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The Woodward Dream Cruise wasn't supposed to get this big, and it wasn't supposed to last this long.

Surprise, surprise.

In its 24th year, it's as much a coronation as a rolling car show, a two or three or maybe four-week reminder that Detroit was and is the automotive capital of everywhere.

It's a regularly scheduled phenomenon that has spawned imitators from coast to coast and ambition in Clinton Township: Terry Jennings, 42, said Friday that he's been pulling extra hours at his warehouse job so he can buy his buddy's brother's needs-work 1983 Camaro and get off the sidewalk next year.

It's so substantial that it had at least four spinoff events along or adjoining Woodward Friday night, the day before the official event actually occurs: a Lights & Sirens Cruise featuring vintage emergency vehicles in Ferndale, the 23rd Annual Classic Car Parade in Berkley, a Forgotten Harvest fundraiser at Berkley's Westborn Market, and a benefit for Gleaners Community Food Bank at Duggan's Irish Pub in Royal Oak.

It's a place where a Pontiac Fiero, which seemed like a good idea in 1984, stopped alongside a Pontiac Firebird, which was a good idea any time.

And it may be, as Scott Moore calls it, "the largest unsupervised event in the world."

There's a police presence, of course, directing pedestrians and Plymouths. A squadron of motorcycle cops revved up and down the Royal Oak sector Friday as though they had sentry duty. But mostly it's 1.5 million or so people, sitting or walking and universally gawking long after Moore thought they'd all stay home.

Moore, 68, is a former mayor of Birmingham who's been around since that first cruise, a fundraiser for a soccer field in Ferndale that was expected to draw 25,000 people and instead attracted 250,000.

"It was us, and the people a few years older than us, who really did the loop," he says -- the Totem Pole to Ted's, drive-in to drive-in, over and over through their teens. "I figured, 'Well, that generation has done it so many times. They've moved to Florida, retired, moved on.'"

It was a novelty act, he and the other civic leaders agreed. "I thought it would just die a natural death. But it didn't happen."

Instead, Tom and Judy Weber came in from Hamilton, Ontario, for the 20th time. They found space beneath an unoccupied tent to set up their folding chairs at Woodward and Albert Avenue, and no, Judy said, "I really wasn't sleeping. I was resting."

They cruised last year in their burgundy '53 Ford pickup. This time, they went to Frankenmuth first, so they left the pickup at home, arriving Wednesday to allow for extra car-gazing.

"Every car show there is, we try to go to. This is the best," he said. His Ford has a valve to open the headers, "so I can run it quiet or loud. This is the only place you can run it loud, legally."

Loud is good. So is contrast. A woman in an official Dream Cruise T-shirt -- price, $15 -- wore earplugs. Five feet away, two men in tank tops motioned for the driver of a Deuce coupe to gun the engine.

There was a Cooper from the days when they truly were Mini, and Lincolns from when they were maxi. There were unfettered views, with crowds far more manageable than seemed likely come what's forecast to be a rainless 84-degree Saturday.

There were occasional raindrops Friday afternoon, but none after that as Dream Cruise Eve evolved: classics until 5:30, then a swarm of commuters until 7:15 or so, and then back to an aged green front-end loader trailed by a pink Cadillac that might have been even longer.

There was a jumbo military truck with a loudspeaker playing an understandably forgotten song by the Trashmen called “Surfin’ Bird.” There was a large brown dog spilling out of a small yellow ragtop. And, representing the future, there were a father and son on bicycles.

Nick Fresch, 39, and Blake, 8, live a few blocks east of Woodward in Royal Oak. 
“I asked if he wanted to see cool old cars,” Nick said, and Blake reached for his bike helmet.

Nick, who sells insurance for a living and drives a Ram, said he would love to have an antique pickup truck someday. Blake said he would, too.

It’s not as though the owners of the ones passing by were going to turn 70 and drive them off cliffs. If the vehicles are still fit to be on the road, they’ll be on the market.

Give Nick a decade and Blake a little longer, and maybe they’ll be the next generations of Dream Cruisers.

Representing the current generation, John Pokriefke,  63, and Jerry Nuchkash,  69, had bused in from Madison, Wisconsin, with 10 other members of the Cruisin' Topless convertible club. They found standing room just behind the streetside barricade at Duggan's.

 

There were occasional afternoon raindrops Friday, but not many early in the evening, and certainly not enough to deter John Pokriefke, 63, and Jerry Nuchkash, 69, of Madison, Wisconsin.

They had bused in with 10 other members of the Cruisin' Topless convertible club and found a place just behind the streetside barricade at Duggan's.

"Look at that '62 Impala," said Nuchkash, pointing to a sedan still too far away for most people to identify the year.

"He's a mechanic," Pokriefke explained.

"The best show in the world," Nuchkash said, and his friend explained why: "Most car shows, they just park on a field someplace."

Nuchkash identified a 1970 Chevelle SS, then excused himself. They'd run out of Miller Genuine Draft.

He'd be back, though, as quickly as possible. They'd come a long way, and there was still lots to see.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

 

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