FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS, FROM THE mid-’60s into the ’90s, driving up and down Forest Lane was a teen ritual. Cruising this North Dallas boulevard was almost a rite of passage for high schoolers who had just turned 16 and had a set of wheels to show off. On any Friday or Saturday night, the three-mile stretch of Forest from Inwood to Webb Chapel looked like a scene out of American Graffiti, as thousands of teenagers, three or four or more to a car, blanketed the road. Many were looking for a drag race; others were just looking.
In the 1970s, the muscle-car craze established this area as a ground-zero for hanging out and the most popular place to lay tread. High schoolers came in their Mustangs and Corvettes-or maybe their Plymouth Roadrunners souped up with headers and cutouts–white Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” blared from their kick-ass 6-by-9 Jensen or Pioneer hi-fis in the rear deckshield. By the late ’80s, the hit tune was again “Walk This Way,” hut this time by rappers Run DMC, and it boomed out of the bass tubes and subwoofer stacks in low-rider Toyota pick-ups or jacked-up Jeeps, the coolest of which were adorned with neon lights, fluorescent paint-jobs, and bouncing hydraulic lift systems.
The looks and sounds of Forest Lane changed with a new generation of adolescents, but the essentia! scene always remained the same, Guys would traverse the strip, slowing down to eyeball other cool cars. If the car was full of girls, they’d whistle and holler hoping to convince them to pull over into a parking lot. If other guys were in the car, they would rev their engine and challenge them to a race. The tradition was built on showing off cars and picking up chicks, and 3,000 to 4,000 teenagers showed up every weekend night to partake in the innocent trouble-making.
But as the ’90s began, something strange happened at this drag strip of dreams: The kids stopped coming. Gone were the midnight traffic jams, gone was the sultry stench of burnt rubber, and gone were the socially developing teenagers exchanging phone numbers outside fast-food joints. Forest Lane was dead. For the weekend pilgrims, it was like Old Faithful had stopped erupting.
What happened? A sudden and dramatic police crackdown, It used to be that theeight officers patrolling this beat served as invisible chaperones. They were little more than a nuisance to cruisers who had gotten used to receiving tickets for petty traffic violations and underage drinking. But reacting to an outbreak of violence, the department ordered a zero-tolerance policy on cruising.
“Things really changed,” Sgt. D.M. Allbach recalls. “We were noticing a major increase in weapons on the street.” In Forest’s final years, cops were confiscating one or two guns a night. “One night we opened the trunk of a car and found an AK-47 assault rifle with 100 rounds of ammunition.1’ A gang called Fly Boys International had adopted Forest as their turf, and they were known to terrorize cruisers by smashing their cars with baseball bats. Once they came close to a shootout with a visiting Oak Cliff gang. Forest was losing its innocence.
So in the summer of 1991, 25 to 30 officers began patrolling the street on weekends. “We wanted to let them know we were out there watching,” says Allbach, who has patrolled the Forest Lane strip for over five years. “We hammered them for everything we could,” In addition to ticketing teenagers for improper lane changes and de-fective headlights, police put up new signs prohibiting U-turns from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. at every intersection between Inwood and Webb Chapel. Cruising became too difficult with such strict enforcement, and over the next four or five months, the flow of traffic thinned. By early 1992, teenagers stopped coming to Forest altogether, save for a few out-of-towners bewildered by the barrenness of what was supposed to be a legendary hangout.
“We were amazed at how quickly things died down,” says Alhach. “We never expected it to just end like it did.”
IT WAS DURING THE 1966-67 SCHOOL YEAR that teenagers began to stake their claim to this thoroughfare that runs through a quaint northwest Dallas neighborhood. Forest was an arrow-straight stretch of smooth pavement on the edge of town with three lanes in each direction-ideal for drag racing, Making the road even more enticing to speed demons was the 6-foot-high wall running from Midway Road to Rosser Road, Separating houses on the north side of Forest from the street, it eliminated the threat of cars pulling out of their driveways into the makeshift drag strip. Built years before, the wall was intended to serve as a buffer, isolating the neighborhood from Forest traffic. Ironically, however, it helped create more traffic than ever imagined. Once covered with graffiti, this wall eventually became a landmark itself after students from nearby W. T. White High School transformed the neighborhood eyesore into a colorful psychedelic mural in 1976. In some ways, the artwork officially marked Forest as teenage territory.
Where the wall stopped, the fast-food restaurants began, giving more teenagers, many coming from a late show at the newly opened Gemini Drive-In, a reason to head out to see the drag races. A Jack In The Box, which featured the area’s first drive-through, became a natural place to congregate and throw back a few illicit cold ones.
It was an era when American muscle cars were making drag-racing a nation-al pastime. And it wasn’t long before the Forest drag strip was no longer a secondary destination, but rather a scene in and of itself. Most of the cruisers were students at White or Thomas Jefferson. The only gangs consisted of drunk football players looking for a rumble. Even then, weapons were not involved in the fisticuffs, More often than not, a simple drag race settled the matter before anyone threw punches.
By the 1970s, Forest Lane was in its heyday. Hot Rod Magazine rated it the second-best illegal drag strip in the country, behind California’s tamed Sunset Strip. Most of the races were just stoplight-to-stoplight drags, though more serious competitors would meet at Merrell Road or Emerald Street for a race worth 10 or 20 bucks. Kids from all over the Metroplex and even as far as Oklahoma began to flock to Forest. It was the place to check out fast cars and hot girls.
Hank Clements, a 1975 White graduate who now heads a communications firm, remembers that chasing girls from other schools seemed exotic at the time, a new thrill for North Dallas boys. One of his cruising buddies was longtime City Councilman Glenn Box, then a White sophomore. One night, the two football teammates and another friend. Steve Hawkins, piled into Clements’ gold ’72 Buick LeSabre-which was loaded with a 455 engine, dual exhaust, and a quadraphonic 8-track player-looking for chicks. The three followed a car full of girls they had met on Forest back to one girl’s house.
To their surprise, three other guys who had been with the girls earlier were waiting for them to return. “It seems funny now, but we were kind of scared at the time,” Clements remembers. “These guys were drunk and one of them was swinging an ax.” Hawkins said to Clements, “I’ll take out his feet if you gtab the ax.” The three considered it, thinking they could take the smaller guys. But at the encouragement of Box, they decided these girls were not worth scuffling over.
Of course, such weapons were not the norm. Throughout the 70s and most of the ’80s, problems were minimal. “There were sometimes a few fights, maybe a little weed, and always a lot of unnecessary fuel usage,” says Clements. “But otherwise I remember it always being a positive thing. We were just a hunch of clean-cut kids out having some good fun.”
But not everyone thought so kindly about having hordes of teenagers roaming their neighborhoods. Residents complained constantly, encouraging the city council to try to curb the cruising by lowering the speed limit to 30 mph and blocking streets with barricades. (When former city councilman and mayor Steve Bartlett’s 16-year-old daughter warned her father to drive slowly because “some foot” made the area near his residence a 30 mph zone, he hesitated to admit that he was, in fact, the one respoasible. ) It was a battle for control of the streets, a battle that the teenagers won with their sheer numbers. For more than two decades, they owned the street, at least on Friday and Saturday nights. Cops and homeowners alike reluctantly accepted this reality.
It used to he that the more things changed, the more things stayed the same. But in the ’90s, maybe the reality of being a teenager changed too much. Football players were no match for gangs like the Fly Boys, and encounters with weapon-wielding teenagers were no longer just funny tales of growing up. As fear replaced the fun, cool cars gave way to police cars, leading to the sudden death of a teenage tradition.