The song “At Last” wove through the sweltering heat of southern Idaho. I closed my eyes, listened to the mix of music and rumble.
One by one they had lined up, started their engines and began the cruise – ’55 Chevy Bel Air, GTO, ’46 Ford Business Coupe and ’37 Flatback, Chevy Chevelle, Shelby Cobra, ’60 Corvette, ’50 Merc, Ford Mustang and the trucks of the ’40s and ‘50s – all spit shined, polished, loud and muscular. Up and down the boulevard they cruised, showing off beauty and beastly engines.
It was Cruise Night in Emmett, Idaho – a summer tradition for years but this was my first time at this cruisin’ event. Lawn chairs lined the main drag and people filled the streets on the warm summer night for a bit of nostalgia and fun.
Cruise participants added to the time warp. Women dressed in knee-length pencil skirts, blouses, scarves and hairstyles of yore. A purple ’60 Cadillac cruised by, its occupants waved jeweled hands at the bystanders, evening dresses topped off the Caddy prestige.
I’ve been to a lot of car shows – you can’t be married to a car buff and not pick up on what’s hot and what’s not in the car kingdom – but this was different. This was Ventura Boulevard 1969, and on this night, as the sun began to dip below the golden mountains that surround this small community, I realized these weren’t just cars cruising by, this was my life.
Two-tone red and white with trademark fins and white sidewalls, the ’55 Chevy Bel Air was the car my grandparents drove. It was in our driveway in New York and made the trip to California after we moved.
A gorgeous red ’66 Mustang 289 drove slowly by. This was, after all, a cruise where slow is cool. I had a ’65 Mustang Fastback in high school. Fastbacks are rare, my son tells me. “Since the movie ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ introduced Eleanor, Mustang Fastbacks have been snatched up.”
My husband had a midnight blue ’66 Mustang, side pipe glass packs, front end raked, back raised, wide tires, mag wheels, totally awesome rumble. It took us on our first date, endured countless gear grinds when I learned to drive a stick but more importantly, this classic beauty safely brought home our two newborns and put our baby daughter to sleep when she was teething.
A GTO cruised by, overhead scoop and beautiful slate blue color. In 1973, we almost bought a GTO. “Always wanted a Goat,” my husband said. We threw the playpen into the trunk; heck, we could’ve thrown in the household furniture and still had room. “You could hide five dead guys in that trunk,” the owner said to us. “Or six live ones,” my husband quipped.
I smiled when the ’58 Thunderbird passed – this was the car I piled my kids into and off we went to the laundromat.
The evening cooled as the sun finally set. Engines revved, rubber burned. Roadsters, drag and muscle cars moved past in a parade of smiles and waves. The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” filtered through the air along with the ’69 El Camino, Chevy Nomad, Olds 88, Studebaker, Ford Fairlane, Chevy Camaro and Malibu … the cars that cruised the boulevard back in the day have become car legends.
Finally, the mighty GMC truck, candy apple red, chrome shiny as glass, coasted past me. My dad had a GMC pickup. Not nearly as pretty – in fact, it was dingy yellow and sounded like a tank. It was his work truck. He loved the old beast. That truck careened through several Christmas tree lots as we laughed and grumbled searching for the perfect tree. It was quite a night; our last holiday together before he passed away.
I closed my eyes, wiped a tear as the song “At Last” once again drifted through the evening sky on this night of cruisin’ memories.