Birmingham — The red and white 1947 Ford Super Deluxe convertible Phil Reilly parked a few feet off Woodward Avenue Saturday morning is a thing of envy, if you’re so inclined.
Another thing of envy as the First and ideally Last Unofficial Dream Cruise rolled out: His stepdaughter lives eight doors down on the side street where he unfolded his canvas chair, meaning he had access to a bathroom.
There were comforting samenesses and noticeable differences in what would have been the 26th annual Woodward Dream Cruise if COVID-19 hadn’t flattened its tires.
As expected on the third Saturday of August, M-1 was awash in the sorts of classic cars you can only find in such abundance in the Motor City. Also as expected, there were fewer people watching them, though the audience grew steadily on an a day where afternoon rains were a possibility but 80-plus degrees was guaranteed.
There were only a smattering of tents or canopies along the 10-mile route from Ferndale to Pontiac, however, with signage from some police departments reinforcing the notion that this cruise was off the books. There were more open businesses and better sight lines. Courtesy of the Oakland County Republican Party, there were a few dozen vehicles bedecked with banners or magnets extolling President Donald Trump.
And, with no Woodward Dream Cruise Committee to order them, there were no portable toilets.
“Not a problem for me,” said Reilly, 85, a retired Ford engineer from Pinckney, and he gave a carefree smile.
A few blocks down and across the street, on the east side of Woodward, the regulars at Pasteiner’s weren’t worried, either. They just strolled through the store to the facility in the stockroom.
Pasteiner’s sells automobile models, books and magazines. Every Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m., year-round, it opens the adjoining parking lot to car lovers with lovable cars. The only difference for the Dream Cruise is that they don’t have to leave at 10 to clear parking spaces for the neighbors.
Jesse Lessard, 48, of Royal Oak was buffing his red ’89 Corvette with a fluffy blue cloth. Nearby were a Cadillac Allante and Alfa Romeo GTE, both red, and a Lamborghini and a Citroen parcel van, both orange.
“Whether it’s the real Dream Cruise or not, I was going to be here,” Lessard said. He paused as a yellow ’34 Ford convertible pulled into the last available spot: “There can’t be anywhere else you’d find all this.”
Inside, Steve Pasteiner rang up a $20 pale blue T-shirt. It featured a Porsche 917 from the Steve McQueen movie “Le Mans” above a simple “Woodward 2020.”
Not “Woodward Dream Cruise.” That’s copyrighted. But Woodward belongs to everyone.
Most years, Pasteiner said, he puts up a canopy for the cruise and gives away water and hot dogs. The city put an emphatic COVID kibosh on all of it for Saturday, but there was no stopping the cruise and no attempt to.
Local and state police drove with the cruise, patrolling Woodward, sometimes waiting in the intersections.
Cruise watchers frequently heard honking storms that escalated into entire blocks. Revving competitions and miniature drag races ruled the street, bullying lesser cars with sheer noise.
The they’ll-cruise-anyway memo did not reach the headquarters of Battle Creek-based Uncle Ed’s Oil Shoppe, which normally closes the Royal Oak location and rents out the space in front and behind.
Saturday, the shop was instructed to open. By mid-afternoon, said lead assistant John Reimer, it had performed eight or nine standard oil changes, compared to the usual 30 for the day.
It had also checked the oil and tire pressure on a ‘66 Chevrolet Impala and a ‘68 Sting Ray. No tips necessary or accepted, said Reimer, who was sitting out front enjoying the traffic:
“It’s a courtesy to our customers.”
In Royal Oak, a gentleman known only as Hutch arrived on a Harley-Davidson to revisit his youth.
He’s 68, a retired truck driver from Clarkston who grew up using Woodward as a drag strip. “My dad would tell me, ‘Don’t do anything stupid, don’t get caught and don’t tell mom.'”
Hutch and his friend Dave Foss, 68, of White Lake Township were impressed by what they were seeing, and pleased by what they weren’t.
“All the semis and new cars,” Hutch said, referring to the corporate exhibits. “Nobody wants to look at that stuff.”
The verdict was uncertain for the vehicles carrying Trump banners. The first few were vintage pickup trucks, at least. But the thumbs-up from the passenger in the second one was met by a different gesture from a man in a Bob Seger T-shirt.
Mike Raick, 76, was wearing a Trump baseball cap as he set up a folding chair and fended off an attempt by a security guard to move him from the grassy strip between the sidewalk and curb in front of a Comerica branch.
His attendance, however, was about cars, not candidates.
“A normal summer, I’m out here from mid-June,” said Raick, a retired manufacturer’s rep from Bloomfield Township. “It’s not like it used to be today. It can’t be. But for this time of day, there are still a lot of classics.”
Up the road, a banana yellow Corvette made a Michigan left turn and swung south. It passed a banana yellow banana — an employee at Tropical Smoothie Cafe, in costume as she handed out flyers.
Last year, said cafe manager Sal Ali, Dream Cruise business was disappointing. Past lunchtime Saturday, receipts were more promising.
It didn’t hurt that the drinks are good and temperatures were on the rise. It also didn’t hurt that Tropical Smoothie has a restroom.
Staff writer Cal Abbo contributed.