08/27/09 02:12PM Car Shows, Classic Cars, Cruisin Cars, Family Events, hot rods, Metro Cruise in Grand Rapids, Muscle Cars

Vintage car lovers to congregate at 2009 28th Street Metro Cruise in Grand Rapids


An annual car show and cruise that attracts 285,000 spectators and 14,000 cars might sound like a zoo. Pal's Diner is actually going to make it look like one.

2009 Mettro Cruise in Grand Rapids

To celebrate this weekend's 28th Street Metro Cruise -- that organizers expect will draw over 300,000 visitors and 15,000 to 18,000 special interest cars -- the pink-and-silver 1954 diner, tucked away on the east end of 28th Street in Cascade Township, is bringing in Laura.

The nearly 10-foot-tall, 8,000-pound African elephant will greet diners and cruisers 4-8 p.m. Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday, weather-permitting.

The 27-year-old elephant is no stranger to the spotlight. The gentle giant shared the big screen with Jim Carrey in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls," worked with the Fercos illusionist act in Reno and Las Vegas, and made Sports Illustrated after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a West Michigan Whitecaps game, among other things.

The "gentle giant" will be giving $5 rides behind Pal's and let children feed her carrots. Her favorite foods are watermelons and pumpkins. Sometimes, just before she's ready to head home home, kids can roll watermelons to Laura to munch.

"She loves meeting people," said Laura's "dad," Chuck Walters of Newaygo. "She loves kids. ... She just digs the kids."

Pal's Diner owner Barry Brown said Laura's appearances this weekend are just another highlight of Metro Cruise.

"People are looking for things (to do) besides parking a car," said Brown, who canceled his restaurant car cruises and other activities throughout the year to devote his energy entirely to the fifth-annual event.

Brown and his wife, Sam Choi-Brown, will provide live music by local bands Family Traditions and Blue Star Pilot, karaoke, a remote NASCAR race track, hula hoop and bubble gum-blowing contests, a '50s trivia show, golf-putting challenge, neon photo shoot, a 40-foot-long, 45s-playing Greyhound Cruiser bus and a roped-off area specifically for antique or modified cars.

"There will probably be an Elvis sighting," he said with a grin.

"What I'm trying to do is create enough activity on the east side of 28th Street. The ambience (at Pal's) is perfect for Metro. The problem is that it started in Wyoming."

Places such as Roger's Plaza and Klingman's Furniture on the west end of the 15-mile Metro Cruise, and Woodland and Centerpointe malls in the middle usually come to mind first when mentioning the exponentially growing event presented by the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce.

For good reason, of course. The areas feature large parking lots where the Chamber typically orchestrates many of its interest-piquing events.

The Metro Million display of high-end vehicles again will be held in the Klingman's parking lot, which also will house a carnival. At least 15 to 25 cars averaging $100,000 to $200,000 each will be on display.

2009 Metro cruise in Grand Rapids

The display also will include a new event this year: a car fashion show featuring a 1902, one-cylinder Oldsmobile, the oldest car at Metro Cruise.

"It runs, it has lights on it, and the brakes work," Chamber president and CEO John Crawford said.

The Metro Million cars will be fired up a few times a day for a promenade of sorts. Bleachers will be available.

This year, the lot at now-vacant Studio 28 will host about 1,000 motorcycles from the American Legion Riders Motorcycle Team and the Patriot Guard Riders of Michigan after they are escorted by National Guard hummers into town about 1 p.m.

Also new: Beer tents. Metro Cruise, in partnership with Citadel Broadcasting, will run tents at Rogers Plaza and Centerpointe Mall.

While it's fun to drop by the micro destinations of activities, car enthusiasts know the fun is cruising and watching -- popping the hood, sharing stories and bragging.

Caledonia resident Arny Hooton, 65, has been cruising 28th Street for years with his wife, Connie, in their '58 Chevy Impala.

Their light blue, fully restored vehicle soon will hit 300,000 miles, Hooton said.

The Metro Cruise allows him and Connie to chat with friends, share an appreciation of an American heritage, or "art on wheels," and, well, to show off.

"If you didn't walk up and say, 'Wow, what a nice car,' I'd get rid of the damn thing," he said, laughing.

Even Kentwood Mayor Richard Root, a proud gear head, realizes the importance of what's under the hood and having a car that impresses.

His custom-painted black and white '71 Corvette is a new beast these days. Root purchased the vehicle new and slowly altered it to become "a very fast, very powerful Corvette," whose V8, 520 horsepower engine contains no original GM parts.

"If you got it, you don't have to use it. But you know you've got it," Root said.