When Ray walks over to greet a friend, Quiroz returns the favor: “That man has been like a father to me. I started working for him when I was 16 years old and I’ve been with him ever since. You know what he gave me for my birthday two years ago? The 1948 Ford convertible from his collection. I had been dreaming of that car.”
When he returns, I ask Ray which car he drives to get around town. “Oh, my car is a 2009 Jeep Wrangler. Love it.” Not very classic, but perfectly utilitarian.
“Someone told me,” he says, “that my little vintage car collection is Bakersfield’s best kept secret.” And it may well be. Tucked away in a tidy little one-story building in Central Bakersfield is his very own classic car museum, decorated how he wants, open when he wants, for whom he wants.
Humberto Quiroz takes me for a tour and it is as though someone clicked the “ON” button of an old RCA color television. The cars, in shining allurement, line both sides of the main showroom. Their guardian angels, in the form of posters, paintings, and standing cutouts, trigger a memory every five feet. The Duke holds his carbine in confident defiance. Roy and Dale. Elvis in an elegant silver suit. Curly, Moe, and Larry inhabit a grainy black and white photograph, several posters, and a cut-out. The Lone Ranger and Tonto gaze into the distance, as if hostile bank robbers descend the ridge behind that stunning Ford coupe. Across the way, Tonto does his own solo bit sans Kemo Sabe. Near the entrance, shining with as much splendor as the white and silver Austin, stands Norma Jeane Mortenson a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe, in a red gown.
“I just wanted it to be a collection of the things I like,” Ray says. “I collected them one thing at a time as each one appealed to me. What’s not to appeal? John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Curly, Moe, and Larry, and all those wonderful cars.”
Of the entire vintage car collection, which classic car is his very favorite? He ponders briefly, although a broad smile breaks over Humberto’s face, as though there is really no doubt as to the answer.
“You know,” Ray says, “I really like that Willy.” First love.