When Broadway was the nation’s drag route

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 1999

After years of looking, I finally found a copy of the article about Albert Lea’s Broadway which was featured in the New York Times.

Friday, October 08, 1999

After years of looking, I finally found a copy of the article about Albert Lea’s Broadway which was featured in the New York Times. It was written by Judy Klemesrud and published on either Jan. or Feb. 8, 1974. The copy I found wasn’t too clear as to the exact month.

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Now, I have permission to reprint this article about a still active teenage custom, Before doing this, there are a few details that need explaining.

First, there was a gasoline shortage in early 1974 which was created by the Arab Oil Embargo. Second, the A & W Root Beer Stand was then located at the corner of South Broadway and East Seventh Street. Third, there was a &uot;turn around&uot; in 1974 at the north end of Broadway and East Fountain Street hadn’t yet been created. Fourth, I have shortened this reprint by two paragraphs and decided to delete the names of the area residents interviewed by Judy about 25 years ago.

&uot;It is winter, and there is supposed to be an energy crisis on, but that didn’t stop (one 21-year-old) from dragging Broadway here the other night in his souped-up ’69 green Camaro with the wide mag wheels.

&uot;Back and forth, he drove. Back and forth, on a mile long route from the A & W Root Beer stand to the Fountain Lake dead end. Back and forth, in that teen-age ritual known here as ‘dragging,’ in George Lucas’s current hit movie, ‘American Graffiti,’ as ‘cruising,’ and in other cities and towns as just plain ‘driving around.’

&uot;But no matter what the phenomenon is called, the purpose is still the same: for teenagers, and sometimes those in their early 20’s, to show off their cars and try to meet someone new of the opposite sex. In other words, Broadway – and streets like it all over the country – is a mile-long outdoor singles &uot;bar&uot; for those who aren’t always old enough to drink.

&uot;’I think it’s a bad way to do it; I’d rather meet a girl at a party or something,’said (the 21-year- old) … But he conceded that if he saw an interesting looking female pedestrian, he would not hesitate to invite her to ride around with him.

&uot;’But right now, I’m just, uh, well, uh, just fooling around.’ he said as he put $3 worth of gasoline into his car at a service station on Broadway.

&uot;Almost all of the dragsters who were interviewed in this city of 19,000 on a recent Saturday night – Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons are the hottest cruising times-said they didn’t believe there was an energy crisis, and that even if there was. they hadn’t curtailed their dragging activities any because of it.

&uot;’There’s no gas shortage!’ said … a senior at Albert Lea High School. ‘The only evidence we’ve had here is that they close the stations on Sunday.’

&uot;According to the dragsters, cruising is more fun in the summertime, when it’s easier to shout to each other from open car windows without having to worry about catching pneumonia.

&uot;’But we still do it [shout],’ one young male dragster said. ‘We just turn up the car heater, so you don’t notice the cold so much.’

&uot;In the summer, of course. the A & W Root Beer stand at the southern end of the drag route is open. A lot of between-car socializing takes place there, not to mention the offers to climb into one’s car for a few spins around Broadway.

&uot;In the winter, the teenage hangout is Jake’s Pizza, where one has to park one’s beloved car, get out, walk into the restaurant and sit in a booth in order to make social contacts.

&uot;But winter cruising lives even in the frequent subzero temperatures of this region because winter is when the high school basketball games are played, and a high school basketball game with cruising afterward is like an A & W Root Beer with hamburger, tangy but somehow incomplete.

&uot; … dragging begins around 7 p.m. and pretty much ends around 11 p.m. ‘By that time we’ve found out where the parties are – if there any,’ (one teenager) said.

&uot;A party can deter a dragster temporarily from his appointed rounds. But after it’s over, you can be sure he will be back on Broadway, checking to see if there are any interesting new faces driving around. The new faces usually belong to teenagers from the small surrounding farm towns in Minnesota and nearby Iowa, who come to Albert Lea because of its two movie houses and its lively drag route.&uot;


In the next column we’ll continue this reprint, plus an update on Judy Klemesrud who came from a family of journalists in Winnebago County, Iowa.