IT’s kind of hard to think of the members of the Columbus High School Class of 1966 as rebels or troublemakers.
They are now of an age when most of their members are collecting Social Security. They worry about the future, not theirs but the one that belongs to the current generation of young people, often referred to as millennials. As elders many of them express concerns about the attitudes of the millennials.
The Class of 1966 belonged to an earlier generation, the baby boomers, those born in the post-World War II era. They were a source of concern for the generation that preceded them, referred to chronologically as the Silent Generation.
For the silents, the baby boomers were rebels and troublemakers. Ironically, the silents didn’t come off much better in the eyes of their predecessors, those belonging to the “Greatest Generation.” To many of the greatest, the silents were hip-swiveling degenerates who worshipped at the altar of Elvis.
I mention all this because the aforementioned members of the Columbus High School Class of 1966 will be observing the 50th anniversary of their graduation in September and are currently resurrecting memories of what life was like when they were teenagers.
Life for many of them was centered on 25th Street, not because that was where the high school was located but because of an area that was a few blocks to the east, Cruising Alley. Headquarters for the cruisers was the parking lot of what was then the Kroger store and the driveways into Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.
“It was where everybody went to take a look at the hot cars,” recalled class member Buck Ritz. “People would drive up and down 25th Street and pull into one of the lots to show off their engines.”
While the lots proved to be popular gathering places for Columbus High School students, a considerable number of older residents took a dimmer view, not only of the lots but of the teens who used them. One writer of a letter to the editor in 1966 penned the following:
“The local teenagers are making a hangout out of Frisch’s and the Kroger parking lot. In fact, if one has things to do and needs to go down 25th Street, one can’t get through without stopping. I mean stopping to let something (that looks like a human) walk across the street right in front of you or stop so the car in front of you can turn into Frisch’s. Then one must ride the brake because one never knows when a car will pull out in front of you coming down one of the side streets.”
The problem did not go unnoticed by city officials and business owners. One of the owners of the Frisch’s Big Boy franchise, Julius Bud Ritter, who was also a highly successful basketball coach at Madison High School at the time, later recalled that he had to hire off-duty police officers to keep traffic moving into and out of the lot.
City officials tried a number of measures to better control the traffic flow. Mindful that many teens were making a loop of the Big Boy parking area, both entering and exiting on 25th Street, they adopted a rule in 1964 that required users to enter only through one of the driveways on 25th Street but leave through an exit on 24th Street. Obviously that didn’t work out well because two years later complaints about the system only increased.
The system had its defenders, particularly the teens who used it. “We went by the name of the KPLG,” recalled Buck. “It stood for Kroger Parking Lot Gang, and it was where we could show off our hot cars.”
While the Class of 1966 might have looked upon Frisch’s and the Kroger parking lot as their hangouts, future generations of Columbus High School students expanded Cruising Alley, including Becker’s A&W Root Beer Stand to the west and the Lincoln Park parking lot to the east.
Folks were still complaining about cruising and parking lot demonstrations of hot cars as late as 2002, when Danielle Monroe, a student at Columbus East High School, suggested in an article in The Republic that the “underlying problem is that Columbus does not have much for teenagers to do.”
The funny thing about all this is that the various generations of Columbus teenagers have been of like mind in their interests. The baby boomers and the millennials have a thing for hot cars and cruising around town.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.