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My dad grew up in the small Montana town of Conrad, where cruising the drag wasn't just a part of his high school years — it was his high school years. On Friday nights especially, he'd pack his light green ‘68 Mustang with friends and, like many other teens, drive up and down Main Street, from one end of town to the other. “It was a good time; perhaps it was a better time,” recalls my dad, Jim Bjelland Jr., a farmer who is now 65. “Life was simpler then."
Amid COVID-19, this nostalgic trend has made a big comeback in some small towns. Three Forks, near Bozeman, Montana, was among the first to revive it. Resident Lori Van Vleet, who works in her family's masonry business, got the idea after learning that a Wyoming town had done something similar. She posted on Facebook, asking if anyone would be interested in dragging Main. “I missed my friends so much and thought it would be a fun way to see everybody again while still social distancing,” she says. Lots of the locals thought so, too: It was such a hit, they've continued it every Friday since. Kids bring out bikes and scooters to weave in and out among the 75 to 100 cars that show up to parade slowly down the main strip.
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In Havre, Montana, 70-year-old Barb Salerno and her husband turned up (alongside much of the rest of the town) to ride Fifth Avenue and First Street in April in their root beer–colored ‘51 Pontiac station wagon. Nearby, in Chester (population: 895), about 50 cars showed for a drive after Dave Ghekiere, a city employee, suggested a social-distancing cruise on Facebook. He'd heard about it from a friend who lives in Sunburst (341 residents), which had also hosted a cruise. Among those cruising in Chester was Julane Jensen, 67, who, in her Nissan van, led the procession of vehicles — about a mile long — past the local assisted living facility, nursing home and retirement home. Her 6-year-old granddaughter held streamers out the window and giggled during the whole drive, Jensen notes.