Sometimes life just goes round and round, it seems, as it did when we boys cruised Main Street, back home in Manchester,
around 1955. Pontiacs were really in, and Chevys, two-tone Fords, even Studebakers, all the latest fifties stuff.
We liked Ike. We had new drivers licenses and were ready to roll. We dressed up in charcoal grey slacks, pink shirts, desert boots and brushed suede jackets. Somehow we latched onto cars. I don’t remember how. I had a head start in the car thing because I was the delivery boy for the Miners’ Park Hill Flower Shoppe. I drove the Park Hill pink-and-gray Pontiac station wagon every week, honking at everybody I thought I could impress.
For cruising, they weren’t just cars, they were chrome-fendered chariots. Gleaming, windows open, roof down if you were
lucky, radios loud with the music of the times: “King of the Road,” “Rock around the Clock,” “Sweet Little 16,” “That’ll Be
the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” and “Walk Don’t Run.” And down we cruised – down the Main Street hill, from the
Center past the library, the park, the dancing bear memorial fountain, all on the west side of the street – but our
attention and the waving and shouting were riveted on the east side of the street, where smiling girls in white socks
lined up to buy tickets to the latest flick at the State Theatre.
We were the Kings of the Road, and they were the Queens. We jeered at the competing teams of guys, the ones in those other cars who thought they were big shots. I remember twilights, brakes for sudden encounters, more waving, honking horns, and maybe the flashing of headlights.
We passed the State Theatre on the downhill swoop, and then came the retail hotspots – the shoe store where you saw the bones in your feet, Regal’s Men’s Shop where we bedecked ourselves, House and Hale with customers moving in and out, and on to Nassiff Arms, where we got our sporting equipment. There wasn’t much action on the west side of the street. Then on past South Methodist Church and Carter Chevrolet, and somewhere down there we turned around and headed back up for a closer look, and then around again.
Later on in life, I could see it was a gathering of our clan, like the evening promenade around the piazza in a Sicilian town, and motivated by the same young interest in life and the opposite sex. The air of Manchester was filled with expectation, promise, and desire for the future – a yearning to take what we had and expand it. “Walk Don’t Run” was good advice but we wanted nothing to do with it.
And then there was that scarcely understood cosmic part of it all – from the Main Street hill, you could believe you felt the whole world around you and all its excitement and the part that Manchester played in it, like a giant slingshot whirling us round and round until we got up enough speed to shoot off all by ourselves into the life and world ahead of us – into a future far from dear Manchester. Rock around the clock, get it into your pulse, round and round we’d go, where we’d end up when we moved on, nobody knew. Thanks, Manchester, for Main Street and a chance to show our chrome and see the girls!
Note about the author: Dave Nutter is a life member of the Manchester Historical Society, although he now lives in North Carolina. He was in the last class to attend the old Manchester High School (the building on lower Main Street that is now the Bennet Apartments), and the first to graduate from the “new” high school on East Middle Turnpike, in June 1957, which he describes as “a hot year in American culture. Manchester High (MHS) was a real democracy, big enough to encompass a lot of different people, bustling hallways, great courses. I got my Varsity “M” as a Manchester “Indian” on Gil Hunt’s Rifle Team, where we shot (thanks to Nassiff Arms for the guns) to the state championship more than one year. I profited from MHS’s college-level English courses, taught by Gil Hunt and Helen Estes – a value for a lifetime. And I can see now that my lifelong vocation of city planning owes a lot to ‘Cruisin’ Main’ in downtown Manchester.”