You’ve probably seen the car, the shiny, stretched-out Cadillac Eldorado, parading down State Street, driven by a man wearing a white fedora cocked to the side.
The ivory-colored land yacht could easily belong to Snoop Doggy Dog, or a Southern man in the mold of Boss Hogg, the bumbling fat-cat villain on The Dukes of Hazzard.
But as anyone who has ever read the license place knows, the luxury vehicle with the sparkling gold rims and ear-splitting horn is owned by a longtime Santa Barbaran who answers to the name Mr. Mack.
At age 89, Mack — or L.C. McHaskell, if you prefer to be formal — still can’t get enough of the attention that his fancy ride brings him. Especially with the ladies.
“I love to just ride around, meet a whole lot of women, play music,” said Mack, who admits he often drives around just to show off his ride. “I feel pretty good about it, you know.”
Does he have a girlfriend? “Are you kidding? I got two.”
If Mack’s stamina at nearly 90 is surprising, his story of how he wound up owning the swanky mobile in the first place is downright uncanny.
The Sambo’s Connection
It was the mid-1980s, and the car — a 1981 model — was owned by Sam Battistone Sr.
Battistone, who died in 1992, co-founded Sambo’s restaurant with Newell Bohnett. Though originally an amalgamation of its owners’ last names, Sambo’s eventually adopted the theme of the book Little Black Sambo. The local breakfast joint mushroomed into a nationwide chain in the 1970s, but shrank back to one location — the still-existing original restaurant on Cabrillo Boulevard — following a race-related uproar over the theme, which the restaurant has since dropped.
In the mid-1980s, Sam Battistone put his custom-built Cadillac up for sale, Mack said. At the time, Mack noticed that the Eldorado had been parked in a car lot for some time. He decided to stop by and inquire.
“He wanted $45,000 for it — cash,” Mack remembers, adding that Battistone had purchased it for $65,000. “I said, ‘How come this car stayed here so long?’ And he said, ‘People tell me they want to buy it and they never show up.’”
Mack was in love.
“It didn’t have but 8,000 miles on it,” he said. “I told (Battistone): ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you $30,000 in cash for it today.’”
He added: “I didn’t think he was going to go for it.”
In fact, Battistone didn’t go for it. At least not right away. He said sorry, and Mack went home, but not before giving Battistone his phone number. Battistone called him the next morning and declared it a deal.
Battistone’s grandson, Chad Stevens — now the owner of Sambo’s, as well as Chad’s on Chapala Street — verified the account.
“He had it specially made,” Stevens said of his grandfather. “The hood was 12 inches longer or something. But I think it’s been tricked out more since then.”
As for the long-ago controversy over the Sambo’s name, Mack — who is black — said he never paid it much mind.
“I don’t think that means anything,” he said. “I never thought too much about that.”
Hard Work Pays Off
The real question might be: How come Mack possessed such a king’s ransom in cash? Back then, $30,000 was the equivalent of about twice the amount in today’s dollars.
Mack was prepared for this question. After all, he concedes, his attire is sometimes consistent with that of, shall we say, a flamboyant flouter of laws. In addition to the white fedora on his head — and the 10 others he owns — large clumps of gold decorate his hands. (Four rings, a watch and a bracelet.)
Also, Mack’s easygoing smile displays 10 gold teeth, which, he says, are worth a grand total of $6,500. What’s more, back in the day he tailored his own suits — in several colors — including one that is all white and another that is all blue.
But the resplendent Mack says he’s always played it straight.
“I hear it all the time: ‘He’s a pimp, he’s a crime lord, he’s a drug lord,’ all that,” Mack said. “I don’t even know what drugs look like. ... People ask me, ‘How can you have all those cars?’”
His answer: hard work. The truth is, he said, “I have never done smoking or drugs in my whole life. I worked: One job — for 27 years. Look at the money I saved.”
Mack said he spent his entire working career as a construction worker — or, more specifically, a cement paver — at the Port Hueneme Naval Base, beginning in 1948.
He wouldn’t say how much he made, but he did say this: “It’s not the idea of what you can make, it’s the idea of what you can save and put to good use.”
The son of a farming family from Arkansas, Mack came to California in 1943 to serve in the military at a base near San Diego.
In the 1960s, he purchased the piece of Santa Barbara property on which he still resides, on Canada Street, a low-income neighborhood on the Lower Eastside. There, he built a two-story apartment complex with two units. He still lives in one of them, and rents out the other.
While Mack says he never had a taste for intoxication, he does fess up to a couple of vices. One was gambling, although he insists it paid off. His specialties were the card games poker and tunk, which he played at people’s houses.
“I won most all the time,” he said.
The other was women. At one point during his younger years, Mack insists, he had nine girlfriends.
But he’s also been a family man. Mack has had two wives, both of whom have passed away. His first wife, Larrie, died of diabetes in 1962, at age 41. His second wife, Dorothy, died of lung cancer in 2002. He has one child, a daughter who now lives in Los Angeles and works in real estate, he said.
“I had some pretty wives — some good-lookin’ wives,” he said while thumbing through some old photos of them. In a photo with Dorothy, the Cadillac sits in the background, but with different license plates. While the current plates read “MrMack1, “the plate in the photo says “Mac Dot.” Mack said he had to change the plates after her death because the sight of her name on them made him sad.
Mack might live alone, but he’s not lonely. In addition to the company of a girlfriend (or two), he is routinely visited by other friends and relatives. When a reporter came to visit not long ago, Mack was with his son-in-law, Hubert Wells.
“He’s a legend — quite a celebrity,” Wells said of Mack. “He can’t drive down State Street without people asking him to blow his horns.”
For Mack — who also put his trademark horns and plates on his other vintage car, a bright-yellow 1966 Lincoln Continental — it’s not about status so much as attention.
“I wouldn’t trade that Lincoln or this Cadillac for nothing,” he said. “I can drive behind a brand-new Mercedes, or a brand-new Cadillac, in any of those two cars, and people won’t look at them. They look at me.”
But Mack is as reflective as he is showy.
“I just live a normal, nice life,” he said. “Up till now, I really have enjoyed myself.”
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]