The air in the parking lot was electric. It felt historic, optimistic, and liberating. We were staging to cruise Van Nuys Boulevard for the first time in more than a quarter century. At just a few minutes past 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10, a booming voice shouted a few informal instructions and cars began to pull out from the Rydell Chevrolet (formerly Paradise Pontiac) lot, tentatively at first as if they were anticipating trouble. Finally, an old-timer rolled into the street with authority, a bit of engine revving bravado, and just the thinnest wisp of tire smoke. The ice had been broken, and cruising was back on Van Nuys.
Cars poured out into the boulevard from Rydell and from the Ralphs grocery store catty-cornered on the other side of Burbank Boulevard. The route was a loop running from Burbank Boulevard to Vanowen Street to the north, and the air was thick with V-8 rumble and the occasional whiff of race gas. Guys in the crowd estimated that about 1,500 cars turned up. Good numbers, especially considering information about the cruise traveled by word of mouth. Still, those numbers are nowhere near the crowds the boulevard would draw on Wednesday nights 30 years ago. In the cruise's heyday, there was gridlock in both lanes, each way, for several more blocks than the guys ran this night. For nearly five miles, it was bumper to chrome bumper of cars we'd pay big money for these days.
Though it was probably inevitable, the city killed cruising on Van Nuys Boulevard around 1980. Things got bad once the cops would begin to stand post in the street checking cars for illegal speed equipment. Eventually, they just blocked off the road to all traffic on Wednesdays and it was over.
Reid Stolz is the accidental founder of the Van Nuys Cruising Association and the guy responsible for bringing the cars back. Everything started because of an unwitting response to a thread he saw on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board). Reid tells us, "The thread was something like 'Who remembers cruising Van Nuys in the '70s?' and I posted a response saying the Van Nuys Cruising Association was bringing cruising back on Wednesdays starting in June." It just snowballed from there. In fact, the Van Nuys Cruising Association didn't even exist until Reid replied, and he found himself having to actually form the Association. He had set the date, so all he needed was to get the word out. Friends Dennis and Myra Linan made flyers and helped distribute them at a couple of shows about a week before the cruise, and word spread like wildfire. One of the most surprising calls Reid got was from Chip Beck at Rydell Chevrolet offering up one of its car lots as a staging area.
On the night of the cruise, Reid got a call from a friend a little after 6 p.m. telling him to get to the boulevard as quickly as possible: the Rydell lot was full, and the Ralphs grocery lot was filling with spillover. "I was expecting maybe 150 cars, and there was easily double that amount an hour before the cruise was supposed to start," Reid says. "I didn't check with the city, I didn't know if I'd get arrested for this."
Reid hopes to continue cruising on Van Nuys planning to hold an event on the second Wednesday of every month. "It was a rite of passage growing up. I first went when I was 13 with a friend, then I started going regularly with my older brother when I was 15." Once he got his license, Reid started going in his own car, a '66 Ford Galaxie he bought from his parents. He was back on the boulevard this year with his '74 Corvette.