When We Were Kings

You ain’t a pimp
and you ain’t a hustler.
A pimp’s got a Caddy
and a lady got a Chrysler.
—“Young American,” by David Bowie

Each year, on the third Saturday of August, people line the sidewalks along Woodward Avenue in Detroit for the annual Dream Cruise.  In the ambiance of the affluent northern suburbs of Oakland County, the spectators take in the sights of vintage muscle cars and other restored models from the 50’s through the 70’s driving up and down Detroit’s main drag.

In some ways, the spectators are every bit the participants, taking as much pride in nostalgia as the drivers do in ownership.  They watch the flashy display of headers and fins much the way Soviet officials used to watch the parade of military hardware through Red Square on May Day.

These days, Detroit’s dominance of the global car market, like Soviet dominance of global politics, is a thing of the past.  And in the older faces of spectators at the Dream Cruise, the sense of loss is as obvious as the sense of pride.

Lest one doubt the Detroit area is realistic about its long-lost clout, look no further than the million-plus crowd that assembles one day each year for the Dream Cruise compared with the smaller crowd that turns out over the span of a full week in January for the annual Detroit Auto Show.  Each...

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