Seventies muscle cars and vintage Cadillacs ride alongside '50s chrome and Model T-era relics. People camp out on the median with drinks and lawn chairs and hibachis. Motorbikes and scooters weave through traffic. Occasionally you'll catch art-car creations and media recreations, the Batmobile and outsized Hot Wheels. Video shows a Mystery Machine and a custom upside-down van; we missed both.
As I wrote elsewhere, I have recollections from the late 1960s of the odd summer night when my parents would load us kids in the car and take us down the local strip. We'd look at cars and teenagers and wave at other families we knew. The postwar cruising culture was still mainstream; the 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo and subsequent energy crisis mostly killed it.
It thrives, at least once a year, on Woodward Ave, the M-1, Detroit, MI. It runs from the river to Pontiac and divides east and west Detroit. It had the first mile of paved concrete in America, and was among the first roads to feature traffic lights. And, once a year, it becomes the route for the Woodward Ave Dream Cruise. Ostensibly a one-day event-- the largest single day automotive event in the world-- activity usually begins sometime around Wednesday, requires significant police assistance by Thursday, and officially runs Saturday.
Friday we watched the cars cruise from the window of a Japanese restaurant. A cosplayer piloting a customized something pulled over across the street, a living Ed "Big Daddy" Roth cartoon. A block away a band played on a sidestreet stage.
We went to the movies and returned to my friend's house, just off Woodward near 8 Mile. Cars continued to pass in the night, down the street and through our dreams. "Sounded like they were having full-on drag races," he said. "Probably just revving the engines."
Saturday morning his wife returned from a gals' camping trip and we joined the small army of people who walk the boulevard and watch the cars. People wave to passers-by and pull over to lift their hoods. They blast tunes, from retro hits of the Kar Kulture's chromed Golden Age to more recent rap. Crowded sidestreets, blocked to regular traffic, feature a stage and miles of parked cars. People buy ice cream at a functional vintage Good Humor truck from a woman in a white uniform with the old peaked cap.
Everyone seemed amiable. We were celebrating an event that could hardly be called environmentally friendly, but at least we were celebrating, and more people had feet on the ground than the gas pedal.
Cruise culture was a nighttime thing, but after spending most of the day wandering miles up and down, we rested. After six we headed to Liz's retirement party at a rural home somewhere near Ypsilanti. Liz and Paul's back yard lends itself to social events. They'd set up food in tents and a campfire at the back, which is far enough back that you're sufficiently surrounded by darkness. The steps to the back deck are framed by stone penguins. We talked of cabbages and kings.
Paul was one of the first people to go viral online, back in the early days of the World Wide Web. He had rigged up an arm that could wave to their cats, operable from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, and his website also provided oddball information such as the temperature of the hot tub and how many Cokes were in the fridge. The site received space in Time and the New York Times, a signifier of the brave new wackiness to come.
It no longer exists.
We drove back in the wee hours. A few cars remained. A street rod parked curbside and talked to some people under the streetlight, a shot from the past.
I headed out Sunday morning around 8:30 am, back across the border to Canada.
Traffic was thin. The sidewalks looked deserted.