“It really makes me feel like a teenager again,” says Micucci with a big, excited smile. He has loved muscle cars since the good old days, but could not afford one back then.
“I put it off for 35, 40 years,” says Micucci, “until it got to the point where the house was paid off, the kids went to college and it was me and my wife looking at each other and I said, ‘Maybe I’m going to get myself a new car.’” Micucci began shopping around at car shows, searching for treasure. He eventually fulfilled his childhood dream when he bought the top-of-the-line W-30 edition—according to Micucci, of the 1,010 that were made, there are only three on Long Island. “It was just such an unbelievably beautiful car for the time,” he says, boasting a handful of trophies that the car has won at some judged car shows.
These hang-outs are populated by a range of rare models: everything from 20-horsepower 1908 Ford Model Ts to 2010 Mustang GTs sporting a beefy 315 horses; everything from dead-quiet engines to deep growls roaring from beneath hoods. American classics with no radios are parked next to $10,000 bass-booming, arrhythmia-causing sound systems in the neon-lit trunks of late-model foreign cars. It’s part swap meet, part cross section, as old-timers who rebuilt their cars themselves mingle with teens and 20-somethings tinkering with their first sports car. Big burly lumberjack types park next to soccer moms who traded their minivans for hot rods. There are the ’57 Chevy greaser rockabilly revivalists and souped-up Scion-driving Fast and the Furious wannabes. Harley riders line up their hogs next to Suzuki owners. The common denominator, beyond a shared love of the internal combustion engine, is that these gatherings mean a low-cost night out and escape from a lingering recession—an escape, frankly, from a dreary real world where cars and parking lots are just reminders of responsibilities and stress.
to all of the shows on cable, Pimp My Ride, things like that.” Arrons points to the 17- to 30-year-old demographic that he credits with helping to bring back LI’s car subculture.These days, about 75 percent of the cruise-ins on LI are free and those that do charge only cost $3 to $5 for admission, according to Pete Giordano, founder of www.LIClassicCars.com, a local car show listing website. For many, the biggest expense is the car’s upkeep, the gas to get there and the ice cream for the ride home.”]Four on the Floor
Growing pains are common for car shows that are still trying to gain traction. Burnouts, loud music, speeding and unregistered vehicles are among the issues often found—not to mention public urination and open alcohol container violations.
“It really happens wherever you go,” says Marty Himes, who is arguably LI’s biggest car fanatic. Himes started the Town of Islip Saturday Night Cruise-In, the most recent addition to the Island’s cruise-in circuit. He also runs the Himes Museum of Racing Nostalgia, a shrine to LI’s racing heritage, out of his Bay Shore home, and chronicles LI’s auto racers of yesteryear for a local newspaper, the Great South Bay Magazine.
“Dozens, literally dozens of cruise nights have come and gone over the years, and the main reason they have gone is not for lack of interest, but people misbehaving,” says Giordano, with exasperation in his voice. “It’s like, come on guys, you have to behave out there. You fight like crazy to get these spots and you jump through hoops, then a few guys put everybody in danger and then you get booted.”
But it isn’t always reckless drivers and showoffs that ruin a car show. It can also be poor planning.
“It’s a really fun atmosphere, a lot of families, not really any troublemakers,” says Yoselin Pena, a manager at the Oceanside Nathan’s—a historic hot dog stand in its own rite, as the first outside of Coney Island.
Suffolk’s car heads have their choice of shows as well. On Thursday evenings in Oakdale, at Oakdale Lighthouse Center shopping center on Montauk Highway, area shopkeepers also report a spike in business when the hot rods roll in, according to Ron Beattie, president of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce. Bob Eckna, owner of Big Bottom Bikes in Oakdale, says he sells much more hot rod-related apparel on those nights.
Red, White and Cruisin’
At any good LI cruise-in, cars are grouped by make or model, but once space gets scarce, disparate models start getting scattered around the parking lots in haphazard fashion. Mustangs and Corvettes seem to dominate, although the variety can be nearly endless. Rows upon rows of Chevys, Fords, Dodges and Pontiacs—among so many others—sit parked, shiny as the day they rolled off the showroom floor, while their owners mill around the parking lot happily chatting about memories, “mint” paint jobs, and share tips on how best to clean their motors.
All of this pro-car talk goes off without a hint of irony on an island where traffic is a daily crisis. Despite the fact that having a car is a necessity on Long Island—thanks to the suburban planners who laid the Island’s highways—for these enthusiasts, sitting in a parked car is preferable to pretty much anything. Then again, these are people who think of their car as more than a utilitarian box on wheels that gets one “from point A to point B,” a phrase that tends to make car-show participants cringe.
“Everyone has heard that phrase innumerable times, but it’s only truly painful to those who spend hours and hours bent over a hood, lying underneath cars, painstakingly pressing on decals in a perfectly straight line, and inhaling toxic fumes in a paint booth,” says Richie Jones of Precise Auto Collision in Ronkonkoma. “Car enthusiasts spend years restoring their cars to their original splendor, or [putting] a new, wild spin on what they were meant to look like. Gear heads are aesthetically drawn to cars, the cleanliness, the shine of the paint, the gleam off of aluminum heads under the hood and the whole package. When the ‘point A, point B’ phrase is spoken, it takes away from whatever time and effort car lovers dedicate to their automobiles.”
Nathan’s Famous, Oceanside, 6 p.m.
Wendy’s Shopping Center, Montauk Highway, Oakdale, 6 p.m.
Villa Monaco’s, Montauk Highway, West Islip, 6 p.m.
Bridge and School Streets, Glen Cove, 5 p.m.
Bellmore LIRR, 5 p.m.
Massapequa LIRR, 7 p.m.
Cedar Beach, Ocean Parkway, 6 p.m.
Home Depot Shopping Center, Commack, 5 p.m.
Oak Beach, Ocean Parkway, 7 a.m.
Bob’s Shopping Center, Sunrise Highway, West Islip, 8 a.m.