Dreaming and Hoping: Cruising Woodward, Happy Days and Retconning a Decade with Fictional American Idealism

I can see why a lot of people don’t like the Dream Cruise, especially if you live in that area. Or, as is in my case, the Dream Cruise can be a big ol’ inconvenience to those who have to work in the Bloomfield Hills to Royal Oak area. It’s loud, a lot of the people are annoying. You can’t get anywhere quick, if you can get anywhere at all. Vendors are closed, and it’s no honeymoon trying to make the last FedEx pick up in Birmingham the Thursday and Friday before the actual Dream Cruise. 

So, I get it. It seems there are more haters every year, though. In classic Michigander style, we like to complain when there’s nothing going on as much as we like to complain when an event prevents us from doing the nothing things that we would typically do on any given weekend. From the perspective of those who see the Dream Cruise that are not native to the area, it’s truly one of the cooler traditions we have here in Metro Detroit. It’s one of those events every year that is special and unique. 

        Dream Cruise 2002. My dad points to the year of the license plate: the year my grandfather was born, 1932. 

Growing up, it was a summer staple: go with the family down to Birmingham and see all the sights, hear all the sounds and taste all the Hunter House we could. Things are different now, as I get older. In 2013, I missed the Dream Cruise for a second straight year. Last year, because of being displaced. This year, because getting a day off on the weekend in my current circle of employment is unheard of. Missed it again, like Phil Collins. And, sitting here, after it’s all over, I’m pretty bummed about it. I did get to drive up and down Woodward a lot the last few days, though, and I saw some pretty rad vehicles showing off all the goods. It’s different to see the Dream Cruise by accident, rather than walking around, or just sitting and gawking and 1950’s hot rods. I’ll wait for next year, I guess. 

Looking back on it, 50’s and early 60’s (which I’ll just call the 50’s in this blog for the sake of my impending carpal tunnel) culture seeped into almost every part of my childhood. Which is strange, especially since my parents didn’t really grow up in the 50’s, and I didn’t grow up in the 50’s. Maybe, that’s why we clung to it so. Between my parents and I, we never saw the 50’s, except for the music that we listened to and the movies that we saw. Very much in the way that Cowboy movies romanticized the American Frontier, the media portrayal of the 1950’s presented the decade as American nirvana; the decade of all decades, where the culture and economy were at a pinnacle to forever aspire to. It’s probably how kids growing up now will view the 90’s. There will forever be this misconception that everyone was just peachy back then; that life was just like “Boy Meets World” and “Fresh Prince” or “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Andy Griffith Show”. 

Damn, this opening is so great. You have to smile when you see/hear this! Take me to that time, Garry Marshall! 

Part of the reason it was such a big part of my childhood, is that the 50’s is a decade whose culture is so well documented in media. In fact, most of my favorite movies growing up were all about the great 50’s and early 60’s. Perhaps it’s because that was the generation that was making movies in the 80’s and 90’s. Nevertheless, here are some of my favorite flicks when I was of elementary school-age: “Grease”, “Back to the Future” and “The Sandlot”. My favorite TV shows to watch during that time were on Nick at Nite; “The Wonder Years” and “Happy Days”. I loved “Happy Days” so much and loved “Star Wars” so much that my mother eventually showed me “American Graffiti”, which really blended both of those loves into one flick. 

I love this scene, and how 1955 Hill Valley contrasts from 1985 Hill Valley. Even in the 80’s, they thought the 50’s were the most joyous time in American history. How great it must have been when people got out and filled up your gas for you! And, it was cheaper, of course. 

Then there’s the music of the era, which was as common place in my house growing up as Matzo Ball Soup on Friday night. From Buddy Holly and Dion to The Chiffons and Jackie Wilson, I grew up knowing all the Rock ‘n Roll and Motown hits. It was the soundtrack of my childhood. They were for George Lucas, too, and it’s how he peppered his sophomore feature film. “American Graffiti” has no score, but each frame is accompanied by the tunes of disc jockey Wolfman Jack. Those hits from the 50’s and 60’s, man…it just makes you believe that the era was as simple and carefree as the movies tell us it was. Unlike the “Happy Days” or “Wonder Years”, those hits are primary documents, and, damn it, between the rock ‘n roll or new-found soul, when you listen to those songs, it makes you forget about all of the crappy realities of the 50’s. How did these people make such hopeful and happy, feel-good music amidst the racial and gender inequality, anti-Semitism and McCarthyism? 

That’s what that music does. It makes you believe that people actually lived in the temporal fantasy land of Richie Cunningham or Winnie Cooper. 

There’s a reason they call those 50’s chord changes magic. 

There’s always been this beautiful relationship between driving and music. That blend between the smells of the exhaust and the summer night air and the sounds of the engine and your favorite song; breeze blowing in your hair, and there’s nothing better. The Dream Cruise always brings me back to that. You can throw on 50’s on 5 or WOMC, drive down Woodward, look to your left, look to your right, and all of the sudden you’re back with the gang and your best gal, knowing your new whip could best Bob Falfa or the Scorpions if you just had the opportunity. It brings you back to a time (fantasy or not) before gas prices or the GPS, where people just got in their car to drive, not to get anywhere in particular, but just to go cruisin’ with friends.

That music, those cars, the Dream Cruise, it brings me back to a time that I never lived.

It brings me to a song from Don Fagen’s solo album, “The Nightfly”. The tune’s lyrics are all about the idealistic attitudes everyone had in Don’s childhood during the 1950’s: where we’d go in culture and science, how the future was so close everyone could reach out and touch it. There’s no doubt that the lyrics hold an underlying sarcastic tone to them, that the truth is, all of that fake fun in the 1950’s was misguided idealism that would shortly be consumed by the Vietnam years to come. With a deeper listen, though, you can hear in Don’s voice that, however misguided 50’s idealism (or the idealism we see in it now) was, there’s certainly one thing America had going for it in the 50’s and that was hope.

The Dream Cruise brings us back to that hope. To that dream.

“What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free.” 

Disclaimer: I want stress that this post is not “Hey, the 1950’s an early 1960’s were way better than now!” No, Mitch Albom writes that crap every week and I hate it. This post is supposed to be about how media distorts our view of past generations and how the Dream Cruise reminds me of that fantasy. If that wasn’t clear, I hope this clears it up for ya. 

Sorry, Mitch.  

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About Kale

Kale is a proud MSU Detroiter with filmmaking and social media aspirations. Currently in Production Assisting Purgatory, Kale has two goals in life: (1) Have a million followers on twitter and (2) Never pay a mortgage. So help Kale reach one of those goals, follow him @kaledavidoff

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