Woodward Dream Cruise: Happy Days, Unhappy Neighbors


My wife and I started a Yahoo Group in our neighborhood that’s grown to over 100 residents.  It’s come in very handy as a local Angie’s List for handymen and landscape companies.  It’s also found many a lost pet and alerted folks to local burglaries; we even sold some furniture and donated a piano to a little girl around the corner.

But like any forum, it can get a little dicey–particularly with the boon (or bane) just down the street from our Royal Oak home–The Woodward Dream Cruise.  This southeastern Michigan 18-year tradition of classic cars from the 1950’s through the early 1970’s involves close to a million participants up and down the first paved highway in America.  And our neighborhood, near 13 Mile Road has been celebrated as the epicenter of all memories brought forward by American Graffiti and Mel’s Diner from Happy Days.


It wasn’t a problem with that third weekend in August being the celebration weekend.  Folks would embrace it or get out of Dodge that weekend to avoid the traffic.

But the “weekend” now begins in April and ends just after Labor Day, reminding me of a bar that advertises “Happy Hour: 2 -10 PM.”  And as sure as the first robin of spring, our Yahoo group begins the email chain whose subject line is usually:  “Woodward Noise.”  It’s loud, well past midnight, and understandably, people are wondering where the police are.

You’ll see some great cars–and of course hear them.  And the owners will often, like proud stage moms, have their babies turn around at the end of the runway…

The official hangout near our house–on the site of a Big Boy that used to be a hangout in the sixties–is a little strip-mall.


Any warm evening, and even some chillier ones, you’ll see this parking lot full of cars, few of them customers of Potbelly.  Occasionally you’ll see a hood popped open, inviting engine-fans and general ooh-ers and ah-ers.  (This always struck me as similar to one’s fly open, but that will be the subject of a psychological blog.)


From far away, the cars that aren’t even classic, will arrive chugging down the street…

And they will make their pirouettes and head for Potbelly, stopping in the right lane because taking the exit into the strip mall 100 feet down would be absurdly safe…

And leaning against the wall, particularly on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays you’ll see these guys–all a little too busy to pick up those stray wrappers.


Which brings us to the dilemma.  In spite of the event bringing over a million folks to an eight-mile stretch of road, it’s difficult to measure its positive impact compared to the civil complaints–or as my neighbor Kelly suggested putting up a sign that states  “Reminder, People Live Here.”

Royal Oak has had two historical shifts in the last thirty years.  With the completion of the I-696 and I-75 intersection in 1988, the downtown area suddenly transformed itself into a popular bar and restaurant location.  Growing up two miles away, downtown Royal Oak had always been a quiet hardware/hair salon/laundramat mecca.

Then, in the mid-nineties, the Dream Cruise was born and nearby Ferndale and Royal Oak classic car-owners chose a weekend to celebrate the glory days. 


Within three years, this small event had mushroomed into a major news story and soon corporations were leasing entire restaurants and parking lots to wine-and-dine clients.  Jay Leno was seen walking around.  Co-stars from American Graffiti were signing autographs.  It was strange to walk the dog and see a bouncer standing outside my kids’ park protecting the Eaton Corporation from us riff-raff.

So, like the split between the Group A:  Throw-A-Party-in-the-Driveway or Group B:  Go-On-Vacation-That-Week our neighborhood emails took a similar tone. 

We’re pretty entrenched in Group A, despite my photo of a neighbor who owns the closest thing I ever knew to a classic car.


…I always liked the event and enjoyed folks taking a break from their cruising for a chili-dog and a beverage.

Camaro Pickup

Unfortunately, the major issue is the noise and the failure to contain it.  With  the split of the already depleted police force on busy bar-nights, it leaves our side of town vulnerable–if that’s how you feel about the cruisers and their wall-leaning audience.

  • “They have no consideration.  Squealing their tires and revving their engines when people are trying to sleep.”
  • “How can those businesses get any customers if all those people are taking their parking places?”
  • “Have you seen all the trash that’s there every morning?’
  • “Those cars cut through my neighborhood at fifty miles an hour.  Somebody’s going to get run-over.”

These are all legitimate concerns and I was happy to see that this evening a local squad car was putting itself in a prime positions–reminding me of American Graffiti‘s famous scene as Richard Dreyfuss’s character de-axles the cops with a chain to earn his bones with the Pharaohs.


But there’s no admission fee, no special tags or taxes that come from this event that has grown into a season.  And while this openness is exactly the freedom that is celebrated by the Dream Cruise, it still returns to Kelly’s point of how might the event flourish but not negatively impact (if not endanger) the residents for months at a time?

Local residents approved a special bond that put 13 more police officers on the street for under a dollar a day.  And perhaps there’s already a difference as seen in some police maneuvering below…

One local tale of double-negative loss involves a store owner who didn’t bother opening his place on Dream Cruise day and his parking lot was turned into a kegger.  The police broke it up and the store owner was fined $1,000 for the illegal party, citing his responsibility since he didn’t provide security to protect his lot from squatters.  (Granted, this might not hold up in court, but it does shake heads.)

So our neighborhood debate echos those of the community in general.  And sometimes folks can get snarky:

  • “Why don’t you move, then?”
  • “Get some earplugs.”
  • “They’re just kids having fun!  Didn’t you ever have fun when you were that age?”

Or just plain out-there as one person asked, while we were discussing noise, what was with those emergency helicopters flying overhead on their way to Beaumont Hospital.

While this point was quickly nullified by group-members stating that they say a prayer when they hear those helicopters, I was still waiting for an objection to ambulances being able to run red-lights.


We like the Cruise but don’t really see a solution to its new status as a half-year event–I don’t think I can keep chili-dogs warm that long–without poisoning somebody.

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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began MyMediaDiary.com in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 10 years since then. Contact him at: kevin@mymediadiary.com He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at www.mmdphotovideo.com which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion.

2 Responses to Woodward Dream Cruise: Happy Days, Unhappy Neighbors

  1. cathy albery says:

    we were just down there about a week ago for dinner at blarneystone and ice cream at oberweiss and laughed a lot at the people sitting alongside woodward watching the street. i especially liked the circle of lawnchairs so some people had their backs to the action! does anyone in your group comment on the incredible amount of gasoline being used and the fumes produced by that gas?

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Hi Cathy. I think that the gasoline spent is just a given–almost like a boat-owner assuming a ridiculous amount of money that’s going to be spent on maintenance, storage, etc. It also may be a bit of denial regarding the environment–like smokers standing outside a building talking about the expense of cigarettes.