Summer cruising in Bob's convertible

Opinion: Columns

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By John Stanger


When I met Bob Ault in the summer of 1956, he owned a blue, 1954 Chevrolet Bel Aire convertible. This stick-shift car had options such as fender skirts, full-wheel hub caps, whitewall tires, and two-tone all-vinyl trim.

Bob also had an "Oogah" horn attached to the driver's side of his car, so when he saw an attractive girl, he would squeeze the ball on the horn. It was a rare occasion when the said girl did not turn around and look at the car. Usually the girl would smile and wave, but once in a while, a girl would give Bob a dirty look.

Bob had a cigarette holder device under the dashboard in which he would place a smoked down butt, pull the trigger on the device, and shoot the butt into the street.

In the summers of 1956-61, Bob and four of us guys would drive around the local area, and each guy would chip in for gas, which cost 23 cents a gallon.

We usually cruised five or six nights a week, but we did have destinations.

Our favorite hangout was Circle Lanes in Forest Park. We belonged to a bowling league that met once a week, but we practiced two nights a week.

I don't think the practices did much good because we ended up in last place the two summers we were in the league.

In 1958 the five of us, and five other guys we had met, joined a softball league that played at Ridgeland Common. Our team played twice a week and practiced twice a week, but we could never do better than .500.

Our favorite destination after playing softball was Pat's Pizzeria on Madison near Ridgeland. We were steady customers for over three years.

When the summer of 1961 arrived, we decided we wanted to do more than just play softball, so even though we still played a few times a week, we spent many of our evenings either at Russell's, the pee-wee golf course, or Skip's Drive-In.

Another place we liked was a bar on Chicago Avenue just east of Austin.

We would go there sometimes after playing softball, and most of us would have one beer [we were all 21], but a couple of the guys overdid the drinking and caused some damage to Bob's car.

Phil, for instance, burned a hole in the carpet of the car when a lighted ash from his cigarette fell on the floor, and Dick dropped a lighted match on the back seat of the car, which, of course, burned a hole in the upholstery.

After these incidents and the fact that two of the guys didn't always pay the required gas fee and two others had steady girlfriends, the cruising in Bob's car came to an end in late July of 1961.

I lost track of most of these guys after the cruising ended. Two went into the service, one guy moved to California, and one got married, but I'll never forget the summers when we rode to our destinations in Bob's convertible.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 78 years.

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