A clash of civilizations plays out every Friday and Saturday night on the streets of Downtown Boise.
On one side are the rebels. You know them: They’re young, mostly between 18 and 25, predominantly but not exclusively male. They show up when it’s dark.
They come from all over the Treasure Valley — Boise, Caldwell, Emmett, Meridian, Nampa — and stake out parking spots along Main and Idaho streets just west of the Downtown core. They open their hoods and rev their engines, headers and other exhaust modifications roaring. They peel out at intersections when the lights turn green. They race down the streets, slowing only to avoid red lights or pedestrians.
They hang out on the sidewalks and talk about cars. Some probably drink alcohol or do drugs, though they try to keep it hidden.
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“It’s a nice environment,” said Diego Madrono, who started hanging out with the rebels after moving to Boise from Dallas a couple of months ago. “Other than people trying to start arguments with each other, I like it, you know?”
On the other side are the responsible adults. You know them, too: They’re people who run businesses or live Downtown. The rebels’ behavior rubs them the wrong way. They want the noisy cars and littering loiterers to go away.
Many are a generation older than the rebels cruising up and down in front of their stores or condos. Some don’t get the appeal of the cruise. A few admit they did some cruising themselves 20 or 30 years ago.
The cruise runs in a loop: east on Main from 14th Street to Capitol Boulevard, north to Idaho Street, then west back to 14th Street and south to Main again.
Guests at The Modern Hotel complain that noise from the cruisers keeps them up at night. Located on the corner of Grove and 13th, The Modern’s backside faces the cruise route across a parking lot to the north. Operations manager Michal Lloyd said she often is forced to refund the cost of guests’ rooms, which range from $126 to $180 on a weekend night. That’s a big hit to a 39-room hotel.
“I’ve had weekends where we had to comp three rooms a night,” Lloyd said.
Guests have posted negative online reviews of The Modern because of the noise, she said. There’s only one balm for that burn.
“They tend to forget the noise if you comp their room,” Lloyd said.
Across Main Street from the back of the Modern, employees at Idaho Mountain Touring have found syringes, broken bottles, women’s panties and even a dead jackrabbit outside the store, owner Chris Haunold said. Cruisers have egged his windows and damaged the trees in front of his store so badly they had to be replaced. Once, someone cracked one of the store’s windows. It cost $2,000 to replace.
It never would have occurred to any of my buddies and me to vandalize and destroy anything. We just didn't do that. We would try to get beer.
Chris Haunold, owner of Idaho Mountain Touring, on how the Downtown cruise has changed
Property isn’t Haunold’s biggest concern. Sometimes, his employees go to the store during the 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. window when the cruise is most active. He worries for their safety, particularly since the cruise crowd seems to be aging.
“When there are a bunch of high school kids out, I don’t care how tough they try to look, they’re not terribly scary,” he said. “But the young 20-somethings can be a little bit more, you know, intimidating.”
Ask any of the cruisers what they drive, and they’ll give you details — year, make, model, aftermarket enhancements and more — without hesitation.
Cars are the centerpiece of their society. Even on the sidewalk, the cruisers hang out in little groups divided by the type of vehicle they drive. Motorcycle riders here, hot rods there, pickups somewhere else.
Moneeb Nain, a 20-year-old from Boise, drives a 1991 Mazda he bought March 15. He likes how the front end looks like a human face when its headlights are flipped up. He has a fabric tongue that he sometimes sticks to the grill.
Nain drives with a group of Mazda Miata owners that rolls as many as seven deep. The night of June 4, his Miata was one of a handful parked in a row just south of Idaho Mountain Touring. Rikki Dickson, 20, was hanging with Nain and the rest of the Miata group, even though she drives a 1994 Acura Integra with aftermarket wheels.
“I’m dating one of the Miata guys,” Dickson said.
Some version of the cruise has been going on for decades in cities all over America.
Haunold and Dave Conway, superintendent of the Royal Plaza building on 11th and Main, said they cruised as teenagers on Main and Idaho, though a few blocks farther east. Haunold remembers running between 5th and 9th streets, Conway between 11th and Capitol.
But Haunold, 56, and Conway, 59, said the scene was different then.
“I hate to sound like an old guy, but I want to say we were pretty respectful of property,” Haunold said. “I had a buddy and he had a Nova and we cruised, but we never damaged anybody’s anything. ... We just drove up and down.”
The cars were different then, too. If you weren’t driving American muscle, you didn’t belong on the street. These days, imports with small-block engines are easily as popular as Mustangs and Camaros.
Conway, who graduated from Bishop Kelly High School in 1974, said Royal Plaza condominium residents have complained about the noise.
