American car culture took a hit last week when the Mobile City Council passed an ordinance aimed at curtailing much of the “cruising” police feel played a prominent role in recent weekend violence in LoDa.
The ordinance comes on the heels of late night/early morning downtown shootings that don’t mesh particularly well with efforts to draw tourists and citizens to the city’s entertainment district. While none of the shootings were conducted from a speeding car, police have pointed to the high amount of “cruising” going on along Dauphin Street as something that causes congestion among people staggering drunkenly along the sidewalk.
This congestion leads to people standing in groups, which leads to confrontations and ultimately to someone emptying a pistol into a scattering crowd. I don’t care how many duck boats you have rolling down Dauphin, that kind of thing is bad for business. Fortunately the incidents we’ve had lately have not been deadly.
So the mayor and council got behind changes to current laws, shifting the hours in which it’s OK to wander through downtown with a cup full of alcohol to noon until midnight, and enacting an anti-cruising ordinance. In essence the law allows police to write someone a ticket if he/she “cruises” down Dauphin more than three times in a two-hour period. On the third cruise the driver is supposed to get a warning.
Both measures will “sunset” in mid-November, so we’ll have a few months to gauge their success in curbing downtown violence. Things are off to a good start, as last weekend was incident-free, but that may be at least partially due to the presence of about 50 MPD officers in the entertainment district to observe the fun. Business owners I know said the officer-per-reveler ratio was definitely higher than normal.
That should at least offer relief to those who were frightened by the recent shootings.
Changing the open container law makes obvious sense if you don’t want people hanging around in the street as the night wears on. Besides, it’s always been too easy for someone to simply get one cup from a bar and then fill it up from a flask or out of the back of a nearby car for the rest of the evening.
The question of whether Mobile ought to continue to be a “drink-‘til-dawn” town is another issue deserving of some thought, particularly as more people live in the area. But that’s a discussion for another day.
While the open container change is easy to follow, I will admit the intricacies of the cruising ban do evade me at bit. I’m going to trust that Chief Barber knows more about handling crowds and traffic flow than I do, but I can’t help feeling there’s something a bit draconian about telling people they can’t cruise through the city’s hot spot.
It’s sort of an American tradition, isn’t it?
I know other cities have enacted similar laws aimed at stopping violence and trouble. I guess this just falls into the category of a small group messing up things for everyone else.
Cruising — or driving around looking for girls, as it is also known — is probably as old as the wheel. I’m sure early chariot owners bumped through the streets around the Roman coliseum, slowly eyeballing the ladies and trying to get some eye contact back while a guy in the back played the lyre at earsplitting levels.
When I was in high school Van Halen and Hank Williams Jr. had replaced the lyre, and a huge, dusty dirt lot across the river from Ingalls Shipbuilding known as The Point stood in for the coliseum.
It was the same program every weekend — my buddies and I would drive down Beach Boulevard in Pascagoula, pull into The Point and hope to spot a carload of girls who had stopped to enjoy some delicious Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. Sometimes we would stop and talk. Sometimes we cruised by and slowed momentarily to let the girls know we’d be coming back. You know, to build the anticipation and also to see if we could find a carload full of better-looking girls. You don’t want to commit too early.
I will admit this cruising wasn’t always a benevolent exercise. The Point was often beset by fistfights, and there were a couple of times where some of the guys in my car might have resorted to petty vandalism. I tried to stop them.
The cruising culture was certainly huge in the ‘50s and ‘60s as people drove cars bigger than in-ground swimming pools. The advent of louder and louder car stereos only made cruising more fun. You weren’t doing it right if everyone didn’t get to hear your jam.
Among people my age the anticipation for having a car and cruising was built primarily by commercials for Ronco’s Mr. Microphone. This breakthrough piece of technology allowed people to actually broadcast their own voices on a nearby radio. The classic 1978 commercial features a curly-headed guy in a car already loaded with honeys, using Mr. Microphone to smoothly say, “Hey good lookin’! We’ll be back to pick you up later!” No sense leaving any women for other guys when you’ve got Mr. M. It was like fishing with dynamite. (Come to think of it, maybe that commercial is where we learned our best cruising move.)
Today, maybe the cruisers are jamming Drake or some rapper whose name I don’t know. Or maybe it’s girls singing “The Sign” by Ace of Base really out of key, which apparently is a thing. Whatever they’re jamming, they better not be jamming it more than three times around the block.
It’s a shame people who can’t leave their stolen pistols in the glove compartments of their stolen cars have ruined the decades-old rite of passage cruising has been in this country. Thankfully Councilman Levon Manzie pushed for a warning before tickets are written, so hopefully this new ordinance won’t lead to lots of tickets or officers having to spend time in court defending them.
Manzie also brought up a valid point last week, asking how officers are going to differentiate between repeat cruisers and someone circling the block to park. I’ll assume it will be obvious enough who’s cruising and who’s parking, but if not, the cops should check to see if the driver has a Mr. Microphone.
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