The roar of engines mixed with the smell of nostalgia filled the streets of Modesto on Friday night.
The city became a cruising capital once again for the annual Graffiti Classic Car Parade. The North Modesto Kiwanis event brings lovers and owners of classic cars together for an evening of tooling through downtown Modesto and up McHenry Avenue in a tribute to “American Graffiti,” the coming-of-age cruising film from native son George Lucas.
This year some 1,300 cars came to be part of the American Graffiti Car Show and Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday at the Municipal Golf Course. The parade kicks off the festivities as proud car owners show off their steel and chrome treasures, and enthusiasts, young and old, admire from the sidelines.
“With the parade, everyone has something in common. There’s no arguing or fighting. We’re all here to enjoy these classic cars and the hard work that these people put into them,” said Modesto resident Alexis Garcia, who comes every year with her husband and two daughters. “We love the movie; it’s one of our favorites. We showed our girls so they can be part of the tradition. This area’s love of classic cars is something that will never be broken.”
The grand marshal of the parade was classic car collector Don Monaco, founder of Don’s Mobile Glass. Earlier in the week, as part of the monthlong Graffiti Summer celebration, Monaco was inducted along with this year’s class to the Graffiti Cruise Route Walk of Fame. The other inductees included the Faros Car Club, Judy Felix Walk, Glen Wild, Dwight Trammel and Frank Burnett.
The classic-car festivities that stretch through the month include the parade, car shows, sock hops, concerts and film screenings.
But for at least one night, Modesto turns into the strip again for folks who remember what it was like in 1962, the year Lucas opined about in his ode to car culture, and even before. A group of five friends from back in the day – like Downey High’s Class of 1954 – returned for their second year riding in the parade. The ladies, who were friends growing up, are now in their late 70s to never-you-mind.
But they remember cruising, or dragging as it was called then, like it was yesterday.
“This brings back a lot of fond memories. They guys and the girls like to remember the cars they had,” said Nancy Kirkes, the newcomer of the group who graduated from Turlock High in that most reminisced about year of 1962. But she used to come up to Modesto to drag the strip. So what was the objective of all that driving around? “The boys, of course. And vice versa for them. They were looking for us and we were looking for them.”
The friends sat in low-slung lawn chairs in the back of one of their daughter and son-in-law’s cars. Jerry Wilson, who owns Attention to Detail auto detailing in Modesto, has been part of the parade for years. Lately he has been entering his 1979 El Camino, whose open back served as metal chariot for the group of gray-haired friends.
Wilson has been cruising since he was “in diapers.” He fondly remembers going up and down 10th Street riding in his father’s 1950 black Ford. At 16, he started doing the driving himself.
“Being a local, I’m born and raised here, it’s just part of our culture,” he said. “This is part of Modesto.”
Waving at the crowds that lined the streets down I and J streets and up McHenry – in some places four or five rows deep – Modesto resident Barbara Hampton and her friends in the back of that El Camino took it all in with smiles. They waved signs that said “Still Cruising” and “Burge’s Babe,” the latter a reference to a former favorite drive-in on Ninth Street that was immortalized as Mel’s Drive-In in the movie.
“You know, it’s just a goofy thing to do and it gives all the guys a chance to show off their sexy vehicles,” she said. “Why not?”