Cruisin' the Coast

MASKED CRUISER: What brings you to Cruisin' The Coast?

 Pete, left, and Helen Drago have missed Cruisin' The Coast only once in its 19 years.
MASKED CRUISER/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD Pete, left, and Helen Drago have missed Cruisin' The Coast only once in its 19 years.

What brings you to Cruisin' The Coast?

PASS CHRISTIAN -- When Cruisers are asked, "What brings you to Cruisin' The Coast?" the No. 1 response is, "It's the cars." Second most-popular response is cruisin' the beachfront venues. No. 3 is South Mississippi's fantastic weather.

Although we've had some rain days in the past, October brings some of the Coast's best weather. Sunshine, seasonable temperatures, blue skies, good roads and beaches are all great criteria for a fine Cruisin' vacation. But when vehicles such as those assembled here are added in, all the other reasons are just lagniappe.

Since the automobile's earliest days, cruisers were instrumental in the development of the auto industry. The building of national parks was influenced by Americans' newfound mobility by car. Roads to connect the park system were given a high priority long before the interstate system was conceived. And the earliest cruisers were part of the driving force for getting the parks connected -- volunteering time, labor and fundraising efforts. Cars were still a novelty -- not yet a necessity, but that would change.

Fast-forward to the post-World War II era, when our returning soldiers clamored for cars and Detroit was happy to oblige. Cars meant jobs, and automation meant workers had free time to spend with their cars. Cruisin' became a local pastime across the nation. Drive-in restaurants, drive-in movies. New cars could be inexpensive, and older cars were plentiful. Young people started fixing up the clunkers, figuring out ways to swap a good engine into a workable body. The hot rod was born. Organized drag racing was inevitable, and cruisin' grew as a result.

Later the muscle car era exploded on the cruisin' scene, and ushered in cruisin's glory days. Not to give short shrift to any of cruisin's other influences, but let us recognize drag racing and muscle cars' huge impact.

And the performance and safety innovations developed by racing have led to safer cars for all.

Yeah, it's about the cars. "We missed the first Cruisin' The Coast and made all the rest," said Helen Drago, who dresses the part. "I just love the old cars." Her husband, Pete, who also gets into the spirit with his dapper duds, added, "I'm 90 years old, I just sold a 1956 T-Bird. We drive a bright-yellow 2002 Mustang convertible now."

"You see all these cars?" he said, referring to the parade of Cruisers rolling through Pass Christian, "I can tell you about all of them."

The pair also still go onstage to dance with Vince Vance and the Valiants. Evidently, Cruisin' keeps you young.

Keep those wheels turnin'.