As we climbed into a car on a sunny Saturday evening last week a headed toward the center of Hillsboro, we had no idea what we might find. But it was another somewhat boring evening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so after my father called and said there was some type of large commotion uptown, a son, daughter-in-law, my wife and I decided to go check it out.
At first, I had know idea what my father was talking about. But about the time the conversation ended, I remembered seeing a Facebook post about a “cruise-in” planned for the uptown area. Still, we did not expect to find what we stumbled upon.
What we found was a scene reminiscent of any Friday or Saturday night in uptown Hillsboro in the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s — and it was a sight for sore eyes: vehicles everywhere, concentrated in the center of town.
During my high school years in the 1970s, cruising a one-block area in uptown Hillsboro was a right of passage. On pretty much any Friday or Saturday evening in those days, regardless of the weather, you could hop in your car, head uptown, and find people cruising in both directions around a one-block area that encompassed the 100 blocks of West Main Street, South West Street, Walnut Street and South High Street.
As we stood on an uptown sidewalk taking in the sights last Saturday, I told my son and daughter-in-law that cruising back in the day was something akin to a forerunner of Facebook. If you wanted to know what anyone was doing, who might be hanging with whom, or where the happening places might be that evening, all you had to do was head for the cruising block. After a lap or so, you’d likely find all the information you were looking for and more.
Back in those days, it was pretty much all kids doing the cruising. That was not the case last Saturday. Oh, there were kids, but the majority of those cruising were older. They were smiling, waving, honking and having a hoot. Others were parked in the cruising area, out of their cars and waving at the cruisers as they drove past, and still more were walking around just enjoying the scene.
The town seemed alive — more alive than since somewhere around 2000, when the city’s leaders at the time decided to put an end to cruising. People were smiling, sharing laughs, and reminiscing of youthful days gone by.
For a couple hours at least, the community came together as one, and it was cool.
I know the city fathers had their reasons for putting an end to the cruising by erecting signs disallowing certain turns in the one-block area a couple decades ago. I did not agree with them at the time — and I still don’t — but I suppose some of the reasons were legitimate.
But regardless of the minor inconveniences cruising caused with backed up traffic and such, I could never fathom the big problem with having a bunch of kids cruising a one-block area, driving less than 5 mph, where pretty much anyone could see exactly what they were doing.
Do you think it’s better, I thought back then, to turn the kids loose on country roads, where they would be doing the exact the same things they were doing uptown, only at much greater speeds and with no one to keep an eye on them?
I didn’t understand what the big problem was then, and I don’t get it today.
Judging from Saturday’s turnout, I was not the only one.
Now, I’m told, the organizers of the event want to have a cruise-in the second Saturday of every month. They want to get food trucks and other activities involved, and they want to raise money for charities. They plan to meet with the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association, the police department, the fire department, and other city leaders to try to develop a plan.
I hope it all works out. Because when you see people smiling and laughing, sharing special memories from their childhood with their loved ones and others, and enjoying their town at the cost of nothing more than a gallon or two of gas, well, what more could the city leaders want for the town they govern?
I don’t see cruising ever returning to Hillsboro on a weekly basis — unless the COVID-19 pandemic sticks around longer than any of us hope. But what could it hurt once a month?
On Saturday night, I saw the residents of Hillsboro united in a common cause. They were happy. I saw police officers joking and interacting with them.
I hope I see it all again soon. When I do, I think I’ll join the cruisers and take a lap around the old block — for old time’s sake, and because it looks fun.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.