Is there any essence left in the small town culture of Main Street cruising? For some it’s always there

Today he owns a 1978 Trans Am that he takes to auto shows, but in the late 1970s it was all about cruising with friends – if you had the money to keep gasoline in the car. tank – and sometimes to make them run.

“Oh yeah, we ran the quarter mile,” said Lunski, who grew up in Grafton, North Dakota.

Cruising Main is what you did back then, he said, whether in Grafton or any other small town. It was an opportunity to go out, listen to music and show cars. And put them to the test.

“On county (road) 9 over there, we had a quarter-mile track set up,” he said.

Cruising Main Street – automotive culture in general – was a familiar part of the lives of people who grew up in the 50s, 60s, 70s and even the 80s. But what happened to the culture surrounding cruising? ?

According to Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering and industrial relations at AAA, there are several reasons for the decline of what you might call “cruise culture.” The generational distance from the origins of cruising, the price of vehicles, changes in law enforcement, and the rise of social media and smartphones have all contributed to the decline of the culture encapsulated in the movie “American Graffiti. “from 1973, directed by George Lucas.

But where does this culture come from? How long did this last? Let’s go ?

A car equaled “freedom”

Brannon, a self-proclaimed “hot rodder,” said the dawn of the cruise era began after World War II, when the soldiers returned home and began to work. They took with them all the experiences a returning soldier would have, but some brought something else: knowledge of working on tanks and turbo and supercharged aircraft engines.

“They took a while to get into the auto scene, but that’s what these soldiers did,” Brannon said. “They came back and people who were interested in this sort of thing. This is how the hot rod started.

Part of the hot-rodding culture was packing up old cars and then walking around looking for someone to race. Perhaps the most important thing was to look cool while doing it.

These “engines” had children and the culture continued. Brannon said the cruise was something for like-minded young people to do in an era that long preceded social media.

“It really started in the late 1940s and then became a major phenomenon in the 1950s and 1960s and probably until the early 1990s,” Brannon said.

And these vehicles, then affordable and easy to repair, meant a lot to kids on cruising. For some – including Brannon – the cars have become an extension of the owner’s personality, and especially after spending so much time making them look good for the road. It became natural to show them off after all the effort and to talk to others about the repairs they made. This is a common theme among cruisers, but so does the idea that the car represents freedom – the freedom to go anywhere at any time, to meet old friends, to pilot the next one. hot rod, while being beautiful.

Matt Heher, recently retired from the University of North Dakota and attending the Prime Steel Car Show adjacent to the Art on The Red festival earlier this summer, didn’t initially think of a car as a symbol of freedom. After some thought, it occurred to him.

Heher said he grew up with seven siblings. His father had a car, as did his mother. Daddy’s car was banned, so when he wanted to get out he had to ask to borrow his mom’s car. Getting your own car, a 1966 Rambler Classic, put an end to that.

“Do I need to go somewhere?” I can go now, ”Heher said. “I don’t have to go fight with my brothers and sisters, my mother and my father and beg, take out the trash and mow the lawn, to be able to drive a car.”

Heher and his wife Lisa have a red Camaro from 1967, with a white top. He bought it from someone in Chelsea, Quebec, a 25 hour drive from Grand Forks. Matt Heher said he was never used to sailing, but Lisa quickly corrected him.

“What? He did it,” she laughed.

Matt added, “Well, Washington (Street),” he said. “From top to bottom in Washington. It’s all you’ve ever done.

The hijinks

Cruisers have a lot of stories like these. Lunski also attended the Prime Steel Car Show in June, with his Trans Am. On a longtime visit to Wahpeton, North Dakota, he stopped at a traffic light in his 1970 GTO. A car stopped beside him, the engine running. Lunski responded in kind.

“A cop came off the sidewalk, came to my door,” he said. “The other guy is gone. The cop got me arrested, and he wrote me a ticket for attracting the race. I didn’t even turn off the lights!

Gregg Zimbelman, also has a few stories. He’s from Montana, but has been in Grand Forks for decades. The US Air Force brought him here, and when he got out, he stayed. He’s a cruiser, with a 1968 Caprice and a 1964 Pontiac Le Mans. He said he was never a drag racer back then, and not much of a drinker.

But his friends drank beer. And Zimbelman, back in Brady, MT, had a 1968 Ford Custom 500, a vintage highway patrol vehicle, with searchlights and lights mounted on the roof. He used them to organize rural barrel parties, only to collect a few barrels for his friends.

“A funny thing about a keg: When they see a car with a searchlight and a rotating dome on it, they don’t bother to pick up the keg,” Zimbelman said. “Friends of mine who drank drank for free, usually.”

The decline

For Brannon at AAA, the decline of cruise culture is multifaceted and follows what he calls the decline of the automobile in America. The cost of owning, maintaining and insuring a vehicle, not to mention a conventional vehicle, is too high for some young people. Cars, he said, don’t represent that same feeling of freedom, either. The advent of smartphones and social media means that young people don’t need to spend time together driving, just to be together. They can do it with a handheld device anywhere.

“They’re less likely to go out and spend the night in the car, just sitting down to be seen,” Brannon said.

And the police also played a role. Anti-racing laws have been in place for a long time, but anti-cruise laws have been established in many cities to quell the perceived nuisance of cruising. In some cities, Brannon said, driving a main thoroughfare twice in a given amount of time can give a driver a ticket.

This is not the case in Grand Forks, however. According to Derik Zimmel, a lieutenant with the Grand Forks Police Department, there is no local anti-cruise order. Problems arose in the late 90s and early 2000s with people parking in parking lots next to South Washington Street. Brawls sometimes broke out, and people left a mess in their wake.

It was about property rights, Zimmel said. Business owners didn’t want people to park and hang out if they weren’t frequenting a store, and they didn’t want to have to clean up the leftover garbage. There are still signs in some South Washington Street parking lots prohibiting parking after certain hours. But people who want to walk the Strip are free to do so.

“As long as you have gasoline and you follow the rules of the road, you can walk up and down the same stretch of street all day if you want,” Zimmel said.

Cruising state

While the culture hasn’t completely died out, it seems cruising has become the domain of auto shows and clubs, like the Prime Steel Car Show and the. The members meet with their cars, then park and chat. They still talk about their old stories and the hard work they put into their cars, and that’s likely not going to change for people who still love classic cars. But we are far from Bob Falfa, played by a young Harrison Ford, wanting to challenge John Milner, played by Paul Le Mat, to a race. In “American Graffiti”, Falfa makes his wish come true, but bursts a tire, rolls his car and escapes, burning.

Some still sail, but it’s different today.

“Well the cruise is over until Cruz Night and then the cruise comes home,” said Rick Jackson, owner of a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Aire.

He prefers when a motor show is 80 kilometers away rather than across town. He said that cruising is like a time machine. When he rides an empty stretch of highway with his 1950s music, it brings him back to that time.

Principally.

“But then a 2020 car goes by, and it’s like it’s the deal of this deal,” Jackson said with a laugh.


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