June 8, 2013
Our city doesn’t have a lot going for it. It is now ranked in the top 10 Worst Place to Live in America but it wasn’t always that way. Forty years ago when I was still a kid Modesto and the surrounding area was full of farms and dairies and small country towns where people waved at each other as they drove down the street and neighbors stood on the street corner in the evening to chat as the kids played tag and hide-and-seek in the gathering dusk. It was a great time to be a kid.
Part of that history was immortalized in George Lucas iconic film, “American Graffiti”, the movie he wrote about growing up in our little town of Modesto. Cruising was the thing to do and every Friday and Saturday night the streets in downtown Modesto would be full of kids cruising in their hopped-up muscle cars, checking each other out or hanging out at one of the local hob nobs. Drag racing for pinks, drive-in movies, and letter men jackets were all the rage.
By the time I was a teenager the cruise had moved off of 10th Street onto the longer strip of McHenry and J Streets. A & W was on the corner where we turned around, and the waitresses still came out to your car on skates to take your order. We would flirt with the boys and they revved their engines to show off and it was just a lot of innocent fun. The biggest night of the year was the Friday that all the high schools in the area graduated. Everyone came out and the strip was packed with classic cars, old jalopies, pick-ups and just about anything that had four wheels and ran! It was great and it was our tradition. Why mess with tradition?
The city fathers decided about 20 years ago to put the kabosh on cruising, however, when we started to get some of the darker elements into town. Cruising was banned and if you got caught on the strip more than three times in a night you got ticketed and your parents got a phone call…
Considering that cruising is what put Modesto on the map in the first place, I always thought this was a stupid decision and so did a lot of other Modesto natives. Some of the classic car clubs decided to bring cruising back and began organizing their own car shows outside of the city limits. They finally got the city to sanction a controlled cruise with all the cars featured in the movie and American Graffiti was reborn.
This weekend is American Graffiti Weekend. This is the weekend that most of the high schools would have graduated back in the day and there are car shows scheduled in several locations, parties are under way, and the whole town has classic car fever. Tonight is the Classic Car Cruise on the original strip. Car enthusiasts from all over the states are here showing off their cars or just enjoying an evening while they reminisce about the “good ol’ days” as they watch some of the most beautiful machines ever built cruise on by.
So tonight we celebrate the 40th anniversary of American Graffiti. They even got George to come home for the party, but I am not there. I lived it baby–I was part of history. I don’t need a parade to remember it all! But maybe this weekend I will wash the Chevy truck and grab the girls and take a cruise for old times sake. Because you know–cruising is cool!! Forty years of tradition can’t be wrong!!