Go down any popular cruising strip in Oklahoma – say, Tulsa’s Memorial Drive – on any given weekend after the sun goes down, and the lanes are crowded with kids cruising and parking lots full of teens just hanging out.
It’s not a new thing. The technology’s changed, but except for smaller cars and bigger speakers, it is a scene that would be right at home on Brookside’s Restless Ribbon in the ‘60s and ‘70s, or around burger shacks and drive-in theaters in the ‘50s.
Jerry Conrad stops at a red light on Brookside in Tulsa. His powerful V-8 hums its soothing rumble. A car pulls up beside him and the light turns.
“That light turned green and away you’d go, laying rubber all the way,” Conrad says.
Except he doesn’t. Conrad takes off at a reasonable, law-abiding pace. He’s in a Dodge Ram pick-up now, and it’s not a crowded Brookside strip in the 1960s and ‘70s – the old Restless Ribbon days.
Back in high school at Central in Tulsa, Conrad could be found making the loop on Brookside. Cars would cruise back and forth, trying to see who was driving what and who was riding with whom, and turn around and do it all over again.
He drove a 1968 LeMans back then. Still has it.
“Almost anybody you talk to is going to tell you there were no better times for muscle cars than the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Conrad says.
Cars were part of the equation for cruising back then, cruisers say. The friends were the other part.
Hank Moore’s cruising days spanned much of the 1950s. High school kids would hit their particular hangout – nearly always a Pennington’s drive-in restaurant, for some good food, sodas and to see who else was out.
The soundtrack of their Friday nights was provided by KAKC, Moore says.
“The music of the time was absolutely huge – very much a part of young people’s culture,” he says.
“The drive-in restaurants were pretty much the hub of the social activity at night.”
But they weren’t the only spots. Drive-in movie theaters would draw a crowd and were fine places for a date. A movie and snacks, followed by dinner at Pennington’s, would only cost a fellow about $5 at that time.
“If you had a half tank of gas, a nice lady and a six-pack of beer in your trunk, you were in heaven,” Conrad recalls.
Moore left Tulsa, and his cruising days, in 1960.
Conrad went away to college in 1972, leaving behind the scene to the high schoolers behind him.
Pennington’s owners closed up the drive-ins. Judy Pennington died in 2010.
The last drive-in theater, the Admiral Twin, burned to the ground in 2010.
All signs, for some, the era of their cruising has passed.
But it’s not over. Somewhere, some weekend night, some kid is keeping the tradition, changed though it has, alive.