Growing up in the blue-collar bliss of 1980s Royal Oak, the dog days of summer helped establish the pecking order: He who had the swimming pool had the say. We spent our summers playing baseball and hanging around the downtown diners until the waitresses and bus boys grew sick of our faces. Those of us with licenses drove back and forth to unwalkable destinations.
While cruising had been a popular pastime in the ’50s and ’60s, the only nighttime car cruising that ever went down on the Woodward strip during my youth was left to meatheads in spoiler-decked Mustang 5.0s and Z. Cavarichi jeans. Back then, they were a small, annoying group whose presence was relatively simple to ignore.
Somewhere along the way, however, Royal Oakers and other suburban Detroiters changed the rules. Systematically, the utter exasperation of bumper-to-bumper traffic, drinking and driving and squealing tires made its way into our back yards. Now it is not some sort of vigilante hot-rodder drag race, it’s a sanctioned event with its own merchandise. It’s the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise.
More like a nightmare, if you ask me — and lots of other north of Eight Mile denizens.
The Dream Cruise is a legitimate draw. Some 1 million people each year make their way to cruise, to revel in it, partake of it and burn rubber. Outsiders love it, but for many locals and business owners who call Woodward Avenue home, the Dream Cruise can be a real pain in the neck.
Gridlock traffic all but demolishes non-cruise activities.
Some consider it an outrage. Others try to make the best of the situation.
If breathing noxious fumes while doing the hand jive at a simulated sock hop under a beer tent that reads "Back to the Fifties" is not your dream weekend, let me suggest an alternative dream cruise.
Try a day trip along that charming little stretch of U.S. Highway 12 in Lenawee County to the west of metro Detroit. Many know it as the Irish Hills.
As you enter the Irish Hills, you’ll notice the delightful campiness of an old town. First, you’ll come across the Irish Hills Fun Center — a dilapidated water park/miniature golf course that boasts hilarious eye-grabbing advertisements of oversized animals such as huge pink elephants and lilac-colored bears.
Moving west, the next stop is the Stagecoach Stop U.S.A., a 19th century village and theme park that’s reminiscent of a miniature Wall Drug, the infamous South Dakota tourist trap. Think summer camp circa 1951. Replete with Indian museums and a "Train of Terror," you can grab a 50-cent draft at the Stagecoach Saloon while a loved one peruses an authentic plastic re-creation of an arrowhead. What fun.
Kitsch not your thing? No matter. Just past the amusement sector of the Irish Hills is a lovely area of rolling grassy knolls and quaint little antique shops that carry the most interesting array of needful things and trinkets. For those who love to find the treasure in other people’s trash, residents of the Irish Hills have nonstop yard sales.
Just an hour’s drive away from the heart of the Dream Cruise, a trip to the Irish Hills of Southeast Michigan can induce euphoria in the lazy-day lover. The sights are sublime, the air is fresh and the options range from the merely unique to the utterly bizarre.
A trip to the Irish Hills can be a blast. Take some time for yourself or pack up the whole family. Just know that you are not trapped. There is life beyond the Dream Cruise.
Go to www.ohwy.com/mi/i/irishhil. htm for information on tours of Michigan’s Irish Hills.
The Dream Cruise goes full-bore on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak and beyond, all day Saturday, Aug. 16.Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]