YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'American Graffiti' : Still Cruisin' After All These Years


MODESTO — I'm doing all right in school,

They ain't said I broke no rules.

I ain't never been in Dutch,

I don't browse around too much,

Don't bother us, leave us alone ...

--"Almost Grown" by Chuck Berry

Steve Wells had two things on his mind tonight--cars and girls. From behind the wheel of his black pick-up truck, he and his pal Rick Jennings could see a lot of both. They're doing what everyone else in town seems to be doing tonight, cruising up and down McHenry Avenue, the city's fabled car-crazy cruising boulevard.

Jennings spied a cute girl walking down the street. He leaned out the window: "Hey, sexy!" She didn't look over. He grumbled, gunning his engine a little, "I guess she didn't hear me."

Los Angeles Times Sunday July 6, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Page 91 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
John Weeks of San Bernardino thinks that casting director Fred Roos' name should have been among the long list of "American Grafitti" alums who've gone on to greater Hollywood glories. The list accompanied Patrick Goldstein's recent look at the "Graffiti Night" shenanigans in Modesto, birthplace of George Lucas.

If the girls don't get your attention, the roadsters will. The street was filled with glistening custom cars, trucks and cycles, their noisy motors burping and growling, competing with the sound of radios blaring rock classics from a bygone era. The air was so thick with the pungent scent of gasoline fumes that you figured that if anyone lit a match, it would blow up the block.

Just ahead was a Pepto-Bismol pink Corvette, with a pair of purple racing stripes whipping across the doors. Farther back, stuck in the middle of a crowded intersection, you could see a white, convertible '55 T-Bird. A pair of blonde teen-agers in Ray-Bans and flat-top dos were bouncing up and down in the front seat, as if they'd driven right out of an old Coppertone ad.

"There's a Toyota jeep running around here somewhere that's supposed to be the world's tallest jeep," said Wells, 21, shouting over a Chuck Berry song that was blasting on the truck radio. "I mean, its top is like 15 or 16 feet in the air."

On the main drag, the pace was so agonizingly slow that it took 10 or 15 minutes just to complete a couple blocks.

"It's a killer," said Jennings, 19, who's wearing a baseball cap with the slogan "I Love Hot Women and Cold Beer." "There are women everywhere. It's just like a big party."

Unfortunately, with hundreds of radios blaring and the roar of engines everywhere, it was almost impossible for the guys to make contact with any girls on the street.

"I've been coming since I was 15," said Wells, drumming his hands on the steering wheel. "You always see a lot of unusual things out here. It's a real night to remember."

Jennings eyed a trio of girls, all outfitted in Modesto Christian High letter-jackets, walking down the street. "Geez, the girls are pretty stuck up if you ask me."

Wells laughed. "Of course, if I was a girl and some guy came up to me, half-sloshed, saying hello, I'd say 'Later!' too. But if you're the guy, what are you supposed to do? You're the one who's got to do the picking up."

Don't give me no dirty looks, Your father's hip, he knows what cooks, Just tell your hoodlum friends outside, You ain't got time to take a ride. --"Yakety-Yak" by the Coasters

Everything seems somehow larger than life on what has become known as "Graffiti Night" here. Held every year on the first Saturday night after high school graduation, it's the ultimate cruising celebration, a time when all of Modesto revs up its engines and goes zooming back to the future. Partly in honor of graduation, partly a tribute to hometown hero George Lucas, who immortalized the rites of cruising in his 1973 film "American Graffiti," the rowdy nostalgia party last weekend had the festive air of a chrome-studded carnival on wheels.

From mid-afternoon to after midnight, 60,000 people--nearly half the town's population, were packed into a 30-block stretch of McHenry Avenue.

While there were some grizzled, first-generation cruisers out on the street, most of the celebrants were only a few years out of high school, young enough to have only learned about Modesto's drag mating dance from the film or anecdotes passed along by their parents.

It was a convivial Mid-America version of spring break in Fort Lauderdale. Battalions of teen-agers roamed the streets of the cool night, one eye on the passing parade of freshly-scrubbed hot rods, the other on the opposite sex.

Spectators sat in lounge chairs or on the back of pick-up trucks, armed with cases of beer, soda pop and sandwiches. Local entrepreneurs sold "Graffiti Night" T-shirts and caps, families wheeled little tots in strollers down the sidewalk and local police strolled past the revelers, keeping a close watch on the largely docile crowd.

Police last Sunday reported 23 arrests, most of them for public intoxication and equipment violations.

"Gonna make all your dreams come true, baby!"

--Wolfman Jack in

"American Graffiti"

Los Angeles Times Articles