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Some Small-Town Residents Organizing Car Cruising Events During Pandemic

Social distancing revives a nostalgic form of entertainment

Teenager Kerry Granger (L) with others in his car.
A. Y. Owen/LIFE/Getty Images

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.

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With gas prices historically low and not much else to do during quarantine in a small town, the time has been right for other communities outside Montana to bring back cruising the drag, too. Laverne, in northwest Oklahoma, and Nephi, in central Utah, have each been part of this trend that some, like my dad, hope is back for good. Conrad hasn't hosted its own cruise yet, but when it does, he'll be ready. “This time,” he says, “I'll have the cool car to do it — a black Camaro SS."

EAST MEADOW, NEW YORK - MAY 04:  Healthcare workers wave as a parade of classic cars makes its way by Nassau University Medical Center in a salute to workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 04, 2020 in East Meadow, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

How to Organize a Cruise

• Use social media. Posting to Facebook and community message boards will get the word out quickly.

• Add a charity element. In Havre, Montana, a drive-in provided a table where drivers could stop and donate cans of food.

• Start early. Beginning around 5 or 6 p.m. allows older generations and families with young kids enough time to get out and enjoy.

• Anything goes. Invite vehicles of all shapes and sizes — old, new, classic, motorcycles. Having a bit of everything is more fun.

• Be friendly. Encourage drivers and passengers to decorate their cars, honk, wave and cheer as they safely drive the route.

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