Thursday, June 12, 2008

Car Culture

With gasoline currently running $4.25 a gallon locally, it is fun to turn one's memory to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when, as a dewy-eyed teenager, I could buy petrol for a quarter a gallon. Back in the day, a big hunk of Detroit iron, six-passenger sedan, got eight or nine miles a gallon, but when you could fill the car for five or six bucks? Not such a big deal.

And we all rode in Detroit iron back then. Sure, there were some funny-looking little pregnant roller skates -- German bugs, Swedish, French, and even English sport cars, but they were few and far between. Nothing Japanese or Korean on the road I can recall.

In those halcyon times, if you were solidly middle-class, you bought a new Ford or Chevy or Plymouth or DeSoto, or Buick or Olds or Pontiac -- there were a lot more choices -- kept it for a couple of years, and then traded it in on a new model.

If you've seen American Graffiti -- and if you haven't you should -- then you know what it was like in our town on a Friday or Saturday night during the summer. Everybody piled into a car and went cruising. There were drag races, spectacular crashes, and no such things as seat belts.

Yeah, you went to the drive-in or to a dance or roller skating or whatever, if you had a date, but even so, you went out cruising afterward. Hit Hoppers', then went to the submarine races ...

The seats in those steel dinosaurs were benches, front and back, like small couches, long enough to stretch out on, and if you were out with your best girl, she slid over and sat hip-to-hip with you as you drove. You had the window down, left arm draped over the door frame, and baby, you rolled ...

If you couldn't get a date, you would usually clump together with five or six other stags and cruise with whoever had the hottest car. Everybody chipped a buck each for gas, and you could ride all night long. Even at nine mpg, a twenty or twenty-two gallon tank was good for a while. It was cheap entertainment, the summer night prowls.

Round, round, get around, I get around ...

There were three Hoppers' drive-ins in town. One on Florida Boulevard, one on the Airline Highway, one on Scenic Highway. You and your five buddies would cruise through two of them in sequence several times each night. (The one on Scenic, over by the Plant, wasn't good for that, there was no drive around.)

One of the most fun games was, if you were three guys abreast in the front seat and happened to be riding shotgun -- sitting next to the passenger door -- would be to make the guy sitting next to you look gay. How you did this was, as you pulled into Hoppers', you'd say, "Shit, I dropped my cigarettes!" and you'd hunch way over, ostensibly to find them.

This would leave your buddy to your left sitting next to the driver, hip-to-hip, and from outside the car, it would appear that they were alone. Two guys alone, next to each other on the wide seat? In Louisiana, circa 1964?

We're here and we're queer ...

Of course, if your buddy realized what you were up to -- you could only pull the trick once -- he would start pounding on your back and yelling, "Sit up! Sit up, you fucker! Sit up!"

Okay, so we were easily amused back then. You had to be there. If you weren't, you missed something special, because those really were the good old days ...

6 comments:

VC said...

I have a 1969 Dodge Coronet 440 and I will teach my daughter to drive using it and to cruise the strip in it.

I live in Manteca CA right next door to Modesto where Lucas got the whole idea for American Graffiti.

Gas may be expensive but a night of pure unadulterated fun is priceless.

steve-vh said...

My older buddy had a 66 Fairlane. Puke green and ugly has hell but a ragtop and FAST. We would cruise the local beach parking lot which had four loops that ran off of one. Eventually they blocked off the ends of the loops.
My "buddies" would routinely reach over, honk the horn and duck down.

ShaneShock said...

I had a '76 Firebird in high school, circa 1990. Although not as vintage as times you're talking about, cruisin' in my home town climbed to popularity, and then the local cops suddenly declared it illegal. I think around that time is when everyone began developing phobias of teenagers in groups.

SS

Steve Perry said...

Everybody has always had phobias of teenagers in groups -- and rightly so ...

Anonomouse said...

"Of course, if your buddy realized what you were up to -- you could only pull the trick once -- he would start pounding on your back and yelling, "Sit up! Sit up, you fucker! Sit up!""

I figure a quick tap on the brakes, sending your head into the glovebox, would disabuse you of that notion.

Steve Perry said...

Nah, tap your brakes at Hopper's somebody'd plow into you, it was bumper-to-bumper of a Friday or Saturday night. Besides, big as those cars were, you had room to get a hand up to stop yourself in time ...

The other car trick was at the traffic circle -- which was how major interchanges used to work before cloverleafs. Roundabouts, I think they call them in England. We had a big one at Florida and Airline Hwy., and as we were seeing how fast we could take it, a passenger could, in the dark, reach under the steering wheel and grab it, so when the driver started relaxing out of the curve, the wheel seem to be frozen. That was good for a moment of pure panic.

Or, come to a red light, the shotgun passenger would jump out and run around the car three times. If he made it back before the light changed, the driver owed him a beer.

If he didn't, you left him there ...