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Stop the Presses column by Chris Graham

“Refresh me again. So why is that we’re out here?” my friend Mordecai asked me the other day.

The other evening, actually.

We were out cruising.

Whatever that is.

I mean, you know what I’m talking about, right?


The fancy word for driving around for hours at a time for no apparent reason, except for having the unstated goal of stopping eventually and sitting for a few minutes in an otherwise dimly lit parking lot, then repeating it all over and over and … ?

Yeah, that.

Because that’s what you do when you go cruising.

We didn’t know much, but we’d learned that already.

“Because this is what the kids do,” I told Mordy, who was riding shotgun as we made our way up and down the strip – a.k.a Greenville Avenue in Staunton, for the uninitiated.

Our friend Eli was stuck in the backseat.

Even so, he seemed to know pretty well what the game was.

“Hey, baby, hey, baby, hey, baby,” he yelled, indiscriminately, pretty much every two seconds.

“Um, Chris, over here. Back to my question … ” Mordecai said.

“Ask him,” I said, pointing to my lawyer and agent, Harvey D. Shyster III, Esquire, the genius behind our excursion.

“To pick up babes,” Harvey said.

I looked back at him, glaring.

That wasn’t what he’d told me when we left.

He’d mentioned something about doing some research for an article for the Web site.

“Ahem. What about the research angle, there, big fella?” I asked the Shyster.

“Oh yeah, of course,” Harv said. “We’re, you know, um, doing research. Whatever. Research.”

The research, such as it was, was necessary because cruising is a big issue in these parts right now. The county was looking just last year at passing a cruising and loitering ordinance, for example.

Could come up again this year.

It’s an election year, after all.

And anything can happen in an election year.

“So … what do we do now?” Mordy asked me, like I was the Shell Answer-Man.

I noticed that he seemed more than a little out of place – like he was at a high school dance, and he was the one wearing the powder-blue tuxedo.

With ruffles.

“It’s just that, I don’t see the point,” he said.

You could almost see the coat hanger sticking out of the back of his shirt; that’s how uncomfortable he looked.

As he said the words, a little lime-green Volkswagen bug drove up.

Two attractive college-age girls waved at Mordy, who smiled back tentatively.

“Oh,” he said.

“Hey, baby, hey, baby, hey, baby,” Eli yelled from the back seat.

“You’re ruining my vibe,” Mordy said, looking in the rear-view mirror with evil in his eyes.

“What vibe?” Eli asked, nonchalantly, before belting out another verse of “Hey, baby, hey, baby, hey, baby.”

“You’ve got no game,” he said.

“Chris, trade me spots. Let’s learn this game right.”

Turns out, I learned later, that Eli was a cruiser from way back.

Used to cruise West Main Street in Waynesboro every Friday and Saturday night.

If there was no action, he told me, he’d head over to Staunton. The strip on Greenville Avenue was the place to go; you could hang out in the parking lot at the mall, or for something different, hang out in the parking lot in front of the Kroger.

Years ago, people used to drive around and hang out at the park, he said as he drove us around – but then they closed that off.

Just like they closed off Waynesboro.

What used to be cruiser central there on Friday and Saturday nights is now pretty much a ghost town.

“Back in my day,” Eli said, sounding like a grumpy old man as he turned us into a shopping center parking lot, “you couldn’t find a spot in the

Advance … ”

“Um, Eli, the official name there is the City Municipal Parking Lot now,” I corrected.

Always official, down to the letter.

” … Anyway, the Advance Lot was the place to be,” he said, idling the engine.

“We’d hang out there, drive up to Hardee’s or McDonald’s, get a burger and fries, come back, go to Wilco for more gas, then head over to Staunton when Waynesboro ran us out.”

I felt like a kid learning at the feet of my grandpappy, telling us how it used to be.

“And then what happened?” Mordecai asked Eli.

Mordy, see, wasn’t allowed to go cruising; his parents made him take tuba lessons on Friday and Saturday nights instead.

Me, I got my fill working at the fast-food places that the cruisers hung out in part time after school.

It was a load of fun, always being asked to give away free food.

Yeah, a real blast.

“I don’t really know,” Eli said, putting the transmission back into drive to get the night going again.

“I grew up, started going on dates, that kind of thing,” he said. “Cruising is a kids’ thing. You grow out of it eventually.”

I understood.

I felt like I had a handle on the issue at last.

Life in a small town. You go cruising for awhile, then you get on with life.

We’d been cruising for awhile; it was time for us to get on with life.

“Hey, let’s go over to the coffee shop,” Mordy said.

“Yeah,” Harvey said. “We could go hang out there for awhile.

“I mean,” he said, “they haven’t passed that loitering ordinance yet, have they?”


(Published 02-06-03)

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