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From the Archives: Cruising during Modesto's annual Graffiti Night

From the Archives: Cruising during Modesto's annual Graffiti Night
June 15, 1986: Truckload of young women on McHenry Avenue in Modesto during annual Graffiti Night cruising event. (Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times)

Modesto's Graffiti Night is an annual celebration re-creating the era of George Lucas' 1973 movie "American Graffiti."

This photo accompanied a story by Patrick Goldstein in the June 22, 1986, Los Angeles Times. Goldstein reported:

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...Everything seems larger than life on what has become known as "Graffiti Night" here. Held every year on the first Saturday night after high school graduation, it's the ultimate cruising celebration, a time when all of Modesto revs up its engines and goes zooming back to the future. Partly in honor of graduation, partly a tribute to hometown hero George Lucas, who immortalized the rites of cruising in his 1973 film "American Graffiti," the rowdy nostalgia party last weekend had the festive air of a chrome-studded carnival on wheels.

From mid-afternoon to after midnight, 60,000 people — nearly half the town's population, were packed into a 30-block stretch of McHenry Avenue.

While there were some grizzled, first-generation cruisers out on the street, most of the celebrants were only a few years out of high school, young enough to have only learned about Modesto's drag mating dance from the film or anecdotes passed along by their parents.

It was a convivial Mid-America version of spring break in Fort Lauderdale. Battalions of teen-agers roamed the streets of the cool night, one eye on the passing parade of freshly-scrubbed hot rods, the other on the opposite sex.

Spectators sat in lounge chairs or on the back of pick-up trucks, armed with cases of beer, soda pop and sandwiches. Local entrepreneurs sold "Graffiti Night" T-shirts and caps, families wheeled little tots in strollers down the sidewalk and local police strolled past the revelers, keeping a close watch on the largely docile crowd.

Police last Sunday reported 23 arrests, most of them for public intoxication and equipment violations. …

Goldstein's full 1986 story is online: "American Graffiti": Still Cruisin' After All These Years.

Every June, many "American Graffiti" related events are still held in Modesto.

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