Everybody who grew up in Modesto during the 1950s has fond memories of cruising, that adolescent rite of passage immortalized by George Lucas in his 1973 film American Graffiti. Yes, the force is strong in Modesto but car culture is stronger yet! A spontaneous Friday night activity for teenagers anxious to show off their cars and pick up some dates, cruising originally took place on 10th street but had already moved to McHenry Avenue –the “new” main drag– by the time Modesto became my home; instead of a weekly happening, it had morphed into a once-a-year celebration (Graffiti Night) held on Saturday night right after graduation.
I personally never joined the bumper-to-bumper parade: I like to keep a bit of distance from noxious fumes… Rick and I preferred to walk down the street and admire the shiny classic cars and custom hot rods. Besides, the street offered terrific entertainment as well: 50s and 60s music, girls in poodle skirts, cops on horses, the very heavily tattooed guy who showed up with a huge python coiled around his neck year after year.
The City Council banned cruising in 1993 as the event had become too unruly. There were several dark years where Modesto seemed to forget its rich car history. Graffiti Night was finally resurrected into Graffiti Summer: throughout June, car aficionados from all over descend upon Modesto to enjoy several classic and custom car shows, festivals, Hula Hoop contests, and a “regulated” car parade that once again extends to McHenry Avenue. Maybe it’s no longer spontaneous enough for George Lucas; maybe he’d rather keep the memories of his youth intact. The Native Son has attended only once.
I did a double-take last year when I was in Paris: there was a car show right behind the Hôtel de Ville and all vehicles on display were belles américaines, like the legendary Chevys and Fords of American Graffiti, the true stars of the movie. Guess what: George wasn’t there either.
Les belles américaines: the beautiful American cars (i.e. classics)