When I first decided to start this side project, there was a short list of people who I already had in mind to talk to. To be perfectly honest with you, everyone you’re going to read about is pretty important to me in one way or another, that’s why I chose to speak to influential people I knew personally first, before diving into discussions with other people in the automotive industry. I wanted to make a point to have honest, candid, discussions with my friends first because our friendships are what help to make these pieces “real”. That sense of diplomacy is set aside and you really get to have a better understanding of what people are thinking instead of reading what people “want” you to know, if that makes sense. Jonathan Wong was a no-brainer for The Epilogues. He was the first to jump on-board with the idea and helped to really set the gears in motion for this to have a chance at being successful. “Success” I guess is left up to the eye of the beholder but I just wanted people to “get” what I was trying to do. Wong helps to lay the groundwork of sorts for this to be a legitimate “thing”. Freddie Fernandez I sort of just tricked into doing this but he has long been a very influential individual in this industry and no one has ever heard his story except for close friends, and I was thoroughly amazed that he was willing to sit down and do this with me.
Charles Trieu was pretty much at the very top of my list of people who I just had to talk to, but….those that know Charles for any length of time understand that the guy is a true wildcard in every sense of the word. You just never know what is going on in his head and/or where he is at any given time. He is perhaps one of the most unique and interesting individuals whom I have EVER met in all my years. He downplays everything, often times making everything he has done seem as if it were nothing significant, but the guy (in my eyes) has always been a one-of-a-kind “visionary” of sorts when it came to cars. He just operates on a different plane of existence, I feel. Charles is a rock star. He has a passion for things, he loves doing what he loves, he cares about what he cares about, even if no one else cares about it the way he does. He lives the way he wants to live, does what he loves until he stops caring about it or gets tired of it, and then walks away like it isn’t a big deal. That’s crazy. In all the years I’ve known him, I honestly could not tell you at any point in time what the hell he is thinking, and I am very good at reading people almost immediately. With him, I don’t know. He is a true mystery and I fucking love the dude because of that.
I think the other day, I was talking to Tiffanie (who shot these incredible photos of Charles by the way) and trying to come up with a way to describe Charles. I told her this:
“Charles is like a cat. He acts like he doesn’t give a shit about anything, just kind of hangs out all day and doesn’t really do a whole lot, but he secretly wants you to care about him. You just can’t care too much though. Because he’ll realize that you do and he will run away.”
This sounds weird if you don’t know Charles. I know that. Bear with me. He’s actually quite a solid individual and he’s probably done more for this industry than most people will ever realize, even himself. Like Jonathan Wong, he’s always stayed very level-headed and grounded. Cars just appealed to them and they loved doing what they do. That’s probably why they were able to work together for so long and produced some of Super Street magazine’s best years. I can’t even pinpoint the exact moment when I met Charles. I believe it had to have been around the time when I started doing freelance work for Super Street. He is one of those guys that every Honda guy during that period of time knew. He was “Eggman”, builder of one of the best EF Civics stateside, since forever. The car is so good that even in 2017, it still exists and looks very much the way Charles had it when he put it all together. We met probably at some event somewhere in Southern California when I started hanging out with Jonathan. Talk to him for like five or ten minutes and you’ll quickly realize that he’s a pretty peculiar guy. If you start talking to him about cars, he’ll never stop talking. The guy just fucking loves cars. There probably isn’t anyone I know that loves everything about cars as much as Charles does.
When it came time to figure out how to get Charles on The Epilogues, I didn’t even know how to approach it because I didn’t think he’d want to. I actually texted him and he didn’t respond, so I thought he just wanted to ignore the entire idea of talking about his life. As it turns out, I think I just randomly texted some other person. They were probably wondering what the fuck I was talking about and just ignored me. So I started hitting Charles up on Facebook and Instagram. He responded on IG one night after I “slid into his DMs” and actually talked to me about The Epilogues for like, a good hour. I think I forget that Charles actually does care sometimes because he is so nonchalant about everything. I forget that Charles is probably one of the few that cares about what I do more than most people. I’ll have random talks with him where he likes to remind me that he believes in what I do and always has ideas on how I can improve. I think that is the mark of a good friend. Someone that not only offers positive reinforcement but also thinks about what you do enough to come up with ways to help you. That’s great. During one of our random chats whenever ago, he also mentioned that he really pushed for me to take over his Associate Editor position when he left Super Street to takeover the helm of EIC at Import Tuner.
