My First Cruise

Remember when cruising was an innocent form of group automobile travel?

Every town had a cruise spot. Young people with their machines would do a loop – or, go back-and-forth on the main street – and hang out with their rides at some drive-in restaurant. Back home, that was Van Nuys Boulevard. Whether they were welcomed or not, the entire San Fernando Valley converged on that street to cruise.

In today's carmmunity-driven world, the definition of cruising has changed for the most part. Some places have the old stand-by cruise of up-and-down the main drag and hanging out somewhere for food and loitering. Or, you get creative.

The part of being creative is bridging the love of the automobile, the art of driving and a sense of exploration beyond a singular route. The new cruising still attracts young motorists and some modified machines, but not all the time.

Then again, cruising in the latter form is nothing new. Perhaps the driver for this kind of cruising has changed, using social media and electronic communication to organize these drives to ensure connectivity amongst its participants. Social media connects others from the point of organization and invitation through to collecting memories of the cruise.

Until recently, I usually rode solo – just me and the vehicle that was in for review. It was an excuse to stretch the sea legs of said vehicle. Normally, a destination was in sight – an excuse for a long drive to test fuel economy and on-road durability. On a recent drive, one of my friends asked why did I not call it a cruise – well, something to that effect. Somewhere north of Stillwater, Minnesota, it dawned on me that I had never participated in a cruise with a group of fellow motorists as a driver. I rode along, covering stories in the midst of one, but never drove in a group.

Without going into details, I was invited to a Facebook group that does exactly that – drive in a group cruise. Within days, I took the 2014 Hyundai Elantra SE I was reviewing for and joined the cruise group at Excelsior Commons. What transpired elevated this experience in participated in a Carmmunity.

The group is based in the Twin Cities' southwestern suburbs – mainly Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Shakopee and so forth. Excelsior is a familiar place since the Commons is the site of the 10,000 Lakes Concours d'Elegance. The melting ice on the lake was a lingering reminder of the delayed transition between winter and spring. The vehicles started to assemble – most would make the actual cruise. The crowd was young, but enthusiastic about the automobile – thwarting what the demographers have said about the younger generation‘s rejection of the new car.

The Hyundai was clearly the most stock vehicle of the crowd – next to a Ford Focus SE. Others had a varying array of modifications. We also had a few motorcycles in our group, namely a Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster. I could go through the list of vehicles that participated in the cruise, but all of the people involved had the spirit of welcoming and a deep passion for what they do.

To reiterate, they love the automobile – and deeply so.

Southwest Cruise Group Inaugural Drive

Our cruise was a loosely organized affair. No sponsors, no paperwork – just drive. And, drive we did. The route from Excelsior is a familiar one, cutting through one of the islands that split Lake Minnetonka. In Orono, we split east along the north shore of the lake onto US-12 eastbound, then down I-494. Our destination was a photo shoot at a park-n-ride facility next to the Chanhassen Dinner Theater, then dinner at the nearby Applebee's. This was a simple, straightforward route with some nice curves and scenery.

For the most part, we stuck together. A few local motorists were in our midst, but the pace was enough to keep the pack together. Once we hit the freeway, it was full throttle. Soon, I found myself and the Elantra carved up like an Easter ham. The Harley Sportster that was behind me was gone – shot down US-12 and onto I-494 southbound. Even the organizer of the cruise passed me up after playing Car 0 – a term used on road rallies as the last car in. I was left with nothing but normal traffic.

Things did not improve once pointed onto US-212 westbound. I saw the cruise, but we were heading to the MN-5 split to Chanhassen. On the split, I saw no one in the horizon. I had a bunch of slow cars blocking me from even considering a pass. I was practically done.

A mile or so before our rendezvous point, I caught a break. I saw the leader’s Ford Ranger and leaped forward to catch up. My timing was right as I joined the cruise as we arrived at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater and onto the SouthWest Transit ramp. A series of photos and dinner later, my first cruise was complete.

My problem was not keeping up with the cruise. Nor was it the Elantra. I could easily blame the traffic, but that would be equal to a race driver’s excuse. There is a balance between being part of a cruise and keeping pace with it. Generally, you want the cruise participants to maintain a certain speed and pace. Even if the cruise run is broken up by local traffic, you still want to ensure that the cruise is connected with each other visually. No fault of anyone, but our right foot has a natural tendency to hammer down when the chance is given. You can forgive that, as long as the authorities are not involved.

There is connectivity in a cruise. It is just you and a group of peers in vehicles keeping pace and enjoying the tarmac. It does not matter what you drive in a cruise. Nor does it matter your driving abilities. There has to be common ground established. This group certainly had that, even amongst first timers.

The lessons learned in a brief stint with this group showed what is possible when you get a group of drivers together for a nice journey or a loop around town. Come to think of it, I want to organize a cruise…

Truth be told, the old-style cruise of simply going back-and-forth has evolved. It will take you places with people who share your passion. That is all that matters when you want to find a car community of your own.

All photos by Randy Stern

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