-and-ride service from the stadium.
Of course, Topics knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch (unless it’s from antojitos, hopefully), or a free bus trip.
Ratepayers could be subsidising the service to the tune of a few hundred grand, but the council won’t tell us how much because it’s “commercial-in-confidence”.
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