I was surprised.
As fate would have it, someone else got the job, and I would like to tell myself that it doesn’t bother me one bit. I honestly think he was one of the guys that also taught me that maybe the structured corporate lifestyle of working for a major company wasn’t something for me, that perhaps I was better off continuing to build something I had created so I only had to answer to myself. When the major cutbacks happened and all the magazines went through huge changes, some shutting down completely, I heard about how Charles left Import Tuner and how he did so on his own accord. He’ll tell you more about it in his own words below, but he’s never looked back. Since then he’s just been floating around in the most “Charles” way possible. I don’t know how he’s been able to just live without finding another job but he’s managed, and managed quite well.
- NAME: Charles K. Trieu
- KNOWN ALIAS (Social Media or Otherwise): @charlieworld, Charlie Brown, Charlie Millions, Chuck T., Eggman, etc. Call me whatever you want, as long as you call me?
- CURRENT OCCUPATION: Unemployed
- WHAT YOU ARE KNOWN FOR (Why do people know you for doing or accomplishing): Building a Honda, Super Street magazine, Import Tuner magazine, Circuit Hero, non-witty humor, never being serious, loving black music (yeah I just said that).
- HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE “CAR COMMUNITY”: I started out as a hobbyist in the early-mid 90s. Eventually decided to turn the hobby into a profession a decade or so later.
- AGE: Nah. My best friend doesn’t know my birthdate!
- HOMETOWN/CURRENT LOCATION: Orange County, CA
For the layout of The Epilogues, I want everything to be more focused on the individual, especially the photos. Even though they are car people, this project is devoted to the person and not the car(s). I wanted to develop a specific look for the site though, where I would photograph the people with the automotive projects that they own. When it came time to get with Charles to get these photos shot, I asked him what cars he had to shoot with and he told me that he had recently sold all of his projects. I think the grip of unemployment was getting tighter and tighter as the months went on so he had to sell some cars to get by. I think it has been like three years now since Import Tuner shut down and Charles has just lived off the land since. We just decided to meet-up at his house and find a place to shoot at near there but when we arrived, his house ended-up being the perfect backdrop. Usually the cars would be the thing to show-off the person’s personality but in this instance, what better way to show-off Charles’ eccentric lifestyle than to just be in his space? We settled-in to hang-out with him and his recent prized possession, which wasn’t a car, but a Dalmatian. This Dalmatian was unlike your usual dog however, as it was deaf, could only eat a very-specific non-meat diet, and also liked to hump other male dogs. Oh, and his name was “Johnny Deff”.
Yes, Charles Trieu is the owner of a deaf, gay, vegetarian dog.
Of course he is.
“Does anyone really want to know this stuff about me? The only people that are going to read this are a couple of people that actually know me.” Charles said laughingly.
At this point his big gay dog was just sort of climbing on everyone and for whatever reason, whenever the dog gets extremely excited, it just starts sneezing and smiling uncontrollably. I’m totally serious too. But back to Charles. I just wanted him to talk about himself and how he became the unknown king of pure automotive nerdism. If there’s one thing he isn’t shy about, it’s talking about anything related to his fascination with cars.
“I was just your typical kid growing-up in Southern California in the late-80s and early-90s. The streets were hot with lowriders, then mini-trucks, and then Japanese imports. I love them all. I loved anything on wheels; cars, motorcycles, bicycles, skateboards, go-karts, etc.”
