It's Labor Day Weekend already. Seems like just yesterday the snow was melting. Another summer shot to hell.
Speaking of snow, I ran into some up by Checkerboard Wednesday night. 34 degrees. Snow. In August. I have now officially seen it snow every month of the year in Montana what with August being the last hold out. Now if we could just get some in a few of the places that are on fire. That's what I was doing up by Checkerboard in the first place. I90 was closed because of the Derby Fire, so I had to take the scenic route to Butte.
Enough of the small talk, it's time to get to the real point of this post.
It's time for my annual boycott of Burn The Point.
If you're not from around here, Burn The Point is an annual doings put on by the City of Billings involving a classic car parade, a car show, a cruise night, basically a celebration of cool cars and cruising with waves of awesome automobilia rolling through town all weekend long. In other words, an entire weekend dedicated to the spirit of the American gearhead.
I know, I know, you're thinking that I've totally lost it this time. How in the hell could a car geek like me be opposed to something like Burn The Point? I'm not actually opposed to the concept of Burn The Point, quite the contrary actually. I think it's a kick ass idea, I'm just opposed to the fact that it's put on by the City Of Billings. It is one of Billings' major summer events, widely advertised and promoted as a means of drawing business to downtown. But still, how the hell could I be opposed to a weekend of kick ass cars? And what the hell does the City Of Billings have to do with it?
Let me tell you a story that just might clear things up a little.
Let's take a walk shall we? Back into the archives we go, back to about 1993 or '94, I'm not exactly sure of the year, the date doesn't matter, it's all relative anyway. See, this isn't a story about a specific occasion, it's fiction based on fact, embellished a little by bouncing around in this big, empty mellon between my shoulders, but mostly true even if it is a culmination of several actual occasions. Everything in this story actually happened, it just might not have happened all at the same time, and it might not have happened in this order, but it did happen. The files tend to be more and more corrupted the farther we dig back into the archives after all, so you'll just have to settle for the bits that I can clean up.
What happened isn't what's important anyway. What's important is the principle, the concept, the irony of the whole thing. Pay attention to the moral of the story in other words, and don't nitpick on the story itself because its sole purpose is to illustrate the point in question.
Now, turn on your minds eye, and let's take a little walk back through time.
It's Saturday night, in the summertime, late Saturday afternoon to be exact but Saturday night is the only thing on the mind of the young man in this story. He's been preparing for it all day, it's what he lives for after all. Life was simpler back then, it was that time in everyone's life that they think about when they're somewhere quiet with nothing else to worry about. It's the time in everyone's life that they think about when the present time in their lives sucks. It's the time in this young man's life before life got complicated. It's the time in my life before things got complicated.
He casually climbs the stairs from his basement apartment, stops at the top and lights a smoke. The sun's getting low in the sky, the air is getting cooler, and he stands for a moment just soaking it all up before turning and taking a few steps to the driveway.
Damn it looks good. He washed it earlier today, dried it lovingly with a baby soft chamois. Meguire's loves this guy, there's enough wax on this truck to supply a candle factory for an entire Christmas season. The paint is flawless, not some factory carbon copy like your Grand Pappy drives to the coffee shop, hell no. Custom paint, one of a kind, applied by a pro that took some serious pride in his work, and polished to perfection by its proud owner. Polished until it harnesses every orange and pink beam from the setting sun, then fires it back at onlookers with gusto. The lowered suspension adds to the effect, there's no question that this ride is meant for the streets. The polished aluminum wheels gleam, every crack and crevice cleaned and buffed, the low profile Pirrellis that sheath them shining black like pools of liquid pitch.
It was a long and tedious job, but it's been carried through to completion. The dark tinted windows are like mirrors. The interior, the tonneau cover, even the black rubber trim around the windshield, all are coated with enough Armor All to float a small yacht. Even the engine is clean enough to eat off of. Yeah, this guy takes Saturday night cruising seriously, and he really loves his truck.
He turns around and hops back down the stairs, to check on the other love of his life. When he'd last seen her, she was flying back and forth between the bedroom and bathroom in a virtual typhoon of mascara, eyeliner pencils, foundation bottles, powder puffs, and God knows what else, a towel wrapped around her head. He'd gone outside to avoid being strangled with a curling iron cord. She's sequestered herself in the bedroom now, surely digging through her collection of clothes and shoes looking for the perfect outfit. He heads toward the living room couch to wait.
As the bedroom door opens he realizes that his jaw is hanging nearly to his chest. He regains his composure as she smiles, tilts her head to one side, and innocently says "What?"
