By Bill Derby
I caught a TV biography of the famous movie mogul, George Lucas. His kick-start career came from the movie, ‘American Graffiti.’ It depicted early 1960 teenagers cruising up and down their favorite street in Modesto, California. It was similar to what Lucas did as a teenager. I suppose every town in America had a favorite cruising strip. We certainly did.
Cruising was a way to show off your car, if you had one. Most likely it was the family car. It was also a way to enjoy your freedom from mom and dad in BC (before cell phones). It also afforded the opportunity to see, meet and talk to girls.
For our group the cruising ground was North Roan Street from the double light intersection down to the Texas Steer Drive-In at the Kingsport/Bristol Hwy. split and back. Our hang out was the DQ (Dairy Queen) once located where the I-26 and North Roan St. interchange is now located. There was no Mall in those days, just a pasture and Mahoney’s was the only major business on Sunset Dr. The Peerless Restaurant with their Black Angus cow was a landmark across the street from the Broadway Motel (now Perkin’s Restaurant). Putt Putt was further down on the right where Johnson City Honda is located.
Jumpin’ Charlie or Jumpin’ Jim was down on the left just past the Steer. It was a short-lived trampoline amusement business where too many people were breaking arms and legs. It had to shut down. Below the Steer was a famous drive-in theatre known as the “Passion Pit” which, unfortunately I never had the opportunity to experience. Roan Street split with a two-lane road to Kingsport and the other to Bristol.
After football games, basketball games, or Teen Town dances on weekend nights you could always count on seeing friends sitting in their cars parked around the DQ. In fact, many of the guys and girls staked out personal parking places. In those days there was no drive-in window. In order to hang out we felt obligated to sometimes purchase food and drink from the friendly staff of the DQ. They were always dressed in white shirts, pants and shoes. If you had the occasion to wear a pair of white pants to school the usual jab was, “Are you working at the Dairy Queen now?”
On a Saturday night, if you were lucky enough to have a date, you always drove her through the DQ to prove to your buddies you actually did have a date. At other times hearts were broken or new romances bloomed. “Hey, did you see that. She told me she had to baby sit tonight. She’s out with that so and so football player!”
Girls liked to cruise the DQ too. Of course they were looking for boys or to check out what their steady boyfriends were up to. Many times guys were caught talking to a Jonesborough gal or even a girl from Elizabethton. If you were caught talking to an out-of-town gal it could be the kiss of death.
If you had a hot car, the DQ was the place to show it off. Wayne Bailey’s older brother had one of the hottest cars in town. For unknown reasons he let Wayne borrow it on rare occasions. Wayne shared his bonanza and loaded three of us into the super sexy car. It was a red-burgundy, Chevy two-door Super Sport with a 398 cubic inch V-8, glass pack mufflers, fender skirts, four-in-the-floor stick shift, wire wheels with white interior and real radio. We must have put two hundred miles on that car driving around and around the DQ. Gas was only a quarter a gallon then.
Sometimes we travelled around town visiting other cruising grounds like the Dutch Maid or Dixie. The Texas Steer was the hang out for the older crowd and adults. On really big occasions, like a high school prom, you could impress your date by taking her inside the Texas Steer for a sit down meal of burger and fries that could cost a fortune, maybe $1.50.
The soft summer nights cruisin’ the DQ soon gave way to high school graduation, college, work, or for many of us, the military and Viet Nam war.
But, we’ll always remember… “Meet me at the Dairy Queen.”