When the summer sun is out, there are dozens of fine cruise nights and car shows to sample in the Chicago area. Few events can compare to the one-of-a-kind experience of gazing at rows of classic cars.
If you're new to the area or simply unaware, these local and community events happen nearly seven days a week during the summer months and are scattered clear across the suburbs.
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Rest assured, it isn't hard to find one of these family-fun events taking place near you. It may come as a surprise to learn it's not just die-hard gear heads and engine-loving enthusiasts experiencing them. Even those with a mild interest in vehicles enjoy attending. It's hard to resist the appeal of strolling a bustling parking lot, soaking up gorgeous machinery and enjoying quality time connecting with friends, family and neighbors. Throw in sampling delicious treats such as ice cream, cold beverages and hot-off-the-grill favorites and it's easy to see why a trip to cruise night is unlike anything else.
If going to one isn't on your calendar, add it now. It's a slice of pure Americana that isn't to be missed.
I've assembled a list of friendly tips to help make the experience a pleasing one. This is accumulated from my years walking the cruise nights, as well as polling many car owners who have become good friends.
Whether you're a greenhorn to the cruising scene or a seasoned trophy-winning veteran, these suggestions should provide a refresher for all. The season is just about to kick off and soon you'll have plenty of time to put them to practice.
7 tips for going to cruise nights
Plan ahead: Just because the sun is out, doesn't mean an event is occurring. Event organizers work hard to ensure the event takes place but occasionally plans change. It's always a good idea to check an event's Facebook page, Twitter account or call their contact directly for the most up-to-date info. Social media isn't just for awkward selfies.
Park off site: If you're not driving a unique show car, avoid parking in a lot designated for them. Do this even if a lot attendant isn't present to shoo you away. You may have to walk a bit further but nothing ruins the experience like seeing iconic classic cars intermingled with dime-a-dozen, modern commuters. Bring your walking shoes -- there's nothing special about your minivan!
Ask questions: If you want to learn more about a particular vehicle, don't hesitate to seek out the owner. Don't be embarrassed or bashful. Many are more than happy to answer questions. You'll learn a plethora of information including history, facts, the restoration processes and, most importantly, their personal story. If you're thinking of buying a classic, this is the best way to glean knowledge and avoid common pitfalls.
Don't touch: This includes opening doors and hoods, running hands over the bodywork and certainly never sitting inside. Be respectful and courteous of other's highly valued property. They all belong to someone else and have lots of hours and dollars poured into them. In most cases, an owner will kindly show or demonstrate something in depth or even let you sit behind the wheel -- but ask, never assume. The exception being if you have a six-figure cashier's check in your pocket.
Sample area gems: Make a night out of the cruise night. When you're done checking out the vehicles, try out a new restaurant, check out the local merchants or walk through a park. You'll be astonished at what you uncover in our beloved communities.
Leash pets: A lot full of glistening show cars isn't an ideal spot for even the most well-trained of canines. Small scratches from wagging tails and clinking collars may seem small but can lead to major headaches for owners to fix. As much as your Labradoodle appreciates cool cars, it may be wise to leave her at home with the cat.
Spread the word: If you enjoyed a particular event, tell and invite your friends. Many of these weekly and monthly events survive and thrive on word-of-mouth networking. Favorable reviews help keep them going. As long as classic cars are in the background, cue those selfies!
To find out what events are taking place, search for "car calendar" at dailyherald.com or visit www.classicrecollections.com.