An ode to cruising

High gas prices are threatening an almost sacred American tradition — driving around aimlessly, cruising, if you will.

Driving around aimlessly is such a part of our culture that it has its own signature film, "American Graffiti," in which a group of teen-agers spend the night driving aimlessly around Modesto, California.

There is even a female version of driving around aimlessly, ‘"Thelma & Louise," in which two women drive distractedly and aimlessly toward Mexico. The trip ends badly, but as any small-town kid who spends summer evenings driving up and down Main Street could tell you, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

America’s roadside culture grew out of driving around aimlessly. Drive-in malt shops and drive-in movies sprang up to give some sense of purpose to just driving around. There is a whole genre of music, largely but not totally from the 1950s, to drive aimlessly by. The music is sold in boxed sets by public television and on late-night infomercials.

In the musical play "Grease," whose teenagers would be driving around aimlessly if only the stage were larger, part of the set in the productions I have seen is a car, a ’49 to ’51 Ford, one of the great cruising machines.

An end to cruising has broad social implications for the nation because it’s how suburban young people meet and eventually propagate. We could be facing population loss.

And it’s just not young people. Adults will often prolong their drive by taking the long way home, taking "the scenic route" as it’s sometimes known. Oh, they might say they want to catch a few more minutes of Rush Limbaugh’s rococo tones or the last inning or two of the ball game but in fact they are responding to the primeval American urge to drive around aimlessly.

There’s no way public transportation can fill that need. If a bus driver said he was going to detour past the mall on the off chance that some of his buddies might be hanging out and on the even more off chance that some women might be hanging out with them, we would revolt. True, part of driving around aimlessly is doing it with all your friends, but the people on this bus are all strangers.

The enemies of the internal combustion engine will hail the end of driving around aimlessly for ending a waste of time and the Earth’s irreplaceable precious natural resources, blah, blah, blah. It’s simply the natural human urge to cramp someone else’s fun in the name of the common good.

But on a balmy summer night with not much else going on, when the house feels cramped, the TV is irritating, even these scolds deep in their souls feel something, somewhere calling them. It says, "Get in the car. Turn up the music. Check out your old neighborhood haunts." Maybe you’ll see some, maybe not. That’s the whole point of driving aimlessly. You can’t be disappointed. But do it before gas prices go up again.


  1. jzelensk

    Despite being a fervent environmentalist, I have to second Dale McFeatters’ nostalgic feelings of the loss of cruisin’.

    My 1968 muscle car remains under cover, yet I can’t seem to part with it. In its day, it received some raves and waves, even though most who noticed it had no idea what it was (a metallic scarab-gold Javelin SST with red line tires and an original black vinyl top…).

    A piece of America is fading fast.

  2. CheckerboardStrangler

    No one has to rid themselves of their muscle cars, if they indeed reside “under the covers”.
    What has changed is that the muscle car can no longer fulfill the role as a practical means of daily transportation.
    They are now exclusively playing the role of the pleasure craft, much the same way as a fishing boat or a private plane.
    The day might even come when we might have to retrofit our beloved nostalgiamobiles with environmentally responsible aftermarket pieces that prevent it from distressing an already beleagured atmosphere, but the musclebound American cruisers will remain still, even if the cost of ownership raises the bar until the ordinary wage earner can no longer afford them.
    Your classic Javelin is an appreciating investment, and if you sell it now, you will only be kicking yourself ten years from now when you see it on Barrett-Jackson Auctions, fetching ten times what you sold it for.

    Don’t crush it, don’t sell it, store it or restore it.

    Jeff H in Occupied TX
    Mo-Par or No-Car Guy

  3. knockknock

    Never fear, fellow aimless drivers. There is a way around the problem.

    Pack a picnic basket with goodies, include a portable DVD player and a copy of Easy Rider.

    Get behind the wheel. Do not turn key in ignition. Watch movie.

    In addition to the true meaning of the word aimless, you’ll happily save a small fortune on fuel.

    Knock Knock (owner of 94 Mustang GT convertible with only 55,000 miles, thanks to my flawless aimless-driving plan.)

  4. almandine

    Well, knock knock…

    Not to demean, but anybody who banks their nostalgia on a 94 Mustang and a DVD just doesn’t get it!!!

    On the other hand, you must be a pretty little young thing.