Cruisin' and dreamin'
It's Sunday morning, the sky a brightening crisp blue with nary a cloud nor hint of breeze. The world might seem at peace were it not for the troubling scenes just a mouse or remote click away. We're back at it with the fellows in Najaf that CNN now labels the 'Mehdi Army.' Kerry has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission and a Republican volunteer campaign worker has resigned for appearing in one of the Swift Boat Veterans ads. The world will most likely never be totally at peace nor even we Americans with ourselves. Such is our nature. But so to is the celebration of life a part of us.
Now for the tenth year we have had a uniquely American venue for celebrating life. The Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise in Detroit's northern suburbs has become a 1.5 million person, 40,000 vehicle, light—em—up and peel out extravaganza paying nostalgic tribute to the days of cheap gas and muscle cars when the Motor City ruled the automotive world. Like the obligation of the hajj, the once—in—a—lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca every Muslim is expected to undertake, anyone who's a hot rod, custom, muscle or classic car fan should make it to this late summer festival of noise, smoke, chrome, and cheering spectators who are themselves immortalized in the scrap books of those taking pictures or video from their moving perch as they 'cruise' by. It is an absolute hoot.
I, however, have been specially blessed. My wife works with Connie who, along with her husband Bill own a home on Woodward just south of the Pontiac city limits. It sits on about two acres of property with a five—foot high retaining wall within six feet of the road. This provides a perfect view of the activity rolling by on in both directions on the four—lanes—each—way boulevard that comprises this stage. This is the sixth Dream Cruise party they've thrown aided and abetted by Connie's father who is in charge of the 'oldies but goodies' music that constantly and loudly graces our senses. He's also responsible for setting up and operating the drag strip Christmas tree lights that add a touch of authenticity to the scene.
Connie, her sister, cousins and other comely ladies in heels, shorts and halter tops act as Sirens to lure those with the equipment and inclination to stop and do a 'burnout.' A checkered flag, waiving white scarves and a 'Burnout Strip Ahead' sign will, along with the pleadings of Connie's crew, more than suffice to bring some muscle to a stop, shortly followed by billowing smoke, the acrid smell of burning rubber and the screeching peel—out climax. The party crowd that is lined—up on the wall and in the lawn chairs behind will in the course of this afternoon laugh, cheer and scream their approval until hoarse or mute. We even attract our own crowd on the opposite side of the street where they share in this crazy exhibit of Americana that plays out before them. One must experience this to fully appreciate it as performing folk art.
Almost every class, make, style and color of two, three, four or more wheeled vehicle will parade by us. From Rolls and Lamborghini to mini—mopeds and golf carts with all the bikes, buses, customs and muscle in between. Even the police get into the act. A cadre of two—dozen or so motorcycle cops from a number of surrounding communities rumble by on the far side of the road. On their return trip back down the Woodward loop they smile, wave and salute us with short burst on their sirens. After six Cruise parties, every officer who's ever driven by the house knows the hosts. One officer in a patrol car even pulls over, hand—cuffs Connie and puts her in the back seat of the cruiser — all with her smiling complicity and foreknowledge. What beautiful craziness.
All the while these goings—on are unfolding, kids from toddler to ten are playing well away from the road on a giant trampoline and other devices furnished to for their entertainment and diversion. The garage houses the tables of food and the ice—filled bathtub that keeps our libations refreshingly cool. Sometimes the conversation doesn't rise much above the level of 'What? You drink your Corona out of a glass?' This is as it should be and does not, by the way, refer to me.
Once we've had our fill of food, drink and, most importantly, fun, we bid our hosts goodbye and good luck as they are moving to Washington state in a few days. Thus we will no longer have this most idyllic spot for our Dream Cruise bacchanal. But the Detroit Free Press has put out a book in celebration of the tenth anniversary. Wouldn't you know it. There in living color near the end is a full—page picture of Connie and her cohorts 'doin' their thang' tempting another cruiser to risk a traffic citation by succumbing to their enticement to do a burnout. How can a guy say no to such as these?
As we headed home we did our own cruising for a few miles down Woodward. Approaching Birmingham the traffic slows to a stop—and—go snail's pace. At one point I'm next to a reddish—orange GTO with Illinois plates that is just cherry. A 'The Judge' decal is displayed on the front fender. 'Nice set of wheels', I remark. 'Thank you', the man driving and the woman in the 'shotgun' seat simultaneously reply. No more is expected nor said. When we turn off Woodward and head west the sun is getting low. The day was great and now seems done, but ahead there is still more to come.
Pulling into the sub there are cars parked all up and down both sides of the street. A 'Valet Parking' placard signals that here there is additional serious celebration underway. Once home and upon exiting the car I now realize what's going on. It's a wedding. Not just any wedding but one that's a celebration of life as lived in the Middle East. The strong rhythm, wailing melody and warbling intonation of the singer are distinctive. I am reminded of my time at Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli, Libya where the Arabs who attended to our needs at the BOQ would have the radio going day and night with music such as I now hear. Then it would drive me nuts. Now, for a reason I do not know, I find it soothing and enchanting.
The revelers party on as night settles in with a crescent moon and the stars overhead. Fireworks punctuate the darkness. Later, as I lie in my bed with the sounds of music, rhythmic clapping and ululations drifting in through my open window, I savor the day's experiences and wonder at their cultural breadth. Where else might I experience in the course of less than twelve hours two such extraordinarily different celebrations of life? Cultures that were once separated by thousands of miles and an even greater gulf in experience. Where?
Only in America.