The film American Graffiti was a modest hit starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and a not yet famous Harrison Ford as a drag racer. George Lucas, who went on to make some space movies you may have heard of, directed the film.
American Graffiti was a love letter to an American pastime that’s almost been forgotten —dragging Main. The film was lauded at the time for being entertaining while having essentially no plot — just like actual dragging Main.
What the film did well was capture the spirit and feel of the small town tradition of cruising.
It’s been more than two decades since I last participated in this teenaged rite of passage. That was until last week when it was resurrected on a Monday night.
A lot had changed, but some things stayed the same.
The faces I honked at and waved to had gained a few wrinkles, perhaps some gray hair and a lot of kids. When I was in high school doing this, hardly anyone had their kids in the cars with them. Now everyone had kids with them — big kids. The one I dragged along is 20 years old, and kind of embarrassed by his mom and dad honking and hollering at friends.
He just didn’t get the magic of it.
Dragging Main was part car show, part social gathering and part alleged mating ritual. Mostly it just was, because that’s all there was to do on a Friday or Saturday night. With the exceptions of going to movies, bowling, camping, reading, homework, eating one’s self sick at the ice cream bar, going to an arcade, playing basketball and working on a time machine, there just wasn’t much to do.
In a way, it was a bit of a headtrip for me. I was still cruising up and down the street in a brawny Mustang. Only this time my wife was in the passenger seat, so trying to pick up chicks in the Big O parking lot clearly wasn’t an option.
If I’m being honest, it also wasn’t an option in high school either. I probably put 10,000 miles on Main Street as a kid, but to my chagrin I never picked up any girls. Or for that matter I didn’t even know anyone who did.
I heard plenty of suspiciously unverified stories involving a mysterious “hot girl,” but that’s all they were — stories.
Besides, cruising Main was as much about observing the social order of things as it was burning our parents’ gas. Any Friday night, there was always someone who wanted to fight anyone who looked in their general direction. Then there was also usually someone who wanted to fight you specifically, so you tried to avoid those guys.
You also had to watch who you parked next to. Can’t pull in there, the cowboys have that parking lot. Maybe across the street, except that’s where the stoners are and cops are watching them. Popular kids congregated at this place. Drama kids were doing something weird at that place. Those guys over there are clearly too old to be hitting on those girls. That group of sophomores down the street are clearly too young to have that many empty beer cans rolling off their tailgates.
Let’s just keep driving. Turn around at the Burger Mill, drive up to 200 North, turn around and head back south.
Thankfully, not everything else was as consistent as the route.
Much like our bodies, many of those infantile social constructs we clung to in high school seem to have broken down over the years.
Last week as we burned our own gas, we were just happy to see faces we recognized. Thanks to social distancing and our advanced age, no one tried to pick a fight.
As fun as it was to revisit, sadly Harrison Ford didn’t show up to challenge me to a drag race.
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