When I think of cruising the streets three memories come to mind.
The first is that great movie, “American Graffiti,” which takes place almost entirely on the strip where the kids cruise at just a few miles per hour, trading insults and girls from car to car.
Remember that scene where the teen age punk tells the nerd how things used to be when the strip was much more heavily populated on a Saturday night than in 1963?
I also remember Elkhart, Indiana. We had some friends whose son was courting a young lady from Goshen, Indiana, who had never been cruising and he was going to take her on the experience.
Now don’t laugh. I had never been cruising, either. But I did borrow my parents’ vehicles whenever possible.
Dad had a 1965 Jeep-type vehicle that was painted “International Orange.” It was made by the International Company, famous for the International Harvester farm equipment. It had been used by the local electric company and had a small bed with bend seats that ran the length.
It was a four-on the floor transmission and the top was removable.
One summer I talked dad into letting me take the top off.
He thought that was pretty neat, Grandpa Phillips wasn’t as impressed.
“What are you going to do when it rains?” Grandpa asked.
“Stay home,” I thought, but wouldn’t dare to talk back to Grandpa.
That topless truck was really neat until the time came to put the top back on. We had a terrible time getting it done and I spent most the effort with my heart in my mouth, wondering what kind of trouble I got myself into.
I also learned a lesson with that truck. One fall day I drove it to school and left the headlights on. When I went out at noon, the battery was nearly dead. I guess I probably got a friend to give me a jump and let it run to charge it up. Then, after I shut it off, I started it again to be sure it would run!
Dad explained to me that night that every time you start a car, it just runs down the battery. Oh, well, it ran when I got in it to drive home that afternoon.
About that time, Dad decided he wanted to trade off the orange truck. He traded it in on a 1966 Rambler.
I loved that car, too. It didn’t have much “oompf” from the 6 cylinders under the hood but I mostly drove it around town anyway.
I think it was that care I drove to get a half gallon of milk for mom one night in the winter.
Now, mom didn’t specify what store to go to and I think she planned on me driving to the Westside Super a few blocks from our house.
There was Tony’s Grocery Story on the other side of town, on the road to Barron Lake, the grocery that was furthest from home and still in town. That was the one I went to.
It was a cold night and the roads were getting icy as I found the longest route I could take to get home. I remember one of the streets ran between the high school football field and Ring Lardner Jr. High School (named for the author, who grew up in Niles.)
Driving down the street I lost control and did a 360 in the middle of the road.
“That was interesting,” I thought after the car came to a halt. No harm, no foul. “Let’s try that again!”
So, I did and my parents never found out for many years.