There once was a time back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s when cruising your car through a downtown area was illegal. You read that right. Pass by the same place more than once or park your car and “loiter” around it for any length of time and you could guarantee yourself a visit from local law enforcement.
Car people had become undesirables, hoodlums and a pox on society in general. Sure, some of my fellow car enthusiasts brought this attitude on themselves with anti-social behavior and general hooliganism with smoky burnouts and street racing activities that made us unwanted in our own home towns.
Before long, downtown business areas were on the ropes. Nobody was going downtown…they were all heading to the mall and the super-store out on the highway. City governments and business people began to ask, “What could be done to fix this? What could we do to bring folks back down town?” Planets and people aligned and thanks to cooperation between car clubs, car people, local businesses, local governments and law enforcement got together and decided to see what they could do. And the cruise night revival was born.
Over the course of a few years, there were cruise nights all over the map. My old hometown of Flemington had a Saturday cruise night but the big event in our area would be the cruise in Somerville, NJ. Started in 1989 by the Classic Cruizers car club, the Somerville Cruise became a local phenomenon. Folks from all over New Jersey would roll in with their cool car, truck or motorcycle to enjoy the camaraderie, local restaurants and shopping. By 2009, the cruise got so big that the town took over the event, providing a DJ and other activities for the cruisers to enjoy.
When we first started going back in 1998, you needed to get there by 5:00 if you wanted a parking spot on the happening part of the street which went from Doughty St. on the west side to Bridge St. on the east side. This past year it became obvious that if you got to town after 4:00 you would have to park behind the church and by this point the cruise on Main St. had extended all the way to Grove St. with cars displayed in front of the County Courthouse as well. Well over 100 cars and trucks settle in for a fun Friday night in what has become one of the largest weekly events anyplace.
If you have been following my adventures recently, you know that my ’65 Rambler Marlin has finally made its way back to roadworthiness. With that accomplished, it was time to return to Somerville for the Friday night cruise. Friday August 8th was D-Day, and with my wife in the back seat, my daughter riding shotgun, I pointed the Marlin towards Somerville for the first time. We arrived too late for a spot on the street, but it didn’t really matter, we were there with an old car after an absence of 13 years. Several of my hoodlum friends and family members made the trip as well.
We had a great time seeing all the cool cars, running into a few old friends and even meeting up with our good friends Stan and Jon, the owners of Main St. Motors. And in one of those funny small-world things that happen from time to time, it turns out that at one time in it’s past, Stan and Jon owned my Marlin!
Even if you don’t have a cool car of your own, you should get out there and support your local cruise night, check out the cars, support the local businesses and be a part of the cruise night revival. Don’t let it happen without you.
Our return to the cruise was not all about us though. The recent passing of my oldest and dearest friend left a huge hole in a lot of lives. To honor his memory, his ’66 Mustang GT-350H clone, which had just completed a decade-long rebuild, was brought out to the cruise by his brother. My friend’s wife and daughter also rode up in the black and gold faux Shelby and it was a bittersweet ride indeed. Seeing the car there without him was a pretty emotional thing for a lot of us especially since it got so much attention from the crowd that night. I am sure he would have been pleased. Speed, you are missed every single day.