The Cruise

(Not a part of the home tour - just another great Seventies memory)

"Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now/Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town" - Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game"

Most teenage boys cruise around in cars at night on the local "drag" (a popular place to cruise) when they first learn how to drive. Not so with me and my friends. My friend Mike McDaniel originated "the cruise" in 1975, after we had both graduated from Burbank High, in 1974. Of course, young males all over Southern California were wasting gas (which was about 60 cents a gallon at the time, by the way) doing the same thing - the difference was that Mike and I were doing it in the hillsides of upper Burbank, pretty much by ourselves. We had the occasional company of our more ambitious friend Bob Avery, when he was home from college.

I'd drive home from the Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, CA (about a three hour drive from Burbank) on a Friday night, and, after working at the Lincoln Cafe, the family business, for the Lockheed evening crowd, take off for Mike's house. We then would take his '66 Lincoln Continental to the Hollywood Tower Records and then back to Burbank to while away a good deal of the night, driving around looking for trouble.

The difference between teens now and us in those innocent days was that we accomplished our mischief unarmed.

Below is a 1979 image of Mike stopped at the outdoor Jack-in-the-Box drive-through menu. We're seated in his second Lincoln, a '69. (I had one, too - a '68. Mike later bought it from me. Guess you could say we liked big cars.) Note that a small soda was 35 cents and that I could purchase a shake - for throwing on somebody's windshield - for 60 cents. Even cheaper food prices are shown here. I mention the "Indigestion Special" elsewhere; it was a delight that could be had at virtually any fast food joint, but we preferred Jack's.

Our base was the Mormon church (specifically the parking lot) on Orange Grove Avenue and Sunset Canyon Drive. This historic building - it had been a country club and speakeasy during Prohibition times - had a great view of the valley, as illustrated above. It also had a terrific Scouts' room, essentially the basement of the entire building. It was the perfect horror chamber walk-through at Halloween. A tunnel led from the basement to the upper hills, in case of a police raid. Still owned and used by the Mormon church, my pal Mike now serves as the building superintendent.

One activity we particularly liked was to drive to the Mormon church parking lot - one of Burbank's favorite make-out spots, by the way - and shine our car lights (fitted with 100,000 candlepower airplane landing lights as high beams) on would-be lovers. This would normally irritate the driver to the point of driving after us, and a merry high-speed chase would ensue. Many a night I have known the terror and thrill of Mike's taking tight turns at high speeds in narrow residental streets in that 5,200 pound car. Not to mention the discomfort of the Indigestion Special making its way up and down my esophagus. But it was a blast for us dumb kids, and we did it for a number of years before we realized it was incompatible with maturity and married life, not to mention vehicular safety. Mike obviously found other things to do, if his five kids are any indication.

There may well be a second generation at play. My last phone conversation with Mike revealed that his two high school-aged kids now own a Mustang.

After a two year interruption while Mike was away on a mission for the Mormon church, we were still pretty much involved with the nighttime cruise in 1978, when I bought my 1971 Porsche 914 (pictured below in the church lot). Gloss black, fast, low, open-topped and equipped with a loud cassette deck, it should have been the perfect cruise vehicle. Problem was, we were beginning to mature, and whether we realized it or not we were ready to move on to other things.

Mike and I would both be engaged by the end of 1979, and for some reason the thrill of the cruise didn't translate well to mature female companionship.

Some Cruise Highlights

- We once had the great idea of putting a red transparent plastic dome over our hand-held, 12 volt floodlight to simulate an undercover Burbank policeman. It worked great for awhile - the people we red-lighted always pulled over so we could do a high-speed pass - until we tried it on the driver of a BMW who noted our license plate number and phoned in a complaint. The Burbank cops easily found us that night, and pulled us over and cited us at the entrance to the church lot, by Mike's girlfriend's house. (She and her parents watched through the window as the cops frisked us both.) When the policeman saw my I.D. card and noted I was an active duty Marine, he demanded to know, "What would your commanding officer say about this?" My snappy response was, "I dunno. You're not going to tell him, are you?" (He didn't.)

- One pair of lovers in a Ford Pinto wagon - California license plate GWN 357, so we called him "Gwin" - never seemed to get the idea that we wanted them out of the church lot. I was about ready to loan them some money for a hotel room. One night we sneaked up to them on foot, and I fired a blob of lead at the Pinto's front grille from a wrist-braced slingshot of considerable power. At the awful sound of shattering plastic from his grille we fled and we never saw this car again. Too bad, really; he was always game and we could always expect a good chase from him.

