Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I spent my Friday nights “cruising the strip,” which is way too cool a term for what I was actually doing: driving up and down Central Avenue, the main street (or “strip”) that bisected our small city’s downtown, over and over, with no real destination in mind. Cruising was an existentially pointless activity, and a real waste of gas.
It usually went like this: On nights when my best friends, Marie and Steven, and I were particularly bored—when there was no house party and no local band playing at the community center, and we were too broke to spend hours drinking bottomless coffee and eating pie at Shari’s—we’d pile into my brown Honda and hit the road, looking for a change of pace and wondering if there were people in our tiny town we hadn’t met. The Honda smelled like rancid chocolate milk, on account of someone spilling an entire carton of chocolate milk on the floor the week I got it, but after a while the stench became our favorite joke.
The speed limit on the strip was 20 mph. At that snail’s pace, we’d pass rows of low buildings: the Catholic cathedral where I went to church, the Subway where I worked, the historic Plains Hotel, which was built in 1911 for traders and railroad workers and still bears the visage of its most honored guest, Chief Little Shield. Once we hit Lincolnway, the main drag perpendicular to Central, we’d hang a left and start over again, driving in a 20-block rectangular loop, up and down, back and forth, over and over, guided by the beacon of a glittering Hardee’s sign and our own brake lights twinkling red in the rearview. This vehicular promenade would last for 20 minutes, tops, but it felt like forever.
The three of us spent our drives scouting for boys, gossiping about people at school, and singing at the top of our lungs to Morrissey—or sometimes the Moz dis track “Morrissey Rides a Cock Horse,” Steven’s fave despite the lyrics’ juvenile homophobia. “Making lots of money writing boring songs like ‘Suedehead!’” we’d scream…and then actually listen to “Suedehead,” driving up the ave with the windows rolled down so everyone could hear us. In moments like these, cruising the strip actually seemed exciting—at least for a minute, before we realized the fun we were having was because of one another’s company and not the drives themselves.
On nights when the strip was busy, packed with fellow cruisers from all two of Cheyenne’s high schools, everyone would drive real slow, our cars bumper to bumper as we peered at one another through our car windows. Cruising the strip provided us eye candy in the form of hydraulics-juiced hoopties, which were sometimes rimmed with neon runners—flashy cars whose 20-something owners wanted to show off their special modifications, systematically turning their lights off and on and clicking the switch of their hydraulics to make their trunks jut up at jaunty angles. Flossing like that seemed a far more valid reason than my friends and I had for driving around. The great equalizer was that at some point or other on any given night, every single one of us cruisers was listening to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, the smash album that seemed to unite created my entire town—everybody loved that album, whether they drove a mesmerizing hoopty or a crappy, chocolate-milk-stanky brown Honda.
Dazzled by the fancy cars, Marie, Steve, and I hung out the windows like puppies, looking out longingly onto the world. Even the slightest unusual sight or interaction was significant enough to cause vast ripples through our lives: Who would pull up next to us? Would anything happen?
Occasionally, something did happen—usually boys. After all, if you didn’t have a souped-up car to show off, obviously the sole reason to cruise the strip was to scope out potential dates. Mostly, our fellow cruisers were total dirtbags, and even if they weren’t, we were all too shy to talk to them, which is why I only ever met one boy while cruising the strip. He was a passenger in a car that pulled up next to my ’82 sedan the color and scent of poo. He was wearing a green army jacket and had long brown hair. I have long since forgotten his name, but I won’t ever forget the excitement I felt when we started chatting: First, we made eyes at each other and smiled, then he motioned to me to roll down the window and delivered a super-smooth “Hey.” The light changed before we could get each other’s names, so he yelled for me to meet him at the skate park, which was closed at night. There, we flirted while our bored friends ignored us and each other. We ducked behind the half-pipe and made out under the stars and the threat of police intervention—serious stuff. He had the deepest brown eyes and the softest lips! He was two years younger than me and went to the other high school; we dated for a week or two before I broke his heart, or he broke mine—I can’t remember, which is a testament to the fleeting nature of excitement when you’re perpetually bored.
When you’re anxiously waiting to escape a small town where there’s nothing to do, you develop a distinct sense of stasis—like you’re just passively waiting around for your life to begin. All I wanted to do was live in a place where I could go see a band every night (not just at a community center!) or, at the very least, that had any semblance of a subculture—at that time, making fanzines and listening to “alternative” music was considered “weird” in Cheyenne, and there was no real hangout spot for kids who weren’t interested in sports. If you liked the arts, you were basically fucked. I thought of each year I spent in high school as one in a series of countdowns: “In four years, I can move away,” “Three more years till I can get outta here,” and so on. I felt like I was floating, suspended in one place, unable to move. I was too young to get away, no matter how badly I wanted to, so cruising the strip became a symbolic way of moving forward. It simulated the act of going somewhere, of moving forward, even though we were just moving in circles.
Here’s something I didn’t know at the time: While it’s heartbreaking to feel like you’re waiting for your life to start, once it actually does, all that slow-motion driving seems a little romantic in hindsight. I live in New York City now—and Marie and Steve got out of Wyoming, too. I haven’t driven a car in so long I fear I’ve forgotten how. But I can go see live music every night if I want, and every subculture in the world is represented somewhere in my city. I spent years dreaming of an artistic and fulfilling life as a writer, and now, after all that stasis, I finally have it. When I lived there, I thought Cheyenne was way too small to contain the dreams I wanted to pursue. But the boredom of aimlessly driving around with my friends was, in retrospect, sweet and wonderful. I realize now that driving in circles was part of what inspired me to explore the world beyond them. I always knew I’d have plenty of other places to go. ♦