Leave the Cruise Night crew alone

About 10 years ago my friend Matt invited me to play on his softball team.

Each year during the warm weather months we get together every Thursday night for some friendly competition. Or at least that’s one reason we all come down to the field every week after a long day at work.

Perhaps the biggest reason for some of us is that it’s a great excuse to get out of the house. For one night every week we’re guaranteed time for ourselves, away from the office, the wives, the kids, whatever. And after we’re done winning, or most often losing, a softball game, we hang out for a little while chewing the fat over a couple of beers, and even more laughs.

It’s something we all look forward to each week, year after year. And it’s a tradition for some that dates back more than 20 years, when the team was first formed.

In this regard, we are a lot like the guys who get together every Thursday for Wading River Cruise Night. While our bond is sports, theirs is cars, and these guys put a ton of money into their hobby. But the biggest reason we all leave our houses every Thursday night is for some friendship and a night out. It’s a simple life, or at least it should be.

Before softball every Thursday, I work out of our company’s main office in Mattituck. On my way home some weeks, I shoot up Route 25A. For several years now, I’ve been passing Cruise Night. And every time I say the same thing: “We really need to do a story on these guys.”

We finally did so last week after reporter Jennifer Gustavson and photographer John Griffin spent a couple of hours with the Cruise Night gang and documented their passion for cars.

When I assigned the story, my vision was that it would give us a nice cover package for the week — a light-hearted, positive feature and a welcome change of pace from the negative stories that so often dominate front pages of newspapers.

What I didn’t realize was that it would open up a world of nightmares for the Cruise Night crew, who have been meeting weekly in the King Kullen shopping center for the past six years.

The same day our feature was published in the Riverhead News-Review, one of the Wading River regulars received a phone call from a Riverhead Town police lieutenant telling him his group would no longer be allowed to meet in the parking lot. It was not a call to discuss any issues the property owner might have with the group. He was simply told they were no longer welcome there.

Six years. No warning. See ya later.

The owner of the property told us it was he who called police to notify them that the car show could be a liability, and they would no longer be allowed to congregate in the parking lot.

Unbeknownst to us, and the car show gang, alleged complaints had been made by members of the Wading River Health Club, whose storefront is closest to where the cars park. A co-owner of the health club told us this week that his clients have been complaining that they have to park farther away on Thursday nights.

For six years (longer than the Wading River Health Club has been there) these guys have been coming down to the shopping center, grabbing food or drinks from some of the shops, and enjoying a quiet night together. They’re not bothering anyone — except for maybe these oddballs who go to a gym to run on treadmills, yet are mad they have to walk a few extra feet to get there — and they’re even helping to bring to life an otherwise drab parking lot.

At a recent meeting to discuss Route 25A in Wading River, the car shows were even mentioned as an attraction in the community. After all, any of us can stop by the shopping center to check out the old cars and talk to the owners about their hobby.

This week, we heard a number of potential solutions to the car show fiasco. Participants will be exploring the possibility of moving Cruise Night to another area of the expansive parking lot, or even somewhere else in Wading River where they might be welcome. Town Supervisor Sean Walter even said he’d be more than happy to give the car show crew its own place to hang out in downtown Riverhead.

We at the newspaper hope some kind of compromise can be made. And if we knew our story would cause any kind of trouble for these guys, we would have never published it.

We all need a place to go each week. Our quiet little hole in this Earth where we can get away from it all.

We all need our softball field.

Grant Parpan is the editor of The North Shore Sun. The News-Review’s sister paper. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-744-0404, ext. 11.