Modesto's car culture was alive and roaring as the annual Graffiti Classic Car Parade took over the heart of the city.
More than 1,100 vehicles cruised through downtown Modesto and up McHenry Avenue on Friday night. The parade is part of the city's monthlong Graffiti Summer celebration which pays homage to native son George Lucas' seminal film "American Graffiti." The North Modesto Kiwanis Club organizes the parade and accompanying American Graffiti Festival and Car Show which runs through the weekend.
"We love to reminisce about all the cars. We used to all do this in high school," said Modesto native Nancy Phipps who came with friends. "Modesto is just all about Graffiti and cruising."
Started in 2002, the Graffiti Parade was an effort to bring back a form of sanctioned cruising to the streets of Modesto. The practice once was part of teenage weekend nights in the valley beginning in the 1950s. Lucas' film, released in 1973, was based on his own days cruising Modesto streets in the early 1960s.
The Graffiti Night tradition grew out of the film, with large scale cruises taking over the streets. But the practice became problematic as the crows swelled to over 100,000 and violence erupted. In 1993 the city banned cruising altogether.
People who grew up cruising in Modesto say having the parade allows them to relive those days and pass it to the younger generation. Modesto natives Felicia and Oscar Acosta said their son now takes part in car shows and events with his Chevy Impalas from 1964 and 1966.
"This is where it all started," Oscar Acosta said. "We just like seeing the young people take part and enjoying all these styles of cars."
This year for the first time the parade went up to just north of Briggsmore Avenue before turning around in front of McHenry Village. Since the parade returned to McHenry Avenue in 2014, it only had gone as far as Orangeburg Avenue. Cars were able to make about four laps on the route, about twice as many as previous years, as a result, and the parade went to about 8:30 p.m.
Graffiti parade and festival chairman Brent Burnside said the move helped to alleviate gridlock and keep the cars cruising. It also meant crowds could stretch out six more block on McHenry. Close to 400 volunteers, including the 94 members of the North Modesto Kiwanis, helped keep the event running smoothly along with local law enforcement.
Cars from 1979 and older were eligible for the parade and American Graffiti Car Show, which continues Saturday and Sunday at the Municipal Golf Course, 400 Tuolumne Blvd. Admission is $10, with kids 12 and under free. More than 1,500 cars are expected to be on display.
Earlier in the week, as part of the Graffiti Summer festivities, the Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame inducted its newest members. This year's class included the Ecurie Awol Racing Club, Allen Grant, Paul Corgiat, Roy Farriester, Jack McCoy, and parade grand marshal Don Wood.
Even for first-timer parade watchers, the event was a hit. Despite living in the valley for 20 years, retirees Waneta and Bob Hillard had never come to see the parade. They arrived around 10:30 a.m. for the 6:30 p.m. parade to stake out their spot. So was the wait worth it?
"Oh, yes, this is absolutely great," Waneta Hillard said, in between waving at passengers in the cars. "Everyone has been so friendly. We'll come back next year."