“I remember reading an automotive magazine in 1987 reviewing the new Ferrari F40 and it stated the car didn’t come with a radio. I was so bummed-out thinking to myself, ‘what am I going to do when I get one?’…”
Like most of us, owning a Ferrari F40 just wasn’t in the cards. Forget a Ferrari, owning any type of car was difficult growing-up with immigrant parents surviving on welfare.
“I really didn’t get my first car until I went to college and got my first Financial-Aid check.” He recalls. “I used that money to buy a 1990 Acura Integra. It was 1995 and I really cut my teeth on that car. Before that I would work on friends’ cars for free offering to install their parts just to learn about cars. My dad was a scholar and not so much a car or handyman kind of guy. I had to buy my own tools and figure it all out myself. I probably lowered almost 100 cars before I got my first car. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still no mechanic and no one should ever trust me with their car.”
“I did a bunch of stupid stuff to my Acura and it was great to be a part of a growing sub-subculture. But after going to my first import car show, I decided to sell my car. The scene was getting into huge wheels (17-inch wheels and above), vinyl interiors, and headlight/taillight conversions. I thought it was horrible and I wanted nothing to do with it (LOL). I was young and stupid and just didn’t appreciate it, so I sold my car. I ended-up with a 1970 Datsun 510 soon after. I figured classic Japanese cars were so unpopular at the time I wouldn’t be swayed by trends. I’d go to the Datsun car meets and I was easily the youngest by 10 years. I wasn’t ever able to finish that car but learned a lot about old school cars, carbs, and rare discontinued parts. The 510 introduced me into the world of Japanese classics and later Bosozoku-cars. I quickly started looking at 210s, 310s, Bluebirds, Cedrics, Glorias, Mangos, Peanuts, Starlets (had one of those later), Crowns, and Cressidas (had that too eventually). But I felt like my 510 was a wannabe-Bluebird, which was a wannabe-Hakosuka (Skyline), so I eventually sold it.”
“Later in the 90s and early 2000s, the whole JDM-craze started happening. And at the same time the Internet started distributing information to everyone. ‘JDM’ spread like crack. I thought this was something I could really get into and decided to buy a 1989 Honda Civic Si, the car I always wanted when I was a teen. It was time for me to do a build that was brewing in me since before I could even drive.”
This ’89 Civic Si was the car that many Honda enthusiasts would come to know Charles for. Photos of it still pop-up on social media every now and then, over a decade since Charles put the car together. It was the car that not only helped earn him the online reputation as “Eggman” but also ultimately helped opened the doors for him at Super Street magazine. The Eggman namesake most would think was derived from the off-white eggshell tone of his Civic. While that is partially true, it actually came from a Beastie Boys‘ track of the same name from the ‘Paul’s Boutique‘ album. It was a username of his that would circulate regularly on the “Hybrid.honda-perf.org” messageboards.
“Andy Warhol once said ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ and it’s pretty much true. Everyone becomes ‘Internet famous’ some time in their lifetime, whether on an Internet forum, social media, or whatever. For me it was being Eggman on the Honda forums.”
Most of you younger readers wouldn’t know this, but he was also known for a small website that he had where fellow enthusiasts could find some really rare shit. Charles always had a knack for being able to unearth the rarest of car goods from all over the world. To this day I don’t think I understand how he was able to find some of the stuff he did but people regularly looked at Charlescharlescharles.com to see his collection of goodies. Stuff wasn’t cheap by any means because he wasn’t one to just collect junk. He had crazy rare stuff and only people who really appreciated it could muster-up enough of their savings to purchase it. I forgot to ask if he even updates the website still but his collection of rare parts definitely still exists. In his bedroom was a set of completely refinished SSR Techno Phantoms that he just has. There’s no car to put them on or any plans to put them on anything eventually. He just has them. They’ve been meticulously restored to factory specifications, sit in boxes, and serve as just bedside decor.
