It’s the biggest annual event in Michigan. It’s the fourth largest one-day event in America. It’s the biggest car festival/cruise in the world. It’s the Woodward Dream Cruise with over 1.3 million spectators and over 40,000 classic cars, antique cars and hot rods. This year was the 20th anniversary of the event and not many people outside of Michigan know about it (other than classic car buffs, hot rod enthusiasts, drag racers, auto restorers and car people).
I had to be in Detroit the Friday before and it was crowded with cars and spectators already – a week in advance! I returned on Wednesday, picked up my friend Steve from California at the airport and headed to the hotel taking a longer route on Woodward. Woodward was packed. Four lanes going north and four lanes going south and it was bumper-to-bumper classic car traffic at around 4 MPH. Engines rumbled, an occasional tire squealed loudly and sometimes it was hard to hear with all that Detroit muscle revving up.
With my new automobile advertising wrap about my novel, Dream Machines, I was getting plenty of attention. My goal with this trip is to get enough publicity to sell over 2000 books through Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com so I can attract a literary agent, who will sell my book to a big publisher. If that happens, then movie producers will be interested and that is my true main goal: to make my novel, Dream Machines, into a movie. If made (hoping some big rich Detroit leaders read this) a side benefit would be improving the negative perceptions and opinions about Detroit into positive ones. At least, that’s my plan. Know of any people like that with $5 million they would like to invest in a movie? I didn’t think so.
Wednesday night was the only chance we would have of stopping at Duggan’s Pub on Woodward for a Big Chief burger, the burger they once served at the Totem Pole. Speaking of the Totem Pole, I stopped by the lot on Woodward where the Totem Pole was. It had turned into a Burger King for years and then they closed. They leveled the building and there is nothing but a vacant, empty lot left of what was the greatest drive-in restaurant in the world (my own opinion).
Thursday had Steve and I cruising Woodward as much as possible (to show off my moving billboard). I had a very bad problem though. On Tuesday, my good friend and best man at my wedding, Dan Hurley died of a heart attack. Dan went to many Dream Cruises with me and his absence was a sore spot. That night we went out to dinner with his son, Neil and his wife Monica. We went to Birmingham, where the sidewalks were filled with people trying to get seats at the many fine restaurants in the area. The streets were also starting to be filled up with classic cars.
Friday put me in a better mood. We cruised a very busy Woodward, but my friend Steve wanted to hear about actor/comedian, Robin William’s home area, because it was in the news so much about his death a few days earlier. Better than explaining, I showed him. We toured the neighborhoods and small lakes of Bloomfield Hills and the exclusive Cranbrook Institute of something or other. Robin lived in an extremely affluent part of Detroit’s suburbs along with his neighbors Mitt Romney and Lee Iacocca. In the ‘50s and ‘60s the area attracted big executives from Ford, GM and Chrysler. They let their teens play with the new demo cars they drove home from the factory. Many of those kids and their parents, drag raced on Woodward in their new GTO’s, Mustangs, Dodge Hemi’s, Corvettes and all the other muscle cars. Robin and Mitt had to have cruised all the drive-ins too. That’s a cool thought. I believe there are still a lot of auto execs living there.
Friday night was an absolute zoo. Cars were crammed onto Woodward going about 2 MPH bumper-to-bumper for miles. It took hours to go a mile. The tree lawns, parking places and just about everywhere the crowd sat on lawn chairs or walked between the mini cruise-ins that were jammed with cool cars. TV crews were flitting around getting interviews and radio station guys were out in the street talking to people in their cars asking for a rev up (for sound).
The police were out in a larger force than I’ve ever seen. At the shopping center at 13 mile and Woodward, where Chrysler has set up a ‘Mopar’ exhibit, there was a line of police motorcycles like I have never seen, other than in a movie like, ‘Blues Brothers.’ There had to be at least 30-40 motorcycles from police stations all over the Detroit area. There were cop cars everywhere as well as plenty of cops on bicycles and horses. At the Mopar exhibit, there was a lot of local hype and publicity about Dodge’s new 700+ HP Charger, ‘Hellcat,’ but it wasn’t at the exhibit…yet. They said it would be there on Saturday, but unfortunately, we had a different schedule for cruise day.
Down the street from the Mopar exhibit, and across the street from Duggan’s Pub, was GMs Corvette exhibit and next to that was a park area that was transformed into a classic car carnival. It was packed with food concessions/trucks, classic cars, hot rods, t-shirt tents, the truck from my friend Dana’s magazine ‘www.cruiz’news.com,’ several bleacher seats faced Woodward and the enormous crowd either sat and watched, or milled around enjoying the intoxicating atmosphere of motor city metal.
