Summertime, and the cruisin' is easy

If it's Tuesday evening, it's time to swing by the local drive-in for burgers, fries and a big ol' slice of Americana.

Because Tuesday is Cruiser Night at Culver's in Auburn Hills, the suburb north of Detroit that's home to Chrysler headquarters. The band plays oldies, the jump-suited singer croons and rocks, dozens of gleaming restored vintage cars fill the main lot and two overflow parking lots are jammed.

I like the energy, the atmosphere and certainly the showcase for the cool old cars that owner Joe Zimmer has created on a weekly basis. So for me, Tuesday is often burger night.

But here's the part I like best: Any American can match my experience.

In any corner of the country, there's a place to hang out with other people who like cars. Car shows, formal Concours d'Elegance, drag strips and race courses, same-make car clubs, Show and Shines.

The simplest is the drive-in burger joint. Take several drive-ins with a low-speed, circular route, and cruising becomes an art form. Naperville on Chicago's west side. Woodward Avenue outside Detroit. In LA, you can hang out Saturdays at Cars & Coffee in Irvine, one of the 57 Saturday cruise locations listed at centralcoaststreetrods.com.

At some point any summer, every U.S. town has its American Graffiti moment.

And, let's face it, vintage cars like to take their dedicated, sometimes-sweaty owners out for periodic airing.

Near me, the place where the best restored cars like to hang out on a Tuesday is Culver's.

My wife and I like to think we have lived in America's top two car-culture towns, Detroit ("We love cars. We make 'em") and Los Angeles ("We love cars. We drive 'em").

But by comparison to life in England or Germany -- both certainly have deep car roots -- any American city is car crazy. Most Europeans and most Americans own cars. But you can live well in Europe without a car. That's hard to do in America.

And Tuesdays at Culver's, nobody wants to try.

This being the Motor City, lots of hoods are up in the main parking lot, a sight that reminds me of my teens, though now there are chromed and restored engines on display rather than four-barrel carbs, air scoops and other go-fast (or look-fast) parts.

There are lots of '60s and '70s muscle cars, the ones aging boomers lusted for but couldn't afford as youths. But you never exactly know what'll show up. I've seen some elegant '30s coupe-based hot rods, even earlier Caddies and Packards and the odd V-12 Jag, but I loved this week's surprise: an in-the-works late '40s pickup pulling a trailer with a circa 1960 open-wheel sprint racer.

The next several weeks will get busier. In Detroit, every old car with a diligent owner is preparing for the main event, August's Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise. Like a Broadway show opening on the road in Providence, Culver's makes a handy shakedown cruise. And it sells ice cream.

Like I said, every American knows at least one car-culture place or event.

Tuesdays at Culver's is not a unique event. But it is a uniquely American event.

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