She knows "What", she's absolutely stunning, and the look on his face tells her so, he doesn't have to say a word. His eyes slowly drift from her feet up her black nylon clad legs, past the way too short black skirt, the frilly black blouse with the see through nylon parts in all the right places to leave as much as possible to the imagination, while making sure that said imagination is spurred instantly and vigorously to life. After lingering momentarily on the milky skin of her shoulders, noticing the freckles that he loves and she hates, they drift on over the strawberry blonde curls that cascade around her young, angelic face, finally settling on the soft blue eyes that captivate him. He smiles back at her, he tells her she's beautiful anyway and he can tell that she still likes hearing it. He takes her hand, and they head out the door for the evening.
He opens the door for her, she slides in not even stopping at the passenger side but heading straight for the middle of the bench seat. She hasn't been told to, she doesn't sit there because it's the "in thing", she sits there because she wants to. He likes the fact that she wants to.
He opens his door and slips into the driver's seat after pausing to check his reflection in the door glass. There's enough gel in his perfectly coiffed mullet to withstand a hurricane but he has to make sure. He lights a fire under the hood, and they slip silently out of the driveway. Some asshole hasn't invented the coffee can fart pipe muffler yet, it's not cool for 4 bangers to make noise in this time and place, that priveledge is still reserved for V8's. Right on Broadwater Ave., heading West now.
Just as he's thinking, "we need some tunes", she says out loud "we need some tunes". He loves it when they do that, when they're on the same page, when their thoughts are perfectly synchronized. He hopes they'll stay that way all night. He hopes they'll stay that way for the rest of their lives.
He pops the tape into the deck, remember those? Normally he likes loud assed rock and roll, but it's Saturday night, and they're cruising. Cruising is about image, cruising is about showing off. The paint and rims speak for themselves but just in case someone doesn't notice in spite of them, there'll be plenty of sounds to attract their attention in a moment. High hats start to snap the tweeters in the dash. 400 watts begin to pulse through cables the size of your thumb as 12 inches of Rockford Fosgate's finest thunder to life. Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre rap from the mids in the doors. Life is good, and the more old folks that scowl their way at the traffic lights, the better. This isn't just music for the ears, it's music for the entire being. The sound waves visually rippling their way down the graduation tassel hanging from the rear view mirror prove it. Extreme bass is annoying if it's someone else's, but it's different when you're a part of it.
Right on 24th Street. He takes his hand off of her knee only long enough to shift gears, the best part being that he knows he could move it higher and she wouldn't care. She'd pretend to care, but she wouldn't really.
Left on Grand, down to the nearest parking lot, flip a U, back down Grand and right onto 24th. His eyes scan the rides moving in the other direction, looking for people he knows. Someone yells his name out a window from time to time, a hand waves now and again, but no one important. These kids just want to be associated with the ride, they're nothing more than acquaintances to the occupants if even that.
There. She points to a parking lot with a bunch of people standing around a circle of minitrucks, paint gleaming under the streetlights, chrome polished to perfection, guys playing Hackey Sack, drop dead gorgeous young girls sitting on tailgates talking. The parking lot looks like a scene from some idealistic teen movie, or maybe the cover of a car magazine aimed at the then just beginning sport compact/minitruck crowd, but it isn't. It's the boys from his car club.
He swings in to check out the scene. There's another S10 like his, only with a convertible top. It belongs to the president of the club and it's a sweet ride, but he still likes his own paint job better.
A Mazda extended cab with a targa top and ghost flames, as well as an older Mazda with a smuggler shell full of M&M 15's and the biggest fucking amp anyone has ever seen.
A full sized Chevy shortbox with a built 454 under the hood, everything on it either frenched, filled, smoothed, or shaved, the closest thing here to being "old school".
A first generation Honda Prelude rolls up. It's clean, for an import car of its advanced age it's damn clean. Most people in this day and age still have a "use it up and throw it away" attitude when it comes to imports, the sport compact craze is just beginning and hasn't really caught on yet out here in the sticks. Very little about this bright red rice burner is stock, its owner has some skills and it shows.
A third gen Civic makes up the rest of the car contingency in this lot, vastly outnumbered by trucks. It sits with its doors open, tunes bumping, streetlights glistening in the gold spoke Dayton wires bulging from its fenders. Skateboarding a front wheel drive is hell on wheel bearings, but damn it looked cool back then.
Others are scattered around as well. Toyotas, Nissans, Ford Rangers, even a few old school minis like Chevy LUVs and Ford Couriers.
They get out, leaving the doors open to show off the flawless interior, and the newly installed blue neon lights behind the seat. You couldn't buy those at Wal-Mart back then, and they didn't plug into the cigarette lighter either, I made my own.
He takes another look at her as she walks toward him, damn she's fine.