It was quite an experience, but the show ended at 9:40pm when the huge presence of police blocked off Woodward and everybody had to go home. I mean, tried to go home. The small neighborhood road that the police forced people to take became jammed and it took us forever to make our way back to the hotel.
The Saturday morning of the Dream Cruise had a chill in the air. The temps had dipped into the 40s the night before, but there was a crowd on Woodward at 8am. We headed to Ferndale. At the corner of 9 Mile Road and Woodward, 9 Mile was blocked in either direction for blocks and blocks for Ford’s ‘Mustang Alley.’ Ford and many after-market suppliers like Saleen, Rousch, Shelby and many others showed their newest Mustang designs. A large parking lot was filled with only Mustang Cobras. Then there were blocks and blocks of Mustangs of all years and models owned by private owners. In all, we figured there had to be at least 1,000 mustangs. It was unbelievable and overwhelming for this ardent Mustang fan. My Mustang was stolen, but that’s in a previous blog.
We then headed to Birmingham to see GM’s offering to the Cruise. It took us a long time to go 6 miles, but lots of people saw my mobile billboard along the way. Tee shirts under a tent dotted the sides of Woodward for miles as well as a bunch of ‘radio towers’ so people would know a radio station was broadcasting from there. Crowds surrounded various cool cars parked everywhere and anyway they could. I could tell by the crowded boulevard that this was the biggest Dream Cruise ever. Along the way, there was a row of around ten DeLoreans like the one in the movie, ‘Back to the Future,’ all with their doors open and pointing skyward. What a blast!
In downtown Birmingham, Old Woodward Avenue was closed off and wow, they had quite a show of classic cars. Since this was Birmingham, with it’s affluence, there were a lot of classic foreign cars that cruised Woodward in the ‘60s, like MGs, Triumphs, Austin Healeys, Jaguars, Rolls Royces and even an old Bentley. There was a long row of Cobras, Thunderbirds and Corvettes. On the other side of the sidewalk, in parking lots full of parked cars, there were a number of exhibits for after-market companies that do a lot of business with GM.
An old friend of mine, Ken Lingenfelter, owns one of those companies, Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. They make GM cars like Corvettes and Camaros go faster and make race cars go faster too. They build race car engines and components like superchargers. Ken showed me a new product of his; trucks he named, ‘Reapers.’ He gives trucks a go-over, performance and custom looks wise, and calls them ‘Reapers.’ They are already in some GM showrooms in Texas. Ken also showed me his personal ‘everyday car,’ a gorgeous ’67 Corvette with over 600 HP. I want to go the grocery store with him.
At the end of the street where it meets Woodward, forms a triangle where Chevrolet, this years Dream Cruise sponsor, has a large exhibit of their coolest new cars and classic Chevys. There was also a TV station, WXYZ (ABC), which is a sponsor, doing live broadcasts as well as the oldies radio station, WOMC, with their funny radio hosts, Bobby and Stacy doing a live show. Add in all kinds of food trucks, huge crowds, live music stages and you’ve got a pretty wild scene with hundreds of thousands of classic car buffs oo-ing and ah-ing every cool car that drives by.
When we headed back out onto Woodward we heard my radio interview. The day before, I had done a radio interview with WWJ 950 am all news, and we heard it run several times in the day and once at night. We didn’t really get all that far on Woodward, because again it was wall-to-wall classic car traffic going at a snail’s pace. At 9 pm, we saw the lights on all the police cars go on like it did Friday night just before they closed Woodward down. I hurried (you really couldn’t hurry) as fast as I could to get off Woodward. I turned the corner at 13 Mile Road and just then the cops shut down Woodward. I thought, ‘9 pm?’ I guess they wanted to end the happiness earlier that usual. Back at the hotel, I heard people moaning about the long ride back in the traffic. I felt lucky, where can I buy a lottery ticket?
On Sunday, we finally got our chance to eat a Big Chief at Duggan’s Pub. We sat at the bar and I saw a very hard working guy, Larry Payne, owner of Duggan’s. Larry said he heard my interview that morning on WWJ, so maybe I sounded better than I thought. I said goodbye to Steve when I dropped him off at the airport. This was his second Dream Cruise year and he said it was, ‘great.’ I headed back to Cleveland, with a big smile, great memories and it helped me get over the tragedy of my friend, who loved the Dream Cruise, passing on. I’m sure that now he’s in a real, ‘Dream Machine.’
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