The Woodward Dream Cruise is alive, just unofficially

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
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The Dream Cruise is canceled, long live the Dream Cruise.

While official city and corporate events for this week’s originally planned Woodward Dream Cruise were canceled back in June out of COVID-19 health concerns, the annual pilgrimage to Woodward motors on.

Over the last few days, “the world’s biggest traffic jam” has attracted thousands of cruiser-faithful in lawn chairs enjoying a steady stream of sports cars, hot rods and Detroit classics ahead of what would have been the official culminating event on Saturday.

Even though the official Woodward Dream Cruise was canceled, cruisers are out in force anyway.

Many of those behind the wheel shrugged off the absence of official events and said it brought a refreshing return to the grassroots gatherings that made the Dream Cruise unique 25 years ago.

“It’s nice not to have all the companies here,” said Veronica Spitza of Brighton, who drove a mint 2010 Chevy Camaro SS to Royal Oak with husband Al. “It’s been easier to find a parking space that usually are soaked up by all the corporations.”

The Spitzas have been coming to the Cruise since the late 1990s, and this year they made it a family affair: They brought a 20-year-old nephew, Jack, from New York. A Barrett-Jackson Auction fan, this is Jack’s first Dream Cruise.

The annual event is a summer highlight for ’73 Corvette Stingray owner Sam Agus, 72, and pal Mike Detrych, 72, who haven’t missed a Cruise since 1995. The Milford natives grew up together and fought in Vietnam together. When Detrych returned from war, he bought a red 1969 Chevelle V-8 that he still drives today.

“It’s just like the old days out here,” said Agus, who met the original owner of his Corvette for the first time Thursday. “The companies aren’t here, but the cruisers still are.”

Behind them, the parking lot between the A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home and vacant Art Van store in Royal Oak was taped off, empty of its usual crowds. That sight was not unusual along Woodward as businesses discouraged large gatherings.

Despite that, Cruise attendees were in a festive mood. They naturally social-distanced around cars and in lawn chairs.

Woodward Dream Inc. president Michael Lary defended his board’s decision to cancel official events out of concern for heightened COVID-19 cases.

“We made a decision based on the best interest of the public,” said Lary, whose board is made up of local city officials. “We didn’t want to be part of doing irresponsible things.”

Some cruisers lamented that local communities and corporations were not more involved, saying they could have brought sanitizer stations and broadcast public service announcements to the large gathering.

Longtime cruiser Roger Posey, 70, lamented that Memorial Park in Royal Oak was taped off, as were many other public spaces. He is president of the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers car club — which celebrates Chevrolets made in the years 1955-57 — that usually gathers there.

His group has relocated their lawn chairs to a strip of lawn in front of a medical office. A stunning, multi-colored lineup of Chevy Bel Airs and 210s was parked behind them. Posey’s ride? A 1956 V8-powered 210. Posey’s club usually attracts members from Canada and as far as Australia and England — but they won’t make it this year due to travel restrictions.

“This year reminds of the first five years of the Cruise,” said Posey, thinking back to the mid-1990s. “I remember three guys pulled up at the stoplight near Duggan’s. They drag-raced three abreast out of the light. Then 35 police on horseback came up Woodward and put a stop to the drag racing.”

Police in black Ford Explorer SUVs were common along the grassy median this week. But with traffic backed up for hundreds of yards, drivers behaved themselves. A ’60s Corvette Stingray-turned-dragster with a rear parachute and towering engine-blower made the earth shake. An orange McLaren 720S burned retinas.  A topless classic 1967 Ford Bronco towered above an old MG.

The Woodward Tri Five Cruisers car club usually gathers at Memorial Park in Royal Oak. Because that was taped off by the city, they relocated their lawn chairs to a strip of lawn in front of a medical office, with their Chevy Bel Airs and 210s parked behind them.

It wasn’t just the old guard that was enjoying the atmosphere.

Nineteen-year-old Brennan Lata was hanging out with his West Bloomfield buddies in front of the Jeep dealership in Royal Oak. They had all piled into Lata’s Ford Mustang GT and 18-year-old Matthew Awdich’s Corvette to cruise the strip.

“We’ve been coming here since we got our driver’s licenses,” Lata said. Though overall numbers for this year’s Cruise will be way down, Lata and company signal that new generations will be here for years to come.

Dream Cruise President Lary hopes a vaccine proves successful soon so the Cruise can return to normal next year. Despite companies staying away this year, he was still pleased to see the classics on Woodward.

“The bottom line is there is still an experience there for folks who want to enjoy it," he said. "That’s what is so great about this event.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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