Current discussions about the automobile and the automobile industry tend to be, well, serious and sobering. Balance sheet stuff. Employment stuff. Carbon footprint stuff. For sure, all necessary things to hash out.

But the longer I keep hearing it, and the closer we move to summer, the more it reminds me of those late spring days, several decades ago, when I was trapped in Mr. Ferber’s Grade 9 history class.

Notwithstanding the valiant attempts he made to make the activities of those early parliamentarians as interesting as possible, the activities outside the windows always seemed more interesting — especially if certain people walked by, or any 1970s muscle car rumbled by.

So let’s imagine that the bell has rung, and we’ve been sprung loose for the day. You’re no longer obligated to consider weighty matters. As the vaudeville guys are prone to say, “time for some song and dance, and a little seltzer down the pants.”

And at this time of year, there is a very easy and inexpensive way to lighten the automotive mood — check out a local cruise night.

Now, this type of “cruising” is an evolution from the original cruising scene of the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s.

Those cruising pioneers were looking to be seen and/or for some street racing action. They congregated at various points in the nights at various roadside diners and take-out joints — a drive-around lifestyle perfectly depicted in the 1973 film, American Graffiti.

The film created resurgence in hot-rod culture, particularly on the competition side — big shows, big trophies, big builders, big show-car prices. With the focus of the scene on these weekend professional “car shows,” there was less informal “cruising around” during the week, a trend that continued into the 1980s.

But by the late 1980s, these weekday “cruise nights” started popping up. And it’s not hard to see why. You didn’t need a trophy-winning ride. You didn’t need to tie up a weekend. You didn’t need to spend big bucks on entry fees and travel. Just finish your dinner, grab the keys, and go.

There is not much drifting from scene to scene any more; once they’ve arrived, these modern cruisers park their rides and take out the lawn chairs.

And you don’t have to be a sociologist, to see that the demographics are different too. The characters in American Graffiti were teenagers. Today’s cruise night participants tend not to be teenagers.

These days cruising events are extremely well organized, whether by local car clubs, charitable groups, local businesses, or semi-professional types. Many even receive sponsorship support from companies like A&W and Canadian Tire.

This might seem a bit too organized for those who see hot-rodding more as a counter culture activity. But what can you do? It’s still miles better than history class.

Surfin’ & cruisin’
To find a cool time-wasting cruising event in your area, check out websites like and

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

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