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The Summer Cruise–A Strange Michigan Phenomenon July 26, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in Humor & Satire, parenting & family.
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I’m not from Michigan originally. In fact, I’m from Back East…Bahstohn…to be precise. So there are certain Michigan summer traditions that are just anathema to my understanding, things that even after five years of living here, I really still cannot wrap my brain around. Among them are the Summer Cruises. No, no…not that kind of cruise, where you actually board a boat and go somewhere. This is the kind of cruise that involves motor vehicles and occurs on dry land…after all, this is the Motor City.

Here in Michigan, we are the home of the Big Three; and four wheels and a running board (and a four-cylinder combustion engine) is what we’re all about. We love our hot rods and muscle cars…we love the power. (Okay, maybe the Big Three are getting a little greener…GM does have the largest fleet of fuel efficient vehicles on the market.) In fact, the love affair with the automobile is so strong here that we are the home of several summertime rituals: The Cruises. No, not Tom and Katie and not Norwegian, Princess or Carnival, although the atmosphere is kind of carnival like. Only in Detroit’s ‘burbs do people in the sweltering heat of the summer actually line up to inhale exhaust and watch cars go up and down the boulevards. No. Really. They Do. It’s crazier than NASCAR — hey, at least NASCAR’s got speed, and if you’re lucky, you might even see a really cool crash where the driver mysteriously walks away unharmed and the crash doesn’t end up causing gridlock for miles.

But in the summer in Detroit and its surrounding suburbs, folks bring out the lawn chairs and mini tents, some making camp the night before to “get a good seat” for events like the Telegraph, Woodward and Downriver cruises. (The Telegraph Cruise is today, in fact.) Hailing from back East myself, where we can think up a ton of other strange summer-time tortures, I find this to be a uniquely Midwestern thing. For hours on end, getting sunburns that would make the heartiest of Maine lobsters envious, folks sit along the sidewalks and curbstones (or grass for the communities without curbs) and watch the same people who are quick to tailgate and cuss you out for driving the speed limit in the left lane drive ten to fifteen miles under the posted speed limit just to show off their classic (and not-so-classic) cars.

The sweet perfume of hot asphalt, turtle wax and exhaust hangs in the air. People cheer as they see their favorite cars go by, the stories of “my first car,” “my first time” “that old car we used to have…” and “the ’75 cruise” are traded among the spectators while drivers honk in appreciation to the salutes of praise from their admirers.

Ironically, some of the folks lined up to get their summer doses of carbon monoxide, are the same ones who are the first to call the cops when Mr. Hotroding Teenager revs his engine and blares his sound system to mind-altering levels while driving through the subdivision. But at the cruises, almost anything goes, even the lips of the most hardened curmudgeon will turn up ever so slightly at the sight of that candy-apple red, perfectly restored 64 ½ Mustang that reminds him of his youth.

We even plan art events around the cruises. In Boston, when the Museum of Fine Arts did its 2005 exhibition Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection the focus was on the beauty of the machine…form over function…the very fashion of the auto.  But here, where form and function are inseparable when it comes to the automobile and its enthusiasts, the summertime cruises are an even greater display of the function of the form. Every year in Taylor, the Taylor Cultural Arts Commission and its sister group the Friends of the Arts hosts Crusin’ for the Arts — part classic car show, part fundraiser — focusing on the art of vehicle — interior and exterior — from the beauty and hum of a perfectly tuned engine to the polished chrome fins on ’47 Chrysler, so shiny that you could adjust your makeup in it.

Tops and windows down, sound systems up, exhaust blowing, car-tans in progress … it’s summer time in the suburbs of Detroit, and the cruising is easy. Thankfully gas prices have dipped to below $4.00/gallon, otherwise it might have cost a King’s ransom to participate. I can already smell the Turtle Wax, and I’m secretly wondering how long it will be before the Sierra Club protests this GHG-emitting tradition.

Copyright © 2008, Erika-Marie S. Geiss



1. weirdits - July 28, 2008

What a great American tradition! You’re writing an article about this, right? Because it would make an excellent one. We have several car shows in my small town, because of the tourists. VW parades, Corvettes, PT Cruisers, scooters, Mustangs, and the big Antique Auto show filled with classic rides. I don’t know why, but I will stand out in the sun and elbow a stranger when the car people start tossing out candy. I don’t even like candy, but then it feels competition, LOL.

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