Terry McGrath once opened the doors on his car and knocked down cones police had set up along 10th Street. Authorities had turned the street into a one-way road in what ultimately was a failed attempt to curb cruising in Modesto.
Knocking down every cone was McGrath’s form of protest. Well, a police officer caught him and gave him an ultimatum – pick up all the cones or go to jail. McGrath was just worried that news of his stunt would reach his home.
“I never wanted that to appear in the paper,” McGrath said. “I didn’t want my mom and dad to find out.”
He never knew that his antics as a rebellious youth would get him his own commemorative plaque at Modesto Centre Plaza along that same 10th Street cruising strip.
McGrath on Wednesday was one of 10 “Legends of the Cruise” who became the first inductees to the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route Walk of Fame. Each person’s name is engraved in his or her own permanent cement sidewalk marker.
The markers are meant to recognize those who inspired and played a part in the making of director George Lucas’ film “American Graffiti.” The movie celebrated the cruising culture that Lucas experienced while growing up in Modesto.
Other Modesto legends honored Wednesday included Chuck Billington, Pete Hischier and Gene Winfield. Lucas also was among the first inductees, with “Graffiti” cast members Paul Le Mat, Candy Clark and Bo Hopkins.
Chris Murphy has spearheaded the effort to commemorate Modesto’s cruising past by creating these sidewalk markers and information kiosks along the city’s cruise route. He said the route will be a place where fans of the movie, hot-rod lovers and Modestans can come together where it all started.
“The cherry shakes, the cherry bombs, they all happened in Modesto, California,” Murphy said at the unveiling ceremony Wednesday evening.
A few hundred hot rods and classic cars from the Mid Valley Chevy Club were parked along 10th, 11th and J streets to get the crowd in the Graffiti spirit.
Organizers revved up attendees with talk of this year’s North Modesto Kiwanis Classic Car Parade, which will head up and down a portion of McHenry Avenue on Friday night for the first time in its 16-year existence. The historic cruise route included McHenry before authorities banned cruising in the ’90s because of increasing violence.
About 800 to 900 vehicles will cruise the extended parade route, which has looped only through downtown Modesto until now.
“This is going to be the largest parade we’ve ever had,” said John Sanders, one of its chief organizers.
The walk of fame will be extended each year with new inductees. Those honored will be the cruisers, the racers, the musicians, the students, the radio DJs and even the cops of the Graffiti era with their own legendary status.
Modesto motorcycle police Officer Leroy Applequist was known to hide along the cruising route in the ’50s, ticketing every cruiser breaking the law.
Wednesday, Applequist jokingly told the audience, “I probably wrote about a half-dozen tickets in my whole career.” The audience quickly responded, yelling out that the cop probably wrote six tickets during each hour of his shift.
It’s these real-life stories that Murphy says the public should know. The cruise route markers will help make that happen, especially because most of the landmarks, such as Burge’s Drive-In, are gone.
Car legend Bart Bartoni was grateful to be honored with a sidewalk marker Wednesday, and he didn’t shy away from his rebellious past as a Modesto youth.
“And, yes, I did drag 10th Street and I did race Maze (Boulevard),” Bartoni told the crowd. “And I did get speeding tickets.”