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Doug Clark: Downtown may be hip, but it still needs cruising on Riverside Avenue

Matt Johnson, 22, and Nicci  Springer, 17, share an embrace outside the Muffler Mart on Division Street, while Katie Anderson, 17, changes the CD. Cruising and hanging out in Spokane has changed its look and location over the last past 40 years. Most of today's teens no longer drive the downtown strip of Riverside Avenue, but instead park along Division Street and compare cars and music. Jason Millstein/Spokesman-Review (Jason Millstein/Spokesman-Review)
Matt Johnson, 22, and Nicci Springer, 17, share an embrace outside the Muffler Mart on Division Street, while Katie Anderson, 17, changes the CD. Cruising and hanging out in Spokane has changed its look and location over the last past 40 years. Most of today's teens no longer drive the downtown strip of Riverside Avenue, but instead park along Division Street and compare cars and music. Jason Millstein/Spokesman-Review (Jason Millstein/Spokesman-Review)

Downtown Spokane is in the vise grips of a serious hipsterfication and the neon signs are everywhere.

Formerly frumpy flophouses are being transformed into enticing hotels and apartments. Neighborhoods once known for their vigorous crack trade are now home to posh whiskey dens, event centers and foodie destinations.

Words like “condos” and “lofts” are rolling off tongues again.

Riverfront Park is undergoing a costly yet important mayoral legacy makeover.

Trust me. In a few years, my hometown will look so chic that the tourists will hardly pay notice to all the potholes.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one thing missing from downtown nirvana. We need to bring back that once-grand tradition of kids cruising Riverside.

Or “tooling” Riverside.

Or “dragging the gut.”

The decade of your prime acne cover-up years usually will determine what you called the phenomenon of motoring bumper-to-bumper through the downtown business core on Friday and Saturday nights.

Cruising was a true spectacle. Like Beer Pong, it’s one of the few sports where you can be both spectator (parked and sitting on the hood of your car) and active participant at the same time.

Why bring back cruising?

It would create the appearance of a vibrant honking and hollering Spokane nightlife, something the downtown only sees during the Lilac Parade, Hoopfest and the occasional food riot.

Cruising, alas, pretty much petered out, thanks to a number of social pressures, as in: ticket-happy cops, draconian no parking laws, City Council fist shaking, ever-soaring gas prices, concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning, video rentals, and automobiles that kept coming out looking dorkier and dorkier.

In my day, nobody would’ve wanted to be caught dead in a Prius, let alone go cruising in one.

Ah, but what a blast while it lasted.

This was not a practice exclusive to Spokane, of course. Kids cruised in virtually every American city.

Hell, George Lucas made a hit movie about it with Harrison Ford four years before “Star Wars.”

Not having my own set of wheels meant that I had to rely on the kindness of cruisers like my friend Bill who had a red Chevelle that went like holy hell.

Gary, another pal, drove an old Packard that ran slower than a Heinz ketchup pour. On the plus side, the beast could haul the entire Dugger clan with room to lease.

Once in a while, my old man would loan me the keys to the family’s ’65 Dodge Dart, which proved a reliable though lackluster cruise-mobile.

I dreamed of owning a GTO or Dodge Charger or maybe even a Camaro to slog up and down Riverside from about 8 p.m. until 2 a.m.

The route was a long, circuitous loop that involved some side streets as long as they led you back onto Riverside.

And round and round we went.

Some kids dared cruise Division, too, but I was never so adventurous.

Cruising was our pre-computer version of Facebook. Actually, it was more like a Face-to-Facebook, which involved rolling down a window to tweet at a hot girl or some dude you recognized from school.

I spent an evening with the downtown cruisers for a 1985 Progress Edition story that was published in The Spokesman-Review.

I remember meeting three Ferris kids that night: Eric, Rene and Pam, this cute cheerleader type, who claimed that cruising was a great way to meet guys.

Right on cue, a fool in a jacked-up green Ford pickup with mammoth tires rolled up, leaned out his window and hollered: “Yo, baaaabe! Come on and jump in mah truck!”

Pam ignored the overture and kept on yakking as if hillbilly truckster wasn’t even there.

“It’s fun to show off your car and meet people,” she told me.

Yeah. Like she needed any help meeting people.

I’m a realist, of course. I realize the golden age of cruising or tooling is deader than the leisure suit.

Cruising wouldn’t be the same if we brought it back, but that’s OK. I think cruising in this age of social media could be pretty darned hilarious.

Think about it.

Millennial cruisers would take an Uber ride to go one way down Riverside. Then they would get out and call for a Lyft for the ride back.

During the trips, they’d sit in the back seats, posting photos on Instagram and texting all of their friends about what a wild and crazy time they were having.

Lol!


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