Driving down memory lane


Nov. 12, 2009, midnight | By Sarah Schwartz | 10 years, 11 months ago


It was the ultimate teenage experience. He and other members of the jock crowd strutted Blair's halls. He drove the cheerleaders around after his baseball and football games. He was a senior, and he felt unstoppable. After all, Pete Luces's 1976 AMC Matador was not just a car – it was freedom.

Luces, '80, drove one of the approximately 20 cars in the 75th anniversary homecoming parade on Oct. 17, reliving the days of driving to the old Blair as high schoolers. Blair's current marching band and cheerleading squad led the caravan of antique cars as they rolled down Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring. The cars represented each decade of Blair's history as many alumni drove models made in the year they graduated, says Susan Birrell, '67, the parade coordinator.

Chris Collins, '69, drove his own 1975 Chevrolet Corvette in the parade, but Collins' first high school ride was actually a Ford Fairlane. Collins identifies nights spent ordering Cokes and hanging out with friends in his car as his first true taste of independence. One of their popular destinations was a local burger chain, the Hot Shoppe in Silver Spring. Collins explains that Hot Shoppes were more than just drive-in fast food establishments; they were the center of the social scene. "If you had nothing to do, you could cruise the Hot Shoppes and see what was going on," says Collins. Mobility was the ultimate liberator, he says. Out in his car for the evening, Collins could go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted with no supervision.

Wendy Singleton, '79, felt the same invigorating freedom behind the wheel in spite of restrictions. To her, abiding by a curfew was only a small price to pay for the autonomy she gained when she borrowed her mother's car. "It was a luxury having your parents' car," she says. "We were always going somewhere."

For the past several decades, going out to see and be seen was central to car culture. "We weren't consciously saying, 'Oh, I'm a big shot 'cause I drive,' but that was it," admits Singleton. Luces says many Blazers conformed to this mentality, tinkering with parts and adding embellishments to make their cars look tougher, sportier and more "souped up."

But a flashy car also generated something beyond respect and envy: popularity. "It wasn't two or three to a car like it is now," says Singleton. "If you had a car, you knew you were going to tote some folks." Collins used to pack friends into his car to avoid the charge of admission at the drive-in movie theater. "It was only $2.50, but better $2.50 in your pocket than in that of the establishment," he says. "We put as many people as possible in the trunk. There were all kinds of shenanigans that went on."

Looking back, Luces admits that what seemed like harmless teenage fun could have had serious consequences. "I did not wear a seatbelt until the seatbelt law came out way after graduation," he remembers. Singleton discloses that she and her friends used to do "Chinese fire drills" while stuck in traffic – a game in which players leap out of their car at a red light, race around the vehicle and jump back inside before the light turns green. "We were silly as hell," she says, giggling.

A grin still spreads across Luces' face when he talks about memories associated with his car, but there are certain stories from his high school years that he will never tell. His smile widening, he says, "There are some I can't mention." For today, at least, Luces and the others can relive those memories by taking another ride into their past.



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