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In what is fast becoming an American tradition, cruise nights now fill the evenings across the nation as that special car rolls out on display signa
ling the start of summer and later, the end of summer.
The name cruise nights is actually a misnomer and a carryover from the earlier decades when you would literally "cruise" up and down certain streets in your neighborhood in your hot rod or custom car, or any plain old car. It was a major social event for guys interested in all aspect of cars and the girls who rode with them. It was also a good opportunity to meet girls.
Today, a cruise night means parking your "ride" at a local drive-in, bar, bowling alley or anywhere that has a large parking lot and access to food and drink. You pull in, open your hood and walk around to meet your friends and see what the other guys brought, what they did to their machines and trade stories and advice about cars. It's required to have music from the '50s playing, loudly, to set the scene. Motorcycles are also welcome.
In the Buffalo area, there are 38 cruise nights listed in the annual Clutch Artists Calendar of Events. It shows an event every night of the week except Sunday, running from early May to mid September, and I'm sure not all cruise nights are included because new ones spring up every year.
A big attraction in addition to the cars is that it's free to walk around and enjoy the spectacle.
This goes on all across America, as evident by just typing in "cruise nights" on any Internet search engine. It's a spinoff of the famous cruise nights of the 1940s and '50s where the cars rolled up and down the street and were depicted in the 1973 film "American Graffiti." No more rolling - now we park.
Cruise nights have a language all their own. Discussions include terms such as "air ride," "Edelbrock or Offenhauser heads", "all steel body," "two quads," "hood louvers," "skirts," "clear coat," "suicide doors," "glass packs," "baby spots," "rolled and pleated" and more esoteric terms. Questions abound: "who did your chrome?" "your upholstery?" "you run nitro in that?", "Stan do the pin striping?", "Moe do your glass?"
And of course, the answers are there. Cars at a cruise night are beautiful machines owned and created by talented individuals who can tear down an engine, replace all the parts with high-performance expensive parts, put it all together and it runs just fine. Many do their own paint jobs, and pin striping is an art. If they don't know how to do something, they know who can, and who is good at it.
It's very expensive to build a street rod or custom car with parts, paint and upholstery running into the many thousands of dollars. More if you have to pay to have the work done. Some one-of-a-kind paint jobs cost more than $10,000.
Owners are people who love the automobile and who love making a car into their own personal statement, whether it's a hot rod racer or a unique custom design of their own. Many dedicate all their spare time into their personal machine, and they are all proud of it.
Will the next generation continue this cruise night tradition? Today's young people have other interests, and I'm sure they have never "cruised."
But for now, the new "tradition" motors on, an ingrained part of summer evenings. Soon the "beauties" will be garaged - safe out of the winter - waiting to "cruise" once again in America's spring.