It wasn't so unusual that the Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe" was playing on the jukebox at Angelo's Drive-In in Anaheim. This was Southern California, after all, the Beach Boys capital of the known universe. There are probably more jukeboxes here with "Little Deuce Coupe" in them than there are Elvis records in Tupelo.
What was unusual, however, was that on this night, the first Friday of the month, there were people sitting in Angelo's who actually knew what a deuce coupe was.
The first Friday of each month is known--unofficially, anyway--as "cruise night" at Angelo's. It is the night when owners of hot rods both ancient and modern, from throughout Southern California, roll in for a burger and fries and a quick look at the other guy's custom machinery. It is a gathering place for car clubs, car fanciers, car builders, car collectors and anyone who loves anything with wheels that is bright, flashy, fast and unique.
And, say the cruise night devotees, Angelo's may be the perfect spot for such a ritual.
"It's really a whole atmosphere," said Larry Crowder, 38, an appliance repairman from Pasadena who drove his gleaming white '57 Chevy Bel Air hardtop down to Angelo's for a burger. "It's like going back to the '50s and early '60s. It's like Pasadena on New Year's. It gets to be really nice when the cars start really coming through."
The procession starts about 6 p.m., said night manager Tim Sullivan. From then until about 9 p.m., most of the cars that arrive are of the vintage hot rod variety: highly modified cars ranging from the 1930s to the early 1960s, often owned by men in their middle years who now have the money to indulge their passion for beautifully tricked-out custom cars.
Later in the evening, after the older crowd has moved on, younger drivers show up behind the wheel of newer machines such as modified pickups, Sullivan said.
However, the look of Angelo's more accurately suits the older hot rodders. It is a garish place, the kind of gaudy yet straight-ahead burger joint that Archie and Jughead would have hung out at, an orange-and-yellow neon beacon where Fats Domino tunes blare and the food is served up in the parking lot by roller-skating car hops. Food is basic and redolent. Sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, soft drinks, shakes and beer, with a tiny concession to variety with the offering of gyros and taquitos.
In past years, Angelo's has been the center of some local wrangling among nearby homeowners and police, who have maintained that the large volume of cars on cruise night has slowed traffic and disturbed the neighbors. And, say the present-day car buffs, hot rod drivers on cruise night should be aware that police occasionally will ask lingering cruisers or gawkers to move on and clear the parking lot. Angelo's management no longer officially promotes the first Friday of every month as cruise night, but, management says, the cruisers come anyway.
Dan Belcher, 47, a construction worker from Norco who showed up recently at the wheel of his modified bright yellow 1941 Ford delivery sedan, said "this is the place to come to see cars, and I mean high-dollar cars."
And Sullivan estimated that between 30 and 75 vintage hot rods will show up between 6 and 9 p.m. on cruise night.
Among the aficionados, Angelo's is a kind of time machine with big tires, said Crowder.
"I come down here and tell my friends to get ready," he said. "I tell them the '50s are coming back."
And, for those who are wondering: A "deuce coupe" is 1932 Ford three-window coupe.
AT A GLANCE
Where: 511 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Cruise night: First Friday of each month, beginning around 6 p.m.
Information: (714) 533-1401.