It was 1 AM at night, but the sun was still out. At least it was in my mind. That night, the sun, moon and stars converged and reflected in the shine of my silver metallic 1978 Camaro Berlinetta while I was cruisin’.
The first time I went cruisin’, I thought it was stupid. All night teens drove up and down a half mile stretch of road in the more populated next town over, stopping at pre-determined locations, the McDonald’s and the grocery store parking lots. That is, until the police came and kicked everyone out at one spot, only for the hordes of teens in used cars to travel like nomads to the next point. It was a strange ritual. Most people got out of their cars and spent the night walking
around talking to others, flirting and posturing to see who was the coolest, while admiring each other’s ride.
After all, growing up in a small suburban area in the shadow of the city of Chicago, since the mall and the arcade we’re closed, night out options for adolescent underage teenagers were twofold… a movie or eating at some fast food establishment, nursing the same Coke for two
hours and sharing some french fries or ice cream with friends. But both of those events required dipping into hard-earned dollars and spending less money on clothes and shoes. Cruisin’ was free.
But despite my initial disinterest in this tame and strange rite of passage, my perspective changed drastically when I got my first car. It was a slightly used, as my dad joked, driven only by an old lady who drove her to church on Sundays. While I sincerely doubted that an old lady would drive a hot Camaro coupe with low bucket seats, I didn’t care. In an area without public transportation where you must drive everywhere, wheels were freedom and mine was particularly pretty. It was metallic silver, with a tiny red pinstripe along each side and around the windows, sporting whitish gray bucket seats. I loved that car and couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to show her off cruisin’ on West Jeff.
So my girlfriends, and I piled into Bernie, as I called her, and joined our peers. New cars were like fresh meat, and we made the most of every minute of it, driving up and down with the windows open, strutting like peacocks, flouncing our feathers. And when it was time to park, we
stayed in the car thinking we were too cool to go to anybody else… they would come to us. And they did, like moths to the flame. The boys would saunter up, eyeing the car and looking inside to see a bunch of girls mustering our best bravado poses, seeming like we didn’t care.
Knowing nothing about cars I figured I had to be on my game so I read the manual cover to cover for the first and only time in my life and memorized every mechanical specification of the car, ready to effortlessly answer any questions like a pro.
I would boast, “It has a V8 405 engine with 185 horsepower at 4,000 rpm’s and a top speed of 125 mph, which I did verify in a drag strip on another occasion.”
When they inevitably asked whose car it was, I happily and succinctly said it was mine, with a sharp matter-of-fact earnestness.
The boys thought it was cool and by mere relationship, maybe I was too. My friends loved the attention by every boy in school. And gaggles of girls ran up to us, admiring the car as a breakthrough of the glass ceiling. Girls could own cool cars too.
We felt like rock stars all night, driving back-and-forth, the focus of every rumor, innuendo, question and desire that evening. It was awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed it enough to repeat the exercise every Saturday night that summer. But the first night was the best for that night, Bernie, I and my friends ruled as the queens of cruisin’.

(c) Suzanne Rudd Hamilton, 2023

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