The Brat Patrol | A Long Time Ago, In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away…

Posts filed under 'Getting Into Trouble'

Cruising Gratiot

When you’re in High School, getting a car and the freedom it provides is a big deal. A lot of my friends had pretty nice rides… I can’t say the same about my 1984 Chevy Celebrity Eurosport. That was one of the most inaccurately named cookie cutter cars ever belched out by the big three (perhaps seconds only the the “Reliant”). It was a pig… but I was a car stereo guy. I built a bandpass-style subwoofer enclosure, bought a cheap amp and a second-hand (removable) Alpine head unit and replaced the stock speakers. It sounded decent… and was plenty loud. We would pile into my car and make the “Gratiot loop”: north from 8 Mile Road to around 14 Mile Road and back. We could spend hours just driving back and forth, talking to people in other cars, playing silly pranks, people watching and trying to get phone numbers.

Occasionally, I would meet up with Dave Damore and head out to Gratiot. He was the kind of guy that knew way too much about cars for a 16-year-old. He built up a pretty mean Chevy Malibu, spending every spare dime he had on the performance parts… and not caring much about aesthetics. It was loud and fast, and that’s all that mattered. For a little fun, he would talk trash to guys driving their parent’s Mustang GTs (the alpha car of the 90’s) and con them into a stoplight drag race. It was rarely a close race and even more rare for him to lose. Either way it was fun… and stupid… but mostly more of the former.

When Dave wanted to be a little more serious, he would look for some competition on French Road in Detroit. The stakes were higher and the area was more dangerous (at least to suburbanites like ourselves). Cruising took a back seat to flat out racing. This wasn’t a social exercise, it was a pure adrenaline rush. Looking back, I think a lot of my love for cars and racing started there, in a dirty beige Malibu that smelled of oil, race fuel, and hot rubber.

Right out of high school, I started a decent paying job doing AutoCAD work. It paid well enough for me to get a better car: a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron GTC. With 174 horsepower and 200 lb/ft of torque, it was easy enough to get into trouble. I didn’t have the car long enough to ever cruise in it. I was working nearly full time and going to college. Eventually, sleep deprivation got the better of me and I wrecked it on my way to work.

My next car was trouble: a 1989 Firebird Formula. Bright red, t-tops, V-8, WS6 package. I made a few upgrades and cruised Gratiot with my friends and/or girlfriend pretty regularly. It was a fair match for most of the other gas heads out there that were silly enough to street race. Luckily, I never really got into trouble with that car. I still own it, though it’s sitting in my barn in desperate need of attention. I keep calling it my “retirement project”... someday I’d like to clean it up and take it out on Gratiot again.

I still love cars… I own a 1999 Camaro and race (legally) a Spec Racer in SCCA national events. I’ve loved driving several sporty Subaru models: a 1998 Impreza RS, a 2002 WRX, and now a 2011 Legacy GT. All very quick and fun to drive. The catch is, there’s just not a cruising culture around me like that on Gratiot in my teens. Sure, there’s the Woodward Dream Cruise and Cruisin’ Gratiot events, but there barely more than a parade. Perhaps it’s not so much the lack of a cruising culture as I’ve just gotten older.

Someday, I’ll uncover my Camaro, uncork the exhaust and head out to the east side on a Friday night some time and test that theory…

2 comments July 12th, 2012 by duane

Devil’s Night

If you lived in (or near) the city of Detroit in the 80’s, you knew that the day before Halloween was a scary time. Though Devil’s Night was most notorious for setting abandoned homes on fire, it was a much more innocent event for the kids in our neighborhood. We weren’t allowed to stay out much past dusk, but we tried to squeeze in a game or two of “witch” (see the block party article for a description), followed by a few harmless pranks.

Usually, we would ring a neighbor’s doorbell, then run and hide in the bushes. Never the same house more than once and we were always called home for the evening before it was late. One time a rogue faction of kids decided to toss eggs at cars despite our protest. Those that chose not to participate watched the action with a mixture of fear and excitement from a safe distance. One driver pulled his car over, got out, and yelled at the rebels. They threw a few more eggs in his direction, but, luckily, none of them had good aim. The usual running and dodging through alleys and secret paths ensued and we all regrouped in Joe’s tree fort to trade stories. Though most of us didn’t throw any eggs, we enjoyed sharing in the excitement.

I remember a few years when (presumably) the “big kids” on the block soaped a few windows and egged cars in driveways, but this is all still pretty minor in retrospect. The next year we stood on guard with walkie-talkies linking our guard posts… theoretically… the models most of us purchased from Radio Shack really didn’t have enough range to cover the block. We walked up and down the block in groups of three of four in our denim jackets wielding flashlights. We really thought that we were the reason no more eggings happened… it was likely pure coincidence.