The guys all give nods, handshakes, high fives, it didn't matter really, the point was just being there, being a part of it all, being surrounded by people with similar interests, being surrounded by an atmosphere that made you feel like anything could happen but no matter what it was, it'd be fun and exciting.
"Did so and so get out of jail yet?"
"Hell no, they gave him six months."
"Dude, check out my new rims."
"Too sweet man, where'd you get 'em?"
"I could tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya."
"You been pimping out your mom again, I know you have. That's the only way your sorry ass could afford those rims."
Everybody laughs, until someone says "Looks like we're about to get an eviction notice", and starts casually making their way toward their ride. All present utter quiet grievances as we do the same, the patrol car rolling slowly across the lot toward us. He doesn't have to say a word to us, we know why Mr. Five O is here. He's the messenger of ill will, it doesn't matter if he approves or not, it's his job to clear us punks the hell out of this parking lot, but the smirk on his face tells us he likely doesn't mind raining on our parade. He's hoping somebody gets smart with him so he can show us who the man is, we don't give him the satisfaction.
The rest of the night goes on mostly the same, as did every Friday and Saturday night before it, as will many more after. There's more trips up and down 24th Street, more shy smiles when she catches him staring at her, more parking lot gatherings, more Saturday afternoon wax jobs, more ball busting cops, more of American nostalgia fading away slowly before our very eyes, our youth waning right along with it.
Then comes the signs.
After receiving a few complaints from local residents dim enough to think they're entitled to romantic seclusion and absolute quiet in spite of the fact that they live on the second busiest street in the entire state of Montana, the benevolent Billings City Council in all of its wisdom passed an anti cruising ordinance, and posted signs to that effect on both ends of 24 th Street. It only applied to 24th Street, but banning cruising there had the same effect as banning baseball at Cobb Field would have, or high school football at Daylis Stadium.
24th Street was where cruising was done, sure there were other streets in town, but unless everyone agreed on the same one, there really wasn't any point anymore and the city had sent us a message. They didn't like cruising, they didn't like the noise, they didn't like us wasting gas, they didn't like us having fun, and they'd follow us to whatever future venue we chose to make sure that their agenda was brought to fruition. After all, anytime teenagers and young adults gather in one place, they must be up to no good. Everyone knows that right?
Most of us braved the sacred two four once or twice after that, a few got tickets, but it didn't matter. The scene was dead. No girls piled into somebody's Mom's minivan to whistle at, no parking lots full of friends to hang with and play Hackey Sack. The car club broke up, the donut shops were overrun with bored cops with no more parking lots to clear. An era ended.
Every time I see some older couple rolling by in a '50 Merc, or a shoebox Chevy, some old truck with a spiffy paint job, or a chopped and channeled deuce, I can't help but wonder how they'd feel about the whole thing if they'd lived this story. No doubt they probably spent plenty of nights cruising the local strip wherever that might have been, wherever they may have come of age. No doubt when that old fellow catches his reflection on the gleaming surface of his pride and joy, he doesn't see a bald headed, bejoweled old fart staring back at him. He sees a full head of jet black hair, slicked back into a duck tail and a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt.
When he looks at that old gal sitting next to him on the bench seat in that '40 Ford Deluxe, he doesn't see white hair and age spots. He sees a giggly young girl, as beautiful as she ever was in saddle shoes and a poodle skirt and he knows exactly why he fell in love with her, he knows exactly why he's still in love with her, and he doesn't care if the rest of the world thinks she looks like somebody's Grandma. To him she's still 17.
They went cruising every night that they wanted to until they got mired with bills and kids and jobs and life in general. Nobody hung signs on both ends of their last vestige of youth and freedom, nobody tainted the last of their memories of a part of America as old as the automobile itself, a pastime and right of passage that's been around since the first industrious teenager got his hands on an old piece of shit and figured out how to make it run. For all the more time it takes for them to get tired of driving around aimlessly anymore, they don't have to worry about cruising laws affecting them. I doubt there's a cop in town that would pull over an older couple for cruising anyway.
That's why I boycott Burn The Point. I simply cannot abide the hypocrisy of an event to celebrate the national legacy that is cruising, put on by a city that outlawed that very activity even as I was participating in it. The promoters of this event will not receive one thin dime of my hard earned cash until cruising is once again legal on every tax payer funded street in Billings, Montana year round. Not attending an event like this is a serious sacrifice for someone that loves and appreciates custom cars as much as me. Not chatting with the folks that built these cars equates to missing out on a free education on a subject that deeply interests me. It's a sacrifice I'll force myself to make however, Americana shouldn't be limited to one weekend a year.