“Rather than buy all-new parts for my Civic, I wanted to only use old parts from the era of the car. Call me a purist or whatever but after having a Datsun and seeing so many cool parts go extinct, I wanted to grab some of it before everyone trashed them. I ended-up scouring ‘Recycler’ and local newspapers for unwanted (yes believe it or not) old Mugen stuff. I collected so many parts for my build that I eventually made a website (CharlesCharlesCharles.com) just to sell some of the stuff off. It was never intended to make money or anything. Those were just all my old parts from previous or future builds. I got really good at it somehow and when the Internet took-off, I started searching nationwide then worldwide. The first part I got off of Yahoo! Auctions Japan were some Vision bumper lights for my EF Civic. Yahoo! Auctions Japan didn’t allow foreign buyers so I found a Japanese guy that lived in England. He had someone ship the lights from Japan to him in England and then to me stateside. Later on I was able to find importers and other channels to streamline the process.”
“When buying parts for my Civic wasn’t enough, I started a company called ‘Circuit Hero’ to make some cool parts for myself. It took off and people started wanting the parts. I was in school at the time and didn’t really take it seriously so I shut it down. Years later a friend asked me about it and I gave it to Gil Salazar. He blew it up and now it’s owned by another friend of mine which I’m helping out with now.”
Up until a few years ago, I had no idea Charles was the one that first created the ‘Circuit Hero’ brand. Leave it to him to create something that picked-up some steam, then put on the back-burner for a few years, only for someone else to come in later and turn it into a household name. Now it’s a globally-recognized brand for automotive enthusiasts.
I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.
Out of his stockpile of parts throughout the years, I wanted to know which part he thought was the rarest of the rare. Which was his holy grail? The thing that took him the longest to find and complete? I wouldn’t think that most of you would venture to guess or even begin to understand what it was. I knew, just hearing through the grapevine of fellow car guys, but needed him to confirm…
“I wasn’t the first guy to buy Mugen parts nor the only one to bring in used discontinued parts from Japan—but I wasn’t a shop either. I was purely bringing in stuff for my personal project or for future ones, so my volume and inventory wasn’t that high, it was more quality over quantity. At one point I had a Mugen body kit for an NSX. It took five figures and over 2 years to do. I found each piece separately all over the world. That was definitely the rarest thing I had. But I never got around to building that car so I sold it off. No regrets about that, nor any of the other Mugen NSX parts I had. Not one. I do however, regret selling my HKS Power 5A-GX valve covers for the Toyota AE86 (long story). But I still have a couple parts laying around that I will never sell. Tons of shift knobs, a few steering wheels, and a Carmat mirror (the first part I ever bought). They’re just more sentimental value than valuable.”
If you’re a dedicated Honda enthusiast, you can understand how difficult it can be to find anything Mugen-related for an NSX, let alone a complete body kit for it. There are probably only maybe a handful left in existence. Insane to think that it was pieced-together from all over the world. Where do you even begin to look for something like that? Charles is one of the rare individuals who builds a car based on parts alone. He’ll find a part, think it is cool, and decide to buy a car just to put the part to use. This is the same guy who built an 1987 Acura Legend coupe just so he could put a set of rare, refinished, Volk Artisan Fin wheels on it. I wanted to know, outside of the parts itself, if there was a car that he favored over the others or whether there was a car that he always wanted to build which he was never able to. Perhaps there was a car he regretted selling?
“Thank god I was able to sell my ’89 Civic! I was so wrapped-up in that car I never thought I’d be able to let it go. I’ve probably owned over 50 cars by now. I’ve had a probably 10 Hondas, Datsuns, a Starlet, a couple Cressidas, a Cadillac, a Monte Carlo, Chevelle, Oldsmobile, several BMWs, etc. I can’t even remember them all. Everything from Japanese imports, to Europeans, to domestics, to lowriders, even sport bikes and choppers. I can’t say that I miss any of them nor any were my favorite. I liked them all. But I’ve also got a long list of cars that I like and want to own and that’s only the ones that have been produced so far!”
“I still never got to build that NSX or RX7. And I still have a brand new Kei Office body kit for an NSX if anyone is cool enough to buy it. Haha!”
Though he eventually did sell the Civic, as mentioned earlier, it served as the bridge that eventually lead him to Super Street magazine.