“Kids have been doing it for years, so, gosh, what's the answer?” he said. “I think we ought to just find a new place for everybody to cruise, whether it's Broadway or something like that.”
Haunold said cruising didn’t used to be as much about racing as it seems to be these days.
“When I moved to town, if they really wanted to drag race, they’d go out to Gowen Road, out behind the airport,” he said.
It was much slower. The idea was cruising. How else would you talk to the girls, you know, unless you were going slow enough?
Chris Haunold on why racing was less popular in his day
It has never occurred to many of the rebels that they might be a nuisance to people trying to sleep in The Modern or the Royal Plaza condos. Others realize it but are defiant.
“They chose to live in an area where they know that it’s noisy,” said Connor Moore, a 19-year-old who lives in Meridian. “They chose to move to this area. They choose to live in the apartment complex. They choose to stay in the hotel when they know the stuff that goes on.”
Moore drives a 2005 Dodge Neon “with modified exhaust that I’m actually fighting court on.” Instead of the noise, he said, the adults should focus on the fact that, for the most part, the people driving down Main and up Idaho are just “teenagers having fun, staying out of trouble, not causing accidents.”
“It’s honestly better to be down here than going out to a bonfire and getting drunk and driving and whatnot,” he said. “Yeah, there’s drama, but it’s better than going and getting drunk or getting high.”
For innocent kids, though, the rebels sure have developed a sixth sense for cops. During one red-light cycle at Main and 13th, a promising lineup met at the crosswalk. A souped-up Mustang, a GMC pickup and a blue Honda sedan looked as if they were about to take off screeching down Main. But when the light turned green, the drivers eased off the line like civilized commuters.
The Honda won without so much as a squealed tire. A few rows of cars passed, and then, the reason for restraint: a black Boise Police patrol car. How could the drivers on the line have known?
“When you’re breaking the law, you just know,” said Branson Yebra, a 17-year-old from Nampa.
The Boise Police Department has targeted the cruise with special patrols in recent months, Chief Bill Bones said Friday.
Those will continue as needed, Bones said, and officers posted Downtown for regular law enforcement duties are keeping a special eye out for problems.
But the goal isn’t to put people in jail or even shut down the cruise, Bones said. In fact, he said, he hasn’t heard of anyone being arrested due to the increased attention. He said he wants to discourage illegal or unsafe behavior, such as speeding, playing music too loud, driving cars with exhausts that are too loud and driving out of control.
“We'll try to warn them, but if they don't take the warning, we'll cite them,” Bones said.
But there’s nothing illegal about standing on street corners and talking. Nic Miller, Mayor David Bieter’s director of economic development, said he has no problem with the cruise, either, as long as people aren’t breaking the law or being unsafe.
“The folks that come down to just do a couple laps and then head home, there's obviously no issue with that,” Miller said. “In fact, we want Downtown to be the place that people come to hang out. But it's some of the unsafe or extremely loud vehicles or behavior that has been something that our officers are paying attention to.”
In response to a chorus of complaints, officers and other city representatives have met with business operators and residents in recent months.
When we heard about some of the activities, and especially when we hear that there are kids down there, we just didn't want to wake up on a Saturday morning and have a tragedy on our hands.
Nic Miller, Mayor David Bieter’s director of economic development
Lloyd, The Modern’s operations manager, said things might be settling down a little, thanks to Miller and Bones.
“Nic and the new police chief have been very proactive,” Lloyd said. “We’re just starting off on the summer, so I hate to say that it’s getting quieter.”
Taylor Howell, a 23-year-old from Boise who drives a 1992 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4 TT (twin turbo), said he doesn’t have much sympathy for cruisers who get pulled over by the cops. People revving their engines and squealing their tires are asking for trouble, he said, and skidding is dangerous — especially around corners where people, sometimes with children, are hanging out.
On the other hand, he is not losing any sleep over the fact that guests at The Modern are losing some.
“I think it’s a terrible place to be putting a hotel,” Howell said. “Any big city, there’s going to be noise Downtown.”
We've got to juggle two things, right? We need to create an environment where businesses can thrive, while recognizing that there are many, many uses and many, many people in cities, especially in the evenings.
City Councilwoman Lauren McLean
Meanwhile, Lloyd said, The Modern is experimenting with types of windows and doors that would deaden the sound of the cars, especially in the rooms on the hotel’s north side. She said the staff tells new guests about the noise, because “that’s the only way we can manage this.”
“It’s not just one thing that’s going to make this work,” Lloyd said. “We are never going to tell them that we’re the quietest place in town or around. We’re going to tell them the truth.”