Armed with a beer and a camera, the air thick with the smell of booze, fuel and barbecue I felt the wave of childish excitement washing over me.
I write this through the eyes of a beer-fuelled tourist shuffling excitedly around the streets and bars of Old Town in Kissimee, Florida. It had been around 20 years since I last visited and I wanted to see if recollection of this petrol head nirvana was accurate. Fair warning, this will be a somewhat chaotic blog post, I hadn’t intended on doing event coverage, I just turned up looking to relax and drink some beer. I had no agenda, no features lined up, I was just there to take it all in. It wasn’t till I got home that I realised just how many pictures I had taken.
Before the dulcet tones of burbling V8’s filled the air, the sound track of the evening was people having fun in the fairground and surrounding bars. Picking up my first beer, I started walking from the bottom of Trophy Row, the staging ground for the cruiser cars, to get a closer look at the evening’s offerings. The night I visited was the Saturday Nite Classic Car Cruise which is hosted every Saturday with the main cruise starting at 8:30pm.
Meandering up the arrow straight row, I didn’t know where to look. I was surround by concours-ready cars brimming with detail. It was a little too much to take in and frankly I was regretting my mid evening arrival, I felt pushed for time, however another swig of beer and I remembered I was on holiday, I don’t have to capture everything, I could just enjoy the atmosphere and gape longingly at all this pristine American muscle.
As I strolled through the crowd with my friends and fiancé I was acutely aware of how much of a family affair this was. People of all ages, holiday makers and locals all soaking up the warm atmosphere. Peer a little closer and it was apparent that the locals had not only brought their cherished possessions but also their families too. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought the children or grandchildren inheriting the cars and continuing the Saturday night tradition.
Finally succumbing to the smell of food, we lurched hungrily into a bar and ordered up more beer and enough chicken wings to feed a small nation. We sat around for about an hour enjoying what I would proclaim as being the most authentic theme park of my trip. There was something about this place, highly superficial and contrived but simultaneously completely welcoming and genuine. It may be an attraction made to look as if it is set in the ’60s but the buildings are real, the people are real and the whole atmosphere is real too. People here aren’t here to please you, they work here, they ply you with booze and food and fond memories.
As we wipe our faces of buffalo hot sauce and slurp the last of our IPA’s the US National Anthem announces itself on the street PA system and as I leave the bar, camera in hand I am greeted by walls of spectators lining the street. As far as American stereotypes it was up there however it still felt endearing and completely honest. Moments after, the familiar reverberation of large capacity engines declaring their presence.
For the next 30 minutes or however long it went, I was crouched on the curb, camera to my face, taking pictures as often as watching. I was grinning ear to ear, cars would rumble past, blipping the throttle, the smell of fuel heavy in the air, the sound of the crowd only drowned out by the crackle of straight through exhausts. My childhood memories were for once accurate, if not a little conservative.
I was sure that this was better than I remembered. I am smiling as much now writing this as I was being there. Under the illuminated street set against the fading evening sky these immaculate cars looked even better than they did in the staging area. Or maybe it was the beer. Whatever it was, it doesn’t matter, it is all part of the experience.
The cruise is essentially the climax of the evening as most would cruise off into the night whilst others hung around and carried on enjoying the evening. We also decided to turn in for the night shortly after the main cruise and in the taxi back to my hotel I was deep in thought trying to commit the sights to memory. The next morning I woke and I was slightly sad, here in the UK we have car meets and cruiser nights but rarely anything that can replicate the kind tone and demeanour of Old Town.
And that thought prompted me into writing this. I felt it was something worth showing, I would love to have an equivalent here. Old Town may not be what you would call authentic, it is essentially a theme attraction, built 31 years ago. However it has all the charm and character of a classic Florida town. The streets are lined with bars, restaurants and shops and the atmosphere is calm, laid back and family friendly. If you are ever in the area, I urge to you to indulge and pay a visit.
Words & Pictures: Dave Cox (ShootingDave)