Charles Trieu, meet JDM Wong.
“While building that ’89 Civic of mine in 2004, I took the car to the Super GT race (JGTC) event in Fontana, CA. Jonathan Wong had somehow seen my car in the parking lot of about a couple thousand cars. He took a picture of it and posted it on the Hybrids.jp forum asking if anyone knew who’s car it was. I was enamored. He wanted to shoot my car for Super Street magazine and I happily agreed. I’m not sure why he kept in touch with me because I never felt like I was the typical import car enthusiast. I was just a weird, car-crazy, guy. A couple of years later he told me he had taken over the throne at Super Street and needed to fill some Associate Editor positions. I had graduated college and started working in the computer field, but I was bored. Taking a job dealing with my hobby sounded amazing. It wasn’t easy taking a huge pay cut, but I thought I’d have fun with it for a year then go back to making some money in Information Technology. Five years later, I was still at the publishing company.”
“Go to car races, car shows, and talk cars all day? Sign me up. That didn’t sound like work at all to me. Jonathan not only taught me the profession and introduced me to the SS team, he also introduced me to everyone in the industry. His network was a decade deep at the time and he was happy to share it. I can absolutely say he single-handedly changed my life as well as many others that worked with him too.”
“The original team that I knew at Super Street was amazing. We had a whole floor in a high-rise building in west L.A. The friendships (Jonathan Wong, Sean Klingelhoefer, Sam Du, Peter Tarach, Nate Hassler, Gary Narusawa, Bernice Guevarra, etc.) that were made in the building will last a lifetime. We did more than just work together. Zero regrets. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I’d do it all again over and over. It was the silliest, best, crappiest, time of my life.”
Personally for me as a freelancer, I’d have to agree that those were probably the best years of Super Street. That team they had in place there was incredible and rich with talent. They were able to produce some great-looking photos, compelling stories, and the magazine at that point never looked better. I think even for me, it was the most exciting of times working as an automotive journalist. We had so much creative freedom to produce stories for the staff and everyone just seemed very invested in making it the best it could possibly be. It was a shame it only lasted a few years. The big shift was coming and the staff would later go their own separate ways. A couple staffers moved on to bigger things personally in their careers and others were placed in different positions to help advance other titles. Charles, reluctantly in hindsight, stepped-up to take over another popular book in the company’s repertoire, Import Tuner.
“The publishing company that owns Super Street owns like 30 other magazines on the newsstands. Mostly car magazines like Hot Rod, Lowrider, and Motor Trend. But also gun magazines, surfing, skating, and tattoo ones as well. One of the sister publications was Import Tuner. Carter Jung was EIC at the time and did an amazing job, but he felt like it was time for him to move onward and upward. He’s one of the hardest working guys in the industry and has gone on to many bigger things. The company wanted to promote me from my Associate Editor position at Super Street to Editor-in-Chief at Import Tuner. I wanted to really stick it out and stay loyal with Super Street as I felt like that brand just fit my personality better, but we poorly-compensated editors needed every bit of income we could get—so I took the job. The way I saw it, I’d still be in the company and working alongside my friends whom I didn’t want to leave. I just had to figure a way to change Import Tuner to fit my personality better.”
Around this time, I was actually trying to do freelance work for Import Tuner as well. I remember emailing Carter Jung before that to see if he’d be willing to use me as a writer and photographer. He mentioned that he had really wanted to distance Import Tuner from Super Street, meaning that he’d also be using different freelancers. When Charles took over, the book really went in an entirely new direction. He didn’t necessarily need to make it a point to show that the two magazines were different, he just wanted to make it his own. It was definitely an interesting change though because it didn’t seem like the book really fit Charles’ style.
“With the cars, I really wanted to change shit up. I wanted to feature all imports, not just Japanese imports. But the higher authorities had their old school mindset that you don’t mix European cars and Japanese cars, as if they were two different audiences. They even told me once in a meeting that ‘European cars are not imports’ (LOL). That was a battle I couldn’t win, so that left me with just Japanese cars to feature. I don’t know how else to explain it, but I held the car features up to a different type of requirement.”
