Most days, the mile-and-a-half of Gratiot between Frazho and 12 Mile in Roseville is like so many other metro-Detroit roadways. It’s jam-packed during the morning and evening rush hours, moderately trafficked in the daytime and almost barren in the middle of the night. But on Friday and Saturday nights, the seemingly ordinary stretch becomes something extraordinary. With minivans and station wagons nowhere to be seen, this is the time for cruising. And for area teenagers growing up in a society dominated by the Big Three, it comes naturally.
With a wide array of souped-up vehicles, ranging from Escalades laced with glowing ground effects to Kawasaki Ninja motorcycles to roaring classic hot rods, the weekend cruises on Gratiot are unique.
At 10 p.m., the traffic steadily begins to shift over to a younger crowd. Engines growl; tires squeal and police strobes flash red and blue. The hormones of hundreds of teenagers mix with gasoline fumes and burnt rubber; by midnight, the road has been totally transformed.
Despite the higher-than-average concentration of Corvettes and Camaros, most of the cruisers are not out there to simply check out the cars. It’s more than that. Chicks dig guys with nice cars, or at least that’s what guys hope for. And whether the girls do or not, they realize that the guys will be out there assuming they do. It’s a great opportunity for horny teens to let off some steam.
In essence, it’s a Friday-night high school dance. And if the City of Detroit had a baby, it would look a lot like cruising Gratiot.
Josh Hansen, 17, of Roseville comes out each weekend in his V-6 Mustang convertible. It’s not the best car out on the strip, but it’s not the worst either. He understands the complex relationship between cruising and socializing with the opposite sex.
“I’ve had my experiences,” says Hansen with a devilish smile. “That’s where the drop-top comes in handy.”
Hansen says he usually comes out with another guy and does a few laps down Gratiot on Friday or Saturday:
“It’s a fun thing to do and we usually can’t find anything better.”
But in Hansen’s opinion, the police are much too eager to bring an end to all the fun.
“I can understand cops pulling kids over for drag racing,” says Hansen, “but they’ll get you for a burnt-out headlight or taillight. I don’t like that.”
As you can imagine, the Roseville Police Department bulks up its crew on Gratiot on weekend nights, in hopes of curtailing illegal behavior. An officer manning the front desk at the Roseville Police Department (who refused to give his name) says that two or three police cars are usually assigned to patrol the mile-and-a-half stretch on Gratiot on every Friday and Saturday night.
In the minds of many cruisers, including Hansen, the large police presence is a bit extreme.
“These are just kids out here trying to have fun and enjoy themselves,” says Hansen. “It’s bullshit.”
Perhaps the biggest disturbance related to cruising Gratiot in recent years came last summer, after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in mid-June. Thousands of boisterous fans flooded the area between Frazho and 11 Mile, both on foot and in cars. Police arrived in riot gear in anticipation of trouble, following an outbreak of vandalism in the same area when the Red Wings won the cup in 1998. In this instance, although no one was seriously injured, Gratiot was crippled, leaving cars at a virtual standstill for hours.
On most weekends, though, the traffic is far from jammed. In fact, as a cruiser, one of the most valuable skills is to be able to weave from lane to lane with precision and ease. In a club, all a person has to overcome is the fear of meeting a fine-looking lady (or guy). A person cruising has to worry about other cars, traffic restrictions, pedestrians and even the police, in order to even get close to a car that might be full of fine-looking ladies. (Didn’t that one in the front seat look kind of hot when they sped by?) In cruising, the fun is in the chase.
When that encounter finally comes, it’s nothing but pure adolescent bliss. Eyes meeting at a red light. A friendly wave. A wink, perhaps, or a blown kiss. Or maybe even more. Maybe shouted phone numbers or an invitation to a party. Maybe they’ll show off their new piercing. Or maybe not. Either way, when that light turns green, the moment ends and another search fueled by longing and anticipation begins.