Burnouts were made into a contest at the 10th annual 2004 Dream Cruise, but others got tickets for it. , Saturday Aug. 21, 2004, at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit. Norris won the burnout contest. (The Detroit News/Steve Perez) (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
Steve Lehto will tell you that no cars were harmed in the collecting of the traffic tickets.
Heavens, no. The people who spin their tires at the Woodward Dream Cruise love their vehicles far too much to bang them into things.
He will also tell you that of the hundreds of drivers who came to him with their tickets for burning rubber, speeding or perhaps driving a tad recklessly, the number of women was exactly zero.
He has a theory about why that was, and presumably still is. But first, a bit of background.
These days, Lehto is a seasoned lawyer and author who spends a lot of time in Florida. In the early days of the Dream Cruise, though, he was an earnest young lawyer and aspiring author in Royal Oak.
A few days after one of the early cruises — Saturday marks the 20th — he heard a caller complaining on the radio about the ticket he had received for tire-spinning.
Lehto was sympathetic. Long before he was an attorney, he was a 17-year-old getting pulled over regularly in his bright yellow ’69 Dodge Charger. So he dialed in and offered to represent the man for free, and then said what the heck, he’d do the same for anyone else who’d been ticketed at the cruise.
That led to multiple years of representing as many as 100 cruisers per season, nearly all for free. He only stopped when he realized prosecutors who resented what he was doing were leaning extra-hard on his clients ...
All of whom, to get back to his theory, were men.
Lehto, 52, has handled a parade of DUIs and other traffic offenses unrelated to the Dream Cruise, and they’ve been “pretty much 50/50. Men do not have a monopoly on speeding, drinking or doing anything else stupid behind the wheel of a car.”
But Dream Cruise citations are gender-specific. As a former hot rodder, a member of the bar and a lifelong male, Lehto contends that “guys just love to spin their tires and generate smoke and noise.”
They do it partly to impress other men and mostly to bedazzle women — most of whom, of course, “look at that and wonder what the hell we are doing.”
But we can’t help ourselves. It’s in our wiring.
“I suspect that when the first caveman rolled his finished wheel out of his work-cave,” Lehto says, “his teenage son managed to get it to spin and smoke.”
Commissioner of elections
Gwendolyn Roberson wasn’t applying for the job, but I hereby nominate her for Commissioner of All Elections Everywhere.
She could use the work — she’s a laid-off medical technician — but that’s not why I’m endorsing her unwitting candidacy for a job that doesn’t exist.
It was her passion for the process that stood out when I voted in the primary last week ... and that I hope will poke procrastinators directly in their hanging chads when the general election rolls around Nov. 4.
Roberson, 58, was working the check-in desk at Precinct 11 in Farmington Hills. Turnout was light at midday, and she was disappointed. Not just gee-I-hope-it-picks-up disappointed, but more like what-the-heck-is-wrong-with-my-ingrate-fellow-citizens disappointed.
“They need a rock band. And food,” she said. “But you don’t get the food until after you vote.”
Roberson lives within walking distance of the precinct, which sits at an elementary school called Highmeadow Common Campus.
She used to live in Detroit, where schools offer door prizes and free spaghetti dinners to lure parents to teacher conferences. She still has an Old English D on her wristwatch and an image of that apathy in her mind.
“I would love to go through the neighborhood with a bullhorn,” she said. “’Get up! GET UP!’”
At 12:30 p.m., as the 55th voter of the day left the schoolhouse to walk home, Roberson gave him his marching orders.
“Call everyone when you get out of here,” she said. “Spread the word.”
She’d been smiling throughout a rainy morning, but as sunlight broke through, she frowned.
“When you don’t vote, you’re voting,” she said. “You can’t let that happen.”
Consider that a direct order from the top — the Commissioner of All Elections Everywhere.