Seniors bopped, youngsters watched and cruisers crooned the throaty roar of Graffiti as nostalgia revved into hyperdrive Friday night. One who rode when '60s cars were new and commended the era to history led the pack: Modesto native son George Lucas.
It was the city's day to shine, with The New York Times and a bevy of film crews on hand to record the reunion of filmmaker and inspiration for the iconic movie he created 40 years ago.
But as thousands lined the streets up to six deep despite wilting heat to watch the North Modesto Kiwanis American Graffiti Classic Car Parade, most said they were there for the cars, not the stars.
Roger McElroy recalled the younger Lucas as a quiet guy who read comic books in front of the school. But celebrity was no draw for him. "We came for the parade," he said.
Roughly 1,200 gleaming entrants sent the scent of premium unleaded pouring into the crowd with every well-muscled roar, what Sandra Mello called "the hopped-up boy toys."
Standing by her powder pink 1958 Nash Metropolitan, Mello said she used to cruise in a 1951 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce. But this car gets 40 miles or more a gallon. "It was designed for independent women," she said, but unfortunately designed by a man "so there's no room for groceries."
Beside a Mustard Pearl 1960 Rambler he spent $100,000 restoring, Dave McMillen said cruising was "to see and be seen." He comes to Graffiti every year.
So does Garry Second, who still cruises with his date of the 1960s. The couple came from Turlock after he got off work at the gas station, riding in his 1959 Plymouth Fury. "It's just what you did," he said.
Kooky and Ace Avedisian of Clovis were in Modesto with their laser red 1972 Chevy Suburban for their first Graffiti Parade, drawn by the Lucas publicity and a love of old cars. They cruised Belmont Avenue in Fresno back when and have always driven classics, said Kooky Avedisian.
Standing by their Bahama Blue and white 1953 Chevy wagon, Janelle and Jerry McGuire of Patterson remembered the McHenry cruise of later years. "You had to stop at Shakey's Pizza," said Janelle McGuire. She worked as a hop, making $1.35 an hour, and the couple came to Modesto every Friday night they had gas money.
Tony and Rosie Leimas drove in from Newman for a clandestine date cruising along 10th Street. "If my mother knew, she would've grounded me for years," Rosie Leimas said.
Kathleen O'Donnell of Modesto said she and a bunch of girlfriends came in from Oakdale to cruise 10th in a 1962 Corvair outfitted with a little bar in the glove box for their vodka gimlets. "We were chasing boys," she said. "It was worth the drive. It was a lot of fun."
At the foot of I Street, Ralston Towers residents dined before kicking off a senior prom playing '50s tunes.
In line for potato salad and hot dogs, Lloyd Templeton said he cruised the 10th Street loop in a one-ton flatbed "until I burned the tires off it. My dad didn't know I did that," he said with a chuckle. Wife MaryAnn said she remembered Lucas going to the Downey games, his 8mm camera in hand. "We all called him a little dork little did we know," she said.
Karen Freeborn, sitting in the shade of the McHenry Mansion along I street, said she claimed her spot at 2 p.m. for the 7 p.m. parade, knowing there would be big crowds this year. Beside her, a sign proclaimed, "Welcome Home George."
Diana Terry said her parents traveled the McHenry strip. "I wasn't a cruiser, but I'm a product of it," she said. "I feel grateful to George for documenting that."
But one group thought Lucas got it wrong. In "American Graffiti," the Faros looked "like hoodlums," said early member Ray Whipkey. "We installed seat belts for $5, back when they weren't in cars," he said. The group helped stranded motorists, never charging. "We just left a card that said 'You were helped by the Faros,' " Whipkey said.
Lucas rode in a 1946 apricot-colored Mercury convertible, a boat-like ride compared with the diminutive Fiat Bianchina he steered down 10th street on Friday nights back in the day.
Photo Gallery: 28 images of George Lucas in Modesto
Photo Gallery: Sweet rides on parade route
Story: Sights and sounds
Story: Live blog recap