George Barrington and his friends dust off their hot rods on Sundays and drive to Sonic Drive-In in Villa Park during the summer where they meet up to admire each others’ rides, talk shop and eat good food.
But Barrington said he likely won’t go this year, even if the shelter-in-place order is lifted.
“I’m in the high-risk group for the virus; the chances of me showing up in any event if the virus is still in effect — I won’t be showing up at all,” he said.
“Now, if my son wants to take the car cause he’s not in a high-risk group, or my grandson, and go to one of the shows, then yeah, they’ll probably go. It’s going to really be depending on the individual person.”
Each summer, car lovers around Illinois participate in cruise nights like the one in Barrington. With uncertainty surrounding when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, planning for those events has come to a full stop.
“At this point, it’s pretty much wait and see,” said Lynn Caccavallo, who organizes Cary’s annual Cruise Night as president of the town’s chamber of commerce. “We’d like to proceed if possible, but we have to adhere to whatever the recommendations are by the government and the village.”
Caccavallo said Cary’s first cruise night will likely be pushed from mid-June to the end of the month. Barrington hasn’t made any final calls yet but suspects the next month will be crucial for any decisions being made.
To have a cruise night, it takes three things, Barrington said: a location to park cars, a place to get food and most importantly, “facilities.” That’s why drive-in restaurants are often the venue of choice for cruise nights.
“We are the original curbside delivery, but our curb is much bigger than everyone else’s because it’s a whole parking lot, and at every curb, you can place an order,” said Lisa Drucker, co-owner of Superdawg, a Chicago drive-in staple since 1948.
Superdawg hosts several cruise nights each year. While Drucker said they hope to continue to host cruise nights this summer, she struggles to see a situation where they wouldn’t have to tightly regulate it.
“People really would have to stay in their cars, and it would probably be a little less fun,” Drucker said. “Part of the car shows is the fun of looking at each others’ cars.”
While few are happy to be considering the postponement or cancellation of any cruise nights, Barrington said part of cruise nights is the unpredictability of them — COVID-19 just adds an additional layer to it.
“[The cruises] are weather permitting,” Barrington said. “One drop of rain, and a parking lot of 700 cars will disappear in two seconds.”
Still, the cruise nights are a fundamental sign of summer for car fanatics —and summer won’t be the same without it, they agreed.
“Cruise nights are a big part of summer … but summer’s not going to look like summer for everyone,” Caccavallo said. “It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone, and everything is up in the air.”