They’re right down the road, or maybe across town. Sometimes they may be in the next town over. The reality for many, regardless of location, is there is a cruise-in a short drive away. Some are very lucky – I live within an hour’s drive of a cruise-in literally seven days a week for a large part of the year. Others may only have one a month, and some of the more remote or unfortunate car fanatics may have to make a journey. For those like me, stopping by on the way home from work is a great way to unwind and spend time with fellow car enthusiasts. If you don’t happen to drive by the local meetup on your commute, there’s a good chance you can head out on a Saturday night to spend some quality time in a parking lot.
If you haven’t stopped at your local cruise night before, you may be surprised by what you can miss out on. These shows aren’t often the biggest car shows, but are almost always free to attend. What they lack in size, many make up for in diversity. Everything from the General Lee to C7 Corvette Z06s and Tri-Five Chevy gassers on racing slicks shows up at my small town cruise in, and that’s a show that averages less than 50 cars a week. In larger or more wealthy cities, high-end restorations are everywhere and rare classics and exotics aren’t uncommon; I’ve seen everything from an Audi R8 to a Plymouth Superbird at nearby shows.
Not only are cruise-ins great places to check out nice cars, they also provide opportunities to make new friends and network with people who work in the automotive industry. I struck up a conversation with some random people at a cruise-in once simply because I noticed a Hot Rod Power Tour sticker on a windshield, ended up long-hauling Power Tour and became great friends with the guys I met there. Other times, total strangers approached me and asked about my photography or if my car is for sale. (It’s not, by the way!) It’s often easy to make friends at cruise-ins, as there are few places where you will have something in common with virtually everyone there. Cruise-ins often draw a more laidback crowd of car enthusiasts, meaning you don’t have to deal with most of the annoying trash talk and peacocking that happen at racetracks and competitive car shows. There are still the occasional Mustangs revving, but most people are more relaxed at cruise-ins.
Some play live music, others bring in DJs, and most of the remainder have tunes playing for the crowd. It’s mostly old music, but who doesn’t love a good 60’s rock and roll boogie? After you check out the cars and shoot the breeze, you can swing by a nearby restaurant for a good meal. Not hungry? Take an evening cruise or take the back way home. Since the vast majority of cruise-ins are no-cost events, they’re great family events even if you don’t own a car that you want to display in the show. Many also host trunk-or-treats around Halloween, which allow parents to bring their kids to a central location to get loaded up on sweet treats. Cruise-ins are all about being involved in the local community, starting with the car community.
In today’s age of the Internet and social media, finding anything is easier than ever. Car events of every type are no exception to this, and most cruise-ins have Facebook pages and events set up that are just a search away. You may be surprised how close you live to a cruise-in when you type in your town’s name and add “cruise-in” to the search term. Most organizers still hand out flyers at car events and tack flyers to community boards in restaurants as well. In many areas of the country, it’s almost hard not to find a cruise-in.
If what I described sounds like Cars and Coffee, that is because the events have a lot in common. Cruise-ins have been around for a lot longer, with origins likely in “evenings down at the drive-in” (thanks Bryan Adams) where a cruise-in was simply hanging out with friends. Everyone gets together at a central location, often a restaurant or town square, and hangs out around their cars for a while. The great thing about cruise-ins is that most happen in the evening, leaving your mornings free for errands or, you know, sleep. The crowd tends to be older, but any real enthusiast is always willing and excited to show off his or her machine – especially when a young gearhead shows interest. What are you waiting for? Hit the road to the closest cruise-in and tell them I sent you.