“I don’t like the crazy show car stuff and I felt like Import Tuner was getting known for having too many show cars. I prefer track cars or even street cars. It’s not about who’s got the most parts on their build. Sometimes you just need the right car, wheels, stance, paint, or something for it to strike a chord in people.”
After Charles took over Import Tuner, it was always an inside joke between myself and some of my friends that he should have just changed the name of the book to “S13/S14 Tuner“, because every time he sent me a story to write, 90% of the time it was going to be a Nissan S-chassis of some sort. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Charles brought me on as a freelancer after he took over. These were great times for me because I not only got an extra paycheck every month from writing for all these magazines, I also got to write about a 240SX every month, haha. I love those cars and apparently so did Charles. He did build one of the best Sil80s ever, in my opinion, so it made sense, but I guess there was an actual reason behind the influx of S13/S14 stories in Import Tuner.
“We quickly dumped all the cars that looked too-showy. I really liked drift cars so I tried to feature a lot of FR and AWD cars. With Honda Tuning and Super Street featuring so many Hondas, I didn’t really want to step on the toes of my brethren co-workers. FWD cars were theirs and I tried to get everything else.” Trieu explains.
“One key thing I really wanted to do was refresh the voice of the magazine. And by that, I meant change all the freelance writers and photographers. They were great guys and did great work but they were from an older generation of automotive journalism. I wanted freelancers that were in the scene. I wanted photographers and writers that were car builders themselves. There are plenty good talented builders out there. But where do they go after a build? I felt like I could convince some of them to be writers and that would give them a voice and a way to continue building their reputation in the car world without having to build more and more cars. I tried to make Internet-popular car guys into freelance writers. And it was the same attitude with the photographers. I didn’t always pick the best or most expensive photographer that the budget could allow. I tried to stick to the photographers that love cars and build them too. It would be more like a magazine completely made by enthusiast for enthusiast, thus never really going out of style.”
This savvy move helped to bring a new crop of writers and photographers into the industry and gave a lot of car guys a chance to contribute to the car scene in a whole new way. One of those guys being someone who would later become a dear friend of mine. If you follow The Chronicles, you’ll probably have heard of Yuta Akaishi. I didn’t know him personally at the time but I was familiar with his cars. Charles brought him on at Import Tuner and gave someone who was never a writer before a chance. It was a shot in the dark. That’s all he needed. Today we share an office space together and Yuta still writes for Super Street magazine. Charles was very much to Yuta what Jonathan Wong and Rodrez were to me. They just had blind faith and gave us a shot. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
The most interesting aspect of Charles taking over Import Tuner was the fact that he’s always been weary about mixing cars and girls together. To him, they were like oil and water. They just don’t mix. It was interesting to see what he was going to do with the magazine since it was always known as THE import model-centric book since the very first issue. Francine Dee, the Remix Twins, Christine Mendoza and all these other import models that the current generation has no understanding of but were the “it” girls of their time all had their start gracing the covers of Import Tuner.
“I know it sounds weird but I’ve never really been crazy about the idea of models and cars together in one magazine, or any place.”
“And it’s not limited to this genre of cars, but modified cars in general, whether it be lowriders, hot rods, etc. Weird, weird, weird. Yes, the head editor of Import Tuner didn’t really care to mix girls and cars—BUT, in the Japanese car tuning world, Import Tuner was the one magazine that was really known for their girls. They’re called ‘import models’ for a reason, so it wasn’t something I could simply remove. I wanted instead to change and update the image of the cliché ‘import model’. Instead of girls in bikinis or stripper-clothes on the hood of cars, I tried to have them shot in their own clothes and underwear. That seemed more sexy and modern to me at the time. And instead of having Asian girls, I just hired anyone with a good look. I needed them less stripper-like and more girl-next-door like. I was told not to shoot girls with tattoos. But instead I hired girls like Levy Tran, who was covered in tattoos. With every girl after that I even had photographers concentrate on their tattoos and piercings. I wanted to gradually move to a mix of Suicide Girls, Esquire, Maxim, GQ, and Instagram models, yet all curated to the world of the car guy. They weren’t too trashy but definitely not too conservative.”