- I wouldn't have thought it was possible to consummate a relationship in the rear of a Volkswagen Beetle, but one couple one night proved us wrong. In the glare of several hundred-thousand candlepower of light, we looked on, amazed at the athletic prowess, not to mention flexibility, displayed. The guy finally grabbed a jacket in a lame attempt to hide himself from our view. When he realized we weren't going to go away, he finally left.

- The standard escape procedure for losing underpowered cars (there were a lot of them in the Seventies) was to get the Lincoln headed up one of the hills and tromp on the pedal, taking advantage of all 325 horses. This tactic used a lot of gas but it put distance between us and our pursuers in no time. At the top of the hill we'd kill the lights and fade into the darkness. No telling how many near hits with other cars we courted by doing this... Once, in lights-out mode in my 1974 Beetle, I nearly broadsided a tow truck. It was one of the great scares of my young life.

- Another evasive tactic involved a high speed entry into what looked like a dead end street; we called this "Avery's Alley" after its discoverer, our friend Bob Avery. In reality, the street curved left by and behind a residence and back out onto a parallel street. Often, our pursuer would stop and wait for us to realize our "mistake." When we got to the parallel street we would shut off the lights and slip by unnoticed. There were two of these on the hillsides, one in Burbank and another in Glendale. The Glendale one had a nasty bump at the end that often had our pursuers coming down hard and noisily on their oil pans - the sparks were always interesting to watch.

- Another escape route was through the curving driveway of a residence, entering into and emerging from a hedge. I'm sure the owner appreciated this; I always wondered when he would get around to putting up a chain at the end of his driveway to trap us. (He never did.)

- Driving down a residental street one night in my Lincoln, Mike and I spied a handbag in the middle of the street. I swerved, Mike threw the door open and, in a sweeping gesture, grabbed the handbag and reached into it. With Mike's loud "Ahhhhach!" it dawned on me that the purse had dog (or human) excrement in it. I don't know how I got him home to wash his hands: The tears were welling up in my eyes, I was laughing so hard.

- On my way home from Mike's house one night, after a cruise, I zipped down Empire Boulevard, a long stretch of mostly empty roadway, in my 914. I must have been doing about 80 mph when I saw the red lights behind me. Pulling over, the Burbank cop came up to my window, scratched his forehead (leaving fingerprint dust upon it) and said, in a thick German accent, "Zis is not der Autobahn, Herr Porsche." The speeding tickets I accumulated in that car made keeping it expensive, insurance-wise.

- KISS (the rock group) mythology played a role in our nocturnal ramblings. One evening in the church lot we played "God of Thunder (and Rock n' Roll)" through the Lincoln P.A. system, awesomely loud. (I can well remember the sound reverberating off the sides of the canyon.) Then Mike tromped on the accelerator to exit, and we heard a mighty "bang!" A motor mount had given way, and the engine jumped up against the hood, leaving a power steering pulley indentation on the outside. As I recall we continued to drive the car without bothering to get the motor mount repaired... On one other evening, we disrupted some church lot lovers with a high decibel rendition of the apropos "Calling Dr. Love."

- Another feature of Mike's Lincoln was the fact that, with a quick swing of the steering wheel right and a swift recovery, one could launch the passenger side front hubcap at enemies in a straight line to the car's direction. Since the hubcaps were a heavy, premium trim style, this was a considerable threat to pedestrians. So the scenario would be this: a big, heavy, decrepit Lincoln Continental hoves into view barreling right at you, 200,000 candlepower glowing from twin aircraft landing lights. The car makes a swift dodge, then recovers, then turns away just before running you over. Then you're aware of the sound of a substantial hubcap rolling at you at more or less the speed of the car. Avoidance is impossible and the cap flips up your leg, smacking into your head causing multiple fractures. (This was conjectural, we never tried it. Replacement hubcaps were $70. But in addition to our store of unfolded paper clips and firecrackers launched from the Lincoln, this was yet another way to make life chancy for pedestrians.)

My wife is familiar with all of this stuff from my wild, unbridled days, of course, and I've driven her around our old stomping-grounds. But driving the same routes with her at night is a vastly different experience than doing it with Mike in the Lincoln as a young man.

Ah, testosterone and immaturity!

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