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How cruising in Manteca lost its innocence

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POSTED August 4, 2010 2:18 a.m.
Cruising – once a rite of passage for Central Valley youth – is now largely a thing of the past.

Some might say that is a good thing – especially hard-core environmentalists who have no problem consuming resources for their own pleasure but who frown about the wanton burning of carbon fuels by people basically killing time.

That, by the way, is a far better thing to do than killing each other.

A lot of us wax eloquently about a gentler time when gangs existed but they were more of the Westside Story type than of the prevalent genre of today that believes manhood and respect are achieved by lugging the likes of Uzi and Glock around.

How would things be different today if cruising were still legal?

It wasn’t too long ago - 18 years to be exact – that cruising was still a big thing in Manteca. Every Friday and Saturday night during warm weather you knew virtually every 16- to 22-year-old who had nothing better to do was at in Manteca. They were going up and down Yosemite and Main – including nearby side streets - in downtown.

There was a move afoot back then to kill cruising by people who thought it was getting out of hand with littering and loitering.

Manteca’s finest at the time made an extremely succinct point:  If young people were cruising – or more precisely hanging out – downtown they weren’t getting in trouble elsewhere. Plus there was the advantage of the police being able to keep a check on the age group prone to acting before thinking.

It was no different than 30 years prior during the Golden Age of Cruising in Manteca where the likes of Frank Brazil and best buddy Frank Vieira in their younger days cruised the length of Yosemite Avenue from Fosters Freeze to the now defunct Patio Drive-In.

A regular fixture of the cruise was Manteca Police officer Tillie Del Nero who knew the cruisers like the back of his own hand.  He often surveyed the city’s main drags with a cigarette drooping from his mouth that only made his physical attributes – cauliflower ears and snubbed nose from years as a boxer – seem more imposing.

Del Nero, by all accounts, always could tell when something was amiss such as someone sneaking beer on the cruise. He was also considered fair. But perhaps the worst thing about Del Nero was the fact he had no qualms about following up questionable action he saw while policing the Manteca cruise by placing a call to a parent.

More than one former cruisers of the time will tell of how there would be hell to pay when they got home for doing transgressions that today wouldn’t even warrant a second look by a peace officer.

Had cruising continued would the streets of Manteca be a somewhat safer place today after the sun goes down for those between 14 and 25 – and often older – who have nothing better to do than “kill” time?

Ironically the reason we’d never know is because of gangs. Or more precisely because of gangs attending a concert at the former Oakwood Lakes resort that were kicked out by sheriff’s deputies after things got too rowdy there. They immediately headed over to Manteca - virtually the last bastion of legal cruising – and proceeded to raise havoc.

City leaders at that point had been tolerant of cruising believing the littering, late night congestion, and loitering were small prices to pay to accomplish what police thought was a safe environment for participants and a way to keep an eye on them.

That all changed that one night when the dispersed concert goers hit the streets of Manteca. The gridlock was bad enough as was the huge kick up in littering plus public urination.

What did in cruising, though, was gun fire between rival out-of-town gangs that evening. No one was hit but the innocence of cruising was dead.

Three days later in an emergency meeting, the City Council pulled the plug on legal cruising.

Gangs, in a way, gained the upper hand that night. Back then in the early 1990s most of the biggest gang problems were rival gangs from Modesto and Stockton facing off in Manteca at such venues such as the Yosemite Avenue Taco Bell. The police responded in such an aggressive fashion – complete with K-9 units- that Manteca got a reputation as a tough place for gangs to operate out in the open.

Maybe it is wishful thinking that one community could have bucked the trend of where we are today with gangs basically spreading their venