A big part of the plot of the classic film American Graffiti centered around the car culture of early ’60s America. The social life of a small town focused on teenagers cruising the main street, showing off their rides, listening to rock ‘n roll on the same radio station, stopping for a cheeseburger, engaging in youthful hijinks, and getting into the occasional drag race.
I can report to you that cruisin’ culture remains alive and well in Columbus, except instead of candy-colored cars and hot rods the cruising traffic consists of motorcycles, decked out pickup trucks, and the occasional three-wheeled vehicle. The cruisers like driving up and down High Street, revving their engines and seemingly trying to create as many backfires and engine rumbles as possible. And music remains a big part of the scene, too, except rather than Wolfman Jack and Buddy Holly and the Coasters, hip hop played at maximum volume rules the day. If you live along High Street you know the cruisers put on quite a show starting in the spring and continuing through the fall, when the weather is best suited for a drive through town. It’s entertaining to sit outside and watch the parade, so long as your eardrums can take the noise level.
Why does the cruisin’ culture still thrive in downtown Columbus? I think one of the main impulses that motivated the kids in American Graffiti–to proudly display their vehicles, in a place where they thought everyone would see them–still lurks out there. If you’ve got a fancy chopper or a high-end, chrome-plated, big-engined pickup, you could use them to run errands, pick up the groceries, or go for a quiet ride on a country road . . . or you could drive them through the center of the city, knowing there will be people on the streets and sidewalks to look your way when you rev your engine and crank up your sound system. The existence of traffic lights every block encourages the revving and backfires, and the tall buildings lining High Street ensure the vehicle noise echoes to maximum effect. In short, if you want to cruise in your ride, High Street is a pretty good place to do it.
This isn’t a great thing if you live in one of the buildings along High Street, of course–but it’s interesting that there is still a part of the American social landscape that likes going for a very public ride as in days of old. No drag races yet, though.