Cruising at Sunset

Cruising at Sunset

Main Street

As long as there have been young people pushing open the door to growing up, there’s been an old guard growling “NO! Not like that!”

As America found its footing in the aftermath of World War II, a new generation was coming into its own. Prosperity was on the rise and the cost of automobile ownership was suddenly within reach for more and more middle-class families. The teens of the fifties were free from the threat of the draft and the austerity of rationing, but they were plagued by a rigid, rule-obsessed society that tried to dictate their every move.

Those kids on the cusp of adulthood had two big advantages over their parents’ coming-of-age years: money and cars. It wasn’t a lot of money, of course, but 29 cents would buy you a milkshake and a reason to leave the house, slide behind the massive wheel of a whale of a vehicle, and cruise down Main Street with your friends at your side and your folks in the rear view.

The destination was secondary. The joy was in the journey and the company and the pure, exhilarating freedom. Roll down the windows or drop the top. A yellow light wasn’t a challenge, it was an opportunity to slow down and sidle up next to the cruiser at the red light.

Like any youth moment, cruising was met with pearl clutching and crackdowns from the over fifty set. In the 60’s towns began passing laws to prevent the packs of cars from clogging up traffic, drag-racing at green lights, and creating a general nuisance, as teenagers are wont to do. “No Cruising” signs began popping up across the country. As quickly as one strip was blocked, the cruisers would shrug and flock to another. They had nothing but time to kill and utter contempt for the rules of a generation who just didn’t get it.

Cruising could never be crushed, anymore than the rebellious spirit of youth. While new generations picked up the baton, those early adopters didn’t exactly give up the ghost. At least, not all of them. It may have begun as a movement of the young, but there’s plenty of respect for the old in cruising culture. Old cars, especially. The older the better. The windows are bigger, the chrome is shinier, and the curves are on full display. A car like that isn’t built for speed, it’s built for attention. Like minded groups would join together for long, luxurious pleasure cruises along beautiful back roads, taking it slow and low in their vintage rides. They would meet up in parking lots and pop the hoods to show off the goods.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, cruising made a comeback. We cruised through birthdays and graduations and then just kept on driving. After weeks and months cooped up at home, America rediscovered its love of the open road. Safe and socially distanced, paranoia could be left in the rear view as we hit the road with no particular place to go, just a little time to kill and a feeling of freedom.

Then again, life has never been about the destination. As the sun sets on lock down and a new day dawns, let’s take a moment to celebrate the journey.


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