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Those Unforgettable Motel Parking Lots

Those Unforgettable Motel Parking Lots


Remember when we had fun with cars, worked on them for hours just so we could cruise for thirty minutes, poured all our spare change into shiny trinkets that did nothing for performance, and stayed up nearly all night at the Street Rod Nationals? I fondly remember that last bit.

Following on the tremendous blow-out that was the first Rod & Custom Street Rod Nationals, the gathering crowd of insatiable car nuts couldn’t get enough chrome and paint and way out cars during the day. In fact, it seemed there was triple the fairground crowd gathered at the city motels from 6pm through till at least 3am. Every night of the Nats, and we never tired of the carnival atmosphere. If it happened at those first dozen or more Rod Nats, chances are it was at the motels/hotels.

You may have been there, or at least you may have had some “old timers” regale you with tales of what did (or maybe didn’t) happen. I’ll rehearse a few incidents to give you an idea of what was going on.

Take the case of the parking lot streaking in St. Paul that Saturday night for the first Twin Cities gala. The HQ hotel was truly a world class hotel, in stark contrast to that tiny motel at the initial Peoria nats. It turned out that we unwashed masses of gearheads arrived at the hotel in concert with some kind of gown and tux celebration booked in the hotel ballroom well in advance of our rowdy arrival.

So it was that guests for the ballroom were treated to a huge parking lot overflowing with hot rods and excited car nuts. T-shirts and Levis overwhelmingly in the majority. Not an unruly crowd, but certainly not your tea and crumpet set. Cruising the various motel parking lots was essential for every nats attendee, even in stockers, simply because if you weren’t cruising you might miss something. Which turned out to be quite true, as in the case of the streaking panel.

You recall that bare-ass naked streaking was a popular pastime for awhile, at least while our somewhat young and nubile bodies were still nubile. Sort of. So, the HQ hotel parking lot was crammed to overflowing, and there was some interest when the first couple of streakers appeared. One well-endowed young damsel ascended her vehicle perch and removed her uppers, only to be totally crestfallen when no one paid any attention. At all. They were too busy cheering on the streakers.

What did capture our fancy was when a rod panel truck appeared, and well into the mix of bodies the rear door opened to feature a clothes-free rear portion adequately mooning the crowd. A giant roar of approval, which reached a crescendo when the driver nudged the throttle and the resulting lurch of said vehicle unperched the said exhibitionist to a position on the macadam. And the panel drove ahead. Ah, best laid plans and all.

It was at this particular nats that I did not meet Ron Ceridono, erstwhile technical guru of Street Rodder magazine. Turns out we were both in the hotel lobby waiting for the elevator, the crowd being a mix of well-oiled car guys and older, very proper ballroom attendees. Finally the elevator door opened wide to reveal Sebastian Rubio clad entirely is his normal formal attire of Speedo and bare footage. He greeted us all with a robust, “Going up!!!” The evening gowned matron ahead of Pegge and me (and Ronnie, who apparently was also in the waiting throng) immediately swooned away into her escorts arms. All the hot rodders present immediately surged around the limp lady into Sebastian’s missile. Last I saw, the lady was still far away in la-la land. Sebastian had a way of effecting people that way. And I had to marvel at hot rodder civility to the downtrodden.

But, boy was that a great night, and it did not wind down until after 4 am. I heard engines cough to life at around 6am, groggy street rod enthusiasts anxious to get a new day at the Nationals into gear. That kind of thing lasted until the early Eighties, and it disappeared almost overnight, in direct proportion to street rodders hairline. One time, Ceridono and I were wandering around the motel parking lot at a Goodguys Indy run, and it wasn’t yet eleven pm, when we met the only other person in the lot—Bob Klessig from Wisconsin. His moan, “Where the hell is everyone?” How long before I hear the same thing at an empty rod run venue?

Which is why, in a way, that the zany parking lot magic at the old Stateline Hotel in Wendover during the annual Speedweek has quickly become a for real happening. It carries on well after midnight, there ain’t no rules (you can’t really rule the unruly, you know), and there is no rhyme nor reason for being there. Except for the fact that the lot is overflowing with honest to God doers of hot rodding fable. Guys who run the long black line mingling as equals with hot rodders of the highway line. You get a chance to join that crowd, jump and never look back. Already I’m hearing “old timers” from this marvellous experience telling young ‘uns about how it used to be (but still is) at the Stateline. Which is no longer the Stateline, but some other name (Nugget). And the gigosious neon cowboy is now over in Nevada.

For all of us elders, it will always be the Stateline. Just like the salt is always (almost) the same.