I thoroughly enjoyed doing work for Charles while he headed Import Tuner. There wasn’t ever a time when I can recall having a bad experience with him, and I think I speak for everyone that worked for him while he was EIC. Of all the editors I worked for, he was definitely the most relaxed. There were times when he would assign me a story to write and I had absolutely no idea when he wanted it back or if he even wanted the story to be written. I thought he might have just been showing me a car he thought was cool or something. I don’t know, it was a chill time. If there was a 240SX out there in North America during that time, we probably featured it, haha. I would email him the photos and stories I wrote that he assigned to me and I wouldn’t even hear back from him. The paychecks just showed-up in the mail.
By the summer of 2014, news of the end coming for multiple magazines under the Source Interlink umbrella began spreading like wildfire. One of those magazines was Import Tuner. That was it. Business decisions, cutbacks, layoffs, everything came swiftly. I thought about all my friends in that company that would possibly be out of a job. I started asking around, trying to figure out who was being let go, who had the chance to stay, and what exactly was going on. It was a confusing time. I had no idea if I would even have work anymore if someone new stepped-in. I thought about Charles and asked if anyone within the company knew how he was doing.
As you’d expect, he was cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Someone mentioned to me that he saw it coming and was already halfway out the door before they gave him a slight nudge to seal his fate.
That’s Charles. It almost made too much sense.
“Although I didn’t make all the changes that I wanted to do with the magazine, I felt like I did all that my resources and budgets allowed me to. And that’s when I felt like it was time to move on. I did see the end for print coming but that didn’t bother me. The Internet was killing books, magazines, newspapers, and libraries just like it killed the music, porn, and video rental industry. The brands just needed to evolve from magazines to more of a digital presence. We all pushed for it but being part of large company didn’t allow us to make those changes as fast as we wanted.”
“I was ready go before the end was there. I started interviewing and looking elsewhere but then for some reason, I decided to just ride it out. Kind of like ‘the captain needs to go down with his ship’ type of shit. Egotistical and lame, yes, but I wanted to see it unfold and end. On the last day, they asked me if I needed a box to pack my things. I told them I had already taken all my things out several weeks ago. I thanked them for the opportunity and walked out. I was well prepared and wasn’t sad about it.”
“The company was going through a rough time and had to restructure, which meant they were cutting away a large part of the staff and many brands. It was understandable and I wasn’t mad. The magazines were still profitable but the company needed to concentrate on other things that were even more profitable and had a better ROI (Return On Investment). It was a business decision based on numbers. I might have done the same thing put in that position. Who knows? Once the industry heard about the mass layoffs, I was approached by several people in the industry for work. It was probably a bad idea in hindsight turning everyone down. I think I just wanted some time-off. Three years later, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow-up, haha. Now I really need a job! I just don’t know where in the industry I would fit now. There are few opportunities in that industry to make good money, and I’m too old to work for nothing. Hopefully I find my way soon. I do still really love cars, I just don’t know where I fit in, in the industry. You know that saying ‘every guy thinks about sex every 7 seconds’? Well for me it’s more like I think about cars every 30 seconds of the day. It’s a curse.”
I feel like every time I see Charles these days, I ask him how he’s doing and how he’s been able to survive. If there was an award for being “The Most Gainfully Unemployed”, Charles would definitely win, no question. I do worry about the guy though, because I believe there’s so much more for him out there. The guy is a true talent and has such a deep love of cars. He’s being wasted if he’s not being utilized as an asset to this community. All the things that he once mentioned to me that was wrong with the industry and what had to be done for it to be able to be sustainable, I’ve literally seen come into play in the last year or so. It blows my mind.
After it was all said and done, looking back now, I wanted to know what he hated about working in the automotive print industry. And if there were other aspects about work that he actually enjoyed other than being around cars constantly.
