The Dream Cruise rolls on

Detroit — well, more accurately the whole of Michigan — is the home of the automobile.  We may be slightly humbled at the moment, but all it takes is a Saturday in August, and all the local car nuts go crazy.  Detroit as a gathering place has been here for a long time.  Even before the trappers and traders got here, there were the native Americans, and there was a trail, the Pontiac trail, leading northwest from the river where the first settlements were established.  Eventually the trappers and traders took over, and then the settlers from them, and what had been the Pontiac trail turned into Woodward Avenue, which runs, as it happens, at a diagonal compared to most of the other streets.  In fact, one stretch of Woodward was the first paved highway in the US.  The automobile industry was a thriving infant, and people wanted nice smooth highways for their elegant black cars.

By the 1950’s, the automobile industry was big, brazen, and beating its chest, and the muscle cars piloted by cool young men cruised up and down Woodward from drive-in to drive-in.  I guess it must have been about 10, 12 years ago that somebody got the great idea that they should resurrect the cruise just for one day.  Well, we’ve got the highest proportion of car nuts around, and the ones who had old cars brought them out and the ones who didn’t brought their folding chairs and just sat up and down the length of Woodward (which goes 25 miles or so — the Dream Cruise goes full blast for maybe 15 miles) watching the cars go past.  Every year there are more and more cars and more and more people watching them.  The license plates now show that there are old car aficionados all over the place, but Michigan still takes the crown.  One of the interesting novelties this year was a fleet of those tiny SmartCars — must have been 35, 40 of them.  Plus cars with swimming pools in what you would expect to be the trunk, old police cars, fire engines, milk delivery trucks, and of course the muscle cars, huge boat-like vehicles with wild and wonderful fins.

By now all the businesses up and down Woodward that don’t sell food or t-shirts just close for the day.  Out in front of the shopping strips are wonderful vintage and antique cars with their hoods up so everyone can admire the engines, the TV stations are there trying to pick up part of the action, the radio stations boom golden oldies, and there are a million or so people along the sides of Woodward gawking and visiting and remembering the days when the cars were kings.  The Dream Cruise itself is supposed to be on Saturday, but from the Monday or Tuesday before people are driving their wonderful old cars up and down Woodward and other people are dragging out chairs to sit and watch them.  And Sunday, when it’s supposed to be all over, there are still the die-hards, both drivers and gawkers.

It was hot and sunny this year.  (We’ve only had rain once.)  We wandered out into the middle of it, just to smell the hot dogs and gasoline and watch the geezers with their grandchildren.  You could hear the ripple of excitement whenever a particularly elegant specimen rolled past and the “omigosh I’d forgotten about those” was a constant refrain.  The big shots from the auto companies were there and so were the guys who’ve repaired cars for years and kids who dream about cars and their dads who dreamed, too, and for one week it’s a great big fraternity of men (mainly men) who simply love cars in a special way that doesn’t apply to anything else.

Detroit used to be the car capitol of the world, and for a wonderful Saturday in August you can still see the swagger.  What makes these journeys into nostalgia so satisfying?  Does anything like that happen in your town?

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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3 Responses

  1. That sounds really nice, Beppie. I’m not a huge car nut, but I know my boys would love it. Anytime a particularly cool car or motorcycle goes by, they ooh and ahh (kinda the way I do with a gorgeous pair of shoes, i suppose).

    We don’t really have anything exactly like that here in Shreveport. We do have Mardi Gras parades (not nearly what they have in NO) and everyone turns out to tailgate all day and catch crap they’re gonna throw away when they get home. Heck, they’ll fight tooth and nail for a stuffed bear or a blinging pair of beads. Makes you wonder.

  2. I wish we lived closer together! I’d love to see a Mardi Gras parade and I could take your boys with me to marvel at the cars. Although they might be disappointed when nobody throws anything — not even candy.

  3. Every now and then a car show like that will pop up, but not often. the radio station and all that comes out for it, but you’re talking about a group of maybe 75 people. and there’s mostly parking and walking and little driving from what I’ve seen.

    The huge drawl here is Musicfest. They’ve been good the past couple years about bringing in big name singers, but it’s such a drunkfest, that we don’t go.

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