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2002 Woodward Dream Cruise (8/16/2002)
This is an enormous undertaking, this Woodward Dream Cruise, this free circus up and down Woodward Avenue between Detroit and Pontiac on a Saturday night in the middle of August. Hundreds of merchants all along the route through Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Huntington Woods and Royal Oak and and Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, and up and down the side roads in Berkley, Clawson and Troy, count on this weekend as the biggest of their summer. I give it three years before it becomes the Pepsi Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise presented by Rolex and brought to you by XM Radio.
Merchants who have nothing to sell to the million-strong crowd of onlookers and participants, the storm door companies and drapery stores, rent parking spaces instead at ten bucks a crack. Everybody in greater Detroit with any kind of food service trailer finds a spot somewhere along the route to dispense everything from popcorn to tacos and thousands of gallons of soda pop and lemonade. The cops are out by the hundreds. All the Detroit manufacturers have hospitality tents or rented restaurants and condos, and fleets of one-offs and prototypes on display to show everyone how cool and hip and happening they all are. If you don’t have a T-shirt with some kind of car on it, please go away.
Fun though it may be, colorful as it is, and overwhelming in its size and scope, the Woodward Dream Cruise has become just another commercial enterprise like the Michigan 500 NASCAR race 75 miles west of here or a Tigers-Yankees game at Comerica Park, a few miles further south on Woodward Avenue.
Cruising Woodward Avenue, a teenage and college-kid practice that goes back to the late 1950s in Detroit, was about street racing, a practice that was as illegal then as it is now. You cruised up and down the street and in and out of the drive-ins until you found the car you wanted to race, propositioned the guy, and then went out and raced him from stoplight to stoplight under the intense glare of the old yellow street lamps and your peers.
It was not about malts and burgers and conviviality and lining up dates for Saturday night. It was not about cruising along for three hours at 15 miles an hour with 100,000 other cars in molasses-slow traffic, driving through puddles of puked antifreeze from a ’53 Chevy and taking no chances. It was about street racing.
Street racing on Woodward Avenue was what got this thing shut down in the first place, 30 years ago, and why it took so long for all the communities along Woodward, and their police departments, to let it start up again, one weekend a year.
Kids whose fathers were senior executives at Dodge and Plymouth and Pontiac and Chevrolet and Ford and the rest showed up in early summer with this year’s hottest car, and in late summer with next year’s hottest car, loaned for the evening by beneficent dads who probably didn’t want to know what happened next.
The rich kids raced against other rich kids in new cars and the poor kids whose cars were older, many of which were faster than the stock Detroit hot rods, having been massaged continuously for a couple of years.
With the major intersections located a mile apart, the kids could reach speeds well in excess of 100 miles an hour on the huge boulevard with its grassy, tree-lined median strip. It was easy to turn off, run and hide if the cops were after you, and easier still to turn around and have another go at the same kid or a different kid in a different direction if the cops weren’t after you.