It used to be that when young people got behind the wheel and cruised the streets of Bellefonte, they were acting like criminals. But this weekend, the pastime of yesteryear will be fully legal during the 25th annual Bellefonte Cruise.
“In its heyday, it was universally referred to as ‘lapping the block,’ not cruising,” said Bellefonte Cruise Committee public relations coordinator Dave Provan. “In the mid- to late ’80s, the Bellefonte borough and the police department declared ‘lapping the block’ as unlawful.”
Hundreds of renegades and rebelettes from throughout the state are expected to attend, bringing with them their modified and stock classic cars, trucks and European imports.
“ ‘Lapping the block,’ as described to me by numerous veterans of the activity, both male and female, was the thing to do,” Provan said. “The whole event was summed up by one individual I interviewed as ‘a dance on wheels.’ ‘Lapping the block’ created a social situation for guys and girls in a largely nonadversarial atmosphere that totally jammed the streets ... to the point that it eventually had the brakes put on it in a big way.”
Much like the 1960s-era streets in George Lucas’ coming-of-age film “American Graffiti,” young drivers hit the strip to network, to show off their ride or to simply advertise they had acquired a driver’s license. But, like many towns throughout the U.S., Bellefonte hit the brakes on the teen activity.
“First, the streets were made one way in certain areas, thus causing the yelling from car to car to diminish,” Provan said. “It was the dreaded ‘counting of the laps’ by the police officers on duty that sent the block lapping nights into the history books. Anyone exceeding three laps was pulled over and fined. This went on for a while but the drama of being pulled over and paying fines got old quick.”
These days, Bellefonte welcomes and expects lapping during Father’s Day weekend. The annual event attempts to re-create the old days not only with the open cruise, but with a sock hop and live music by Your Dad’s Friends, an Altoona-based band specializing in rock and pop hits from the 1950s and ’60s. DJ Ray Gephart also will spin oldies and classic rock during the cruise.
New to the event this year will be music by banjo duo Picker and Papa, sweet harmonies of the Nittany Knights Barbershop Chorus, and face painting and balloon sculptures. In addition, expect to see more trucks.
“We used to not have too many pickups,” Provan said. He told organizers to invite more truck drivers to register, “and we’ll make more classes.” The registration fee for cruisers also was lowered this year.
Most of us likely don’t drive a classic, tricked-out or fancy European import vehicle, but cars of all makes are welcome to circle the town during the open cruise.
“Whether you were lapping the block in years past, or cruising this Friday, it isn’t about the cars, it is about the people,” Provan said. “ ‘Lapping the block,’ or ‘cruising’ above all else, is about people interacting with people.”