What’s not a coincidence is that Devil’s Night is gone. Former Mayor Dennis Archer started the Angel’s Night initiative in 1995 that organized community patrols and enforced a curfew for minors. The first year, incidences of arson plummeted… in fact, I can’t recall a single reported Devil’s Night-related fire.

Add comment November 4th, 2008 by duane

What is Balduck Park?

Balduck Park was the nearest public park to our neighborhood. During the summer, kites flew there and there was a “nature area (which we called “The Naych”) to hike and ride bikes, a hill provided some excitement and a few fields to play soccer, baseball, and football. My early memories of Balduck include an archery range, too, but I never had a chance to participate. Every 4th of July, the “big kids” would head over to the field at Balduck and launch the “good” fireworks into the sky. On the 5th, a group of us would pick over the scraps looking for cool shell casings and any remaining live fireworks. Usually, we would tape together the old casings of spent fireworks to resemble guns, swords, and rocket launchers.

The hill was a blast in the winter. We would go in small groups to sled down the hill. At one time, there were toboggan runs. They were great when iced over, but eventually grass grew in the cracks and they were removed. (Legend told of a little girl that wiped out on her sled and knocked all of her teeth out, but that was mostly local urban myth.)

Eventually, we outgrew playing war in the alleys and backyard bushes and moved to the Nature Area. We would have epic hunter/hunted battles. Days were spent building forts and traps throughout the single acre wooded lot. We mostly just sat there in our rigged-up base talking and eating lunch.

When were a little older (maybe between 12 and 16), we would venture to the Nature Area at night, dressed head to toe in military camouflage. Although it started as a chance to play “witch” (kind of like tag at night… more on that later) in the woods, it quickly evolved into “hey-let’s-scare-the-crap-out-of-drunk-highschool-kids.” Jocks and their prey would hang out at the picnic benches just outside of the Naych swigging on ill-gotten booze and ghetto-taxed beer. We found this practice despicable (at the time). So, what else was there to do other than shoot the drinks off of the table with BB guns and slingshots? Most of the time, this would send the offenders scattering, yelling all the way to their cars. (Balduck had a reputation as a dangerous place because a body was found behind the hill in the early 80’s.) Rarely, the letter-jacket wearing tough guys would venture into the woods to prove their manhood. Mistake.

By this point, the majority of us were 14, 15, and 16 years old. Some of us had a few years of high school wrestling experience and were in the best shape of our lives. The jocks would enter the Naych. 1 or 2 of the crew would then cover the entrance with a big branch of leaves. Then the biggest of the bunch would drop from the trees directly in front of them… dressed in full combat gear. Drunk and scared out of their minds, the Jocks would run back towards the entrance that no longer existed (once they figured it out and screamed “they’re trying to trap us… we’re going to die!”), freak out and turn around to run down a random path. At that point we usually uncovered the entrance and snuck around trying to find them without revealing our location. Awesome.

One time, however, they must have called the police, because Detroit’s finest showed up with a spotlight and some flashlights (on a night that we didn’t scare any drinkers). Although very scary, we managed to escape undetected. A huge rush, yes… but also pretty stupid. At around 6’ 2” and 180 lbs, I might have looked pretty scary dressed in camo, to both a jock and the cops.

As we grew older and spent more time at school or driving around with our newly earned licenses, we visited Balduck less and less often. I still remember that place very fondly. Every time I look out my window at the woods around our house, I think “hey, that would be a great place to build a fort and play witch.” Someday, I might do just that.

10 comments July 6th, 2007 by duane

The Alley

During our regular adventures, we discovered that the over-grown vegetation in the alley at the end of the block made a great place to set up a “base.” We put on our best camouflage outfits, hopped on our bikes, and drove right into the bushes. I’m sure a half dozen 7-10 year-olds dressed as a special forces unit riding brightly colored Schwinns wasn’t especially inconspicuous, but we thought we were just about on par with a ninja squad. We fashioned tunnels through bushes, made an area to hide our bikes, and formulated an escape plan in case we were discovered.

Occasionally, one of the neighborhood dogs on the other side of the alley fence would discover us, bark a bit, and then be on it’s way. The real excitement happened when the people who’s garages lined the other side of the alley started backing out. We tried our darnedest to keep from being discovered. Occasionally, we would be chased off because it was “too dangerous” in the alley. However, minutes later, we would be back, planning world domination one alley at a time.

2 comments August 16th, 2006 by duane


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