Park near the intersection of Eleventh and Main in downtown Boise on a weekend evening and you’ll witness a contemporary twist on a piece of vintage Americana.
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Teenage drivers in pimped-out pickups and lumbering low riders attempt to outdo one another at racing their engines, doing jackrabbit starts and otherwise attracting as much attention — and admiration — as possible.
Some of them don’t realize it, and might not admit it if they did, but they’re perpetuating a tradition begun by their grandparents’ generation. Cruising, or “the cruise” as it’s been known in recent years, began by most accounts in the mid-1950s.
Boise was a smaller and much different town then. With a population of about 30,000 and no mall, multiplexes or digital devices to entertain them, teenagers’ options were limited to sports events, dances, movies, drive-in restaurants and cruising. Think hot rods, letterman jackets, cherry Cokes and Arctic Circle burgers with extra helpings of swagger.
Routes favored by Boise’s cruisers have varied through the years. These days, the cruise is mainly downtown. In its heyday, the 1950s and ’60s, it made a loop from downtown to the Arctic Circle and Frostop drive-ins on Fairview Avenue, returning to downtown via Main Street.
“The Arctic Circle was the main destination,” former cruiser Scott Eberhart said. “There’d usually be about 50 cars and 150 to 200 kids there. It looked like ‘American Graffiti’ on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Some wannabes were clueless enough show up in their parents’ Ramblers or Falcons, but a disproportionate number of the cars were lovingly tended hot rods. Eberhart drove a 1934 Ford sedan on which he’d lavished hundreds of hours. He remembers Paul Revere and the Raiders cruising in the Cadillac hearse they’d converted to their band car.
After basking in camaraderie and adulation at the Arctic Circle, Eberhart and his pals would cruise up Fairview to the Miramar Ballroom to dance to the music of Dick Cates and the Chessman. On Saturday nights, a mandatory downtown stop was the Fiesta Ballroom at Sixth and Idaho.
Murray’s Drive-in, where Bodo is now, was another hot spot — but not for the faint of heart. Murray’s had the best burgers, the coolest hot rods and the prettiest car hops in town. It also had boys with leather jackets, ducktails and, rumor had it, switchblade knives and brass knuckles. To cruise Murray’s was to risk humiliation or, worst case, First Aid.
Then as now, the cruise had three objectives: meet friends, show off your car and, if you were lucky, pick up one of the girls who cruised the route, also in hopes of getting lucky.
If you got really lucky, the cruise extended all the way to one of the drive-in movie theaters on Fairview Avenue, where for some reason no one seemed to remember much about the movies on the following day.
Willy Balding, past president of the Charioteers Car Club, graduated from high school in1963 but got a late start on cruising due to an early marriage followed by a hitch in the Navy. He was cruising his 1931 Model A sedan convertible in the 1970s when controversy over loud car stereos threatened to shut down the cruise.
“We got permission from Valley Glass to hang out in their parking lot, and after that everything was okay,” he said. “The cruise has survived over 50 years now. Kids are still doing it, and every now and then some of us geezers get out there for old time’s sake. I still go every year on New Year’s Day, Balding said.”
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.