“I hated the fact that the industry wasn’t in its prime anymore. The ‘Fast and Furious’ bubble of the early 2000s was over. Budgets and resources shrank. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but I hated having to reduce things from where it used to be. I also hated the three month window it took to print and distribute magazines. That kind of latency killed our news and event coverage sections. Magazines just couldn’t print as fast as a blog could. Now social media is beating out blogs for that timeliness.”
“The best part of the job were the friends I made, within the company and outside as well. Everyone hates working at SEMA, but every year, a little bit of me looked forward to seeing all the faces that I only got to see a couple times a year. Some of those friendships will last a lifetime. Especially the staff at Super Street and Import Tuner.”
Charles also happens to be one of the few guys that I’ve known be in this industry so long and have nothing really bad to say about it. It has its shortcomings of course, but he’s never allowed his job to make him jaded at all. He took the bad with the good and like Jonathan, has largely retained a very positive outlook.
“You know how they say ‘once your hobby becomes your work, you’ll hate it’? That’s totally bullshit. At least for me. I lean more towards the saying ‘choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. I never got bored of going to car races, car shows, and talking to car guys.”
From a guy dreaming about owning an Ferrari F40, to building a Acura Legend, selling a Mugen NSX body kit, and currently still holding onto a new Kei Office kit for an NSX he might someday own, I just had to know where he thought the import tuning scene was headed. A world without Charles Trieu building at least one car seems like a pretty boring, awful, fucking place.
“I’ve always compared the import car scene to skateboarding. It started out with a sub-subculture, a rebellious male youth. Eventually it went mainstream and became an industry. But after all the movies and hype, it will shrink back down to the hardcore. The enthusiasts that truly love it will love it when it’s not cool to. It won’t shrink any more than that and it will stay there until something comes along to catapult it back into a mainstream trend, but only for another short while.”
I for one, have always believed that the car scene was better before the big boom that was “The Fast and The Furious”, before the mass commercialization of a ‘sub-subculture’ as Charles put it. But I can’t deny it changed everything for us, in both good and bad ways. I think it is important to accept things as they are, understand them, and flow with them, even though the current may not always be what feels right for you. I think I had the most fun during the early-to-mid 2000s. For me, that was the best time to own and build a Honda, or any car for that matter. It was just a different time. Now there’s almost too much information out there and everyone seems to think that they know everything and it is all a competition for public adoration. I asked Charles what his preferred-era was and he takes it a couple years further back, “I really liked the late 80s and early 90s. Los Angeles is the biggest metropolitan city where people aren’t using public transit, so it’s the epicenter for car culture. You have more Asian-Americans on the West Coast than anywhere else in the country, so put the cars and Asians together and you have the birth of the ‘import car scene’. It was amazing to see it grow. It was amazing to be a part of it.”
So what’s next for Charles Trieu? Any immediate plans or goals forthcoming?
“Nope. I don’t even make plans for tonight.”
Well, of course.
Anything you’d want to tell your younger self if you had the chance? Besides going to less Vietnamese Coffee Shops scouring girls for the cover of Import Tuner, of course.
“Think less. Write and make more.”
“Oh, I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to anyone reading this and taking any interest in me at all. Sorry if it was long-winded. It’s rare that I’m in front of the camera or being interviewed. I’m used to being behind the camera (directing) or being the one asking the questions of the interviewee. And thank you, Joey, for taking an interest in your friends. People probably might read again.”
That’s Charles Trieu. Incredibly unemployed enigmatic ultimate car nerd, owner of a big gay dog, a mint set of Techno Phantom wheels, at one time owned an Acura Legend and a Toyota Cressida, completing the bucket list of cars every Vietnamese uncle wants to own by 1995, with an underappreciated eye for making things truly unique, much like himself. He’s a friend and another guy that has probably unknowingly guided me to where I am today with a lot of insight and positivity, even though at times he doesn’t even know where he’s going himself.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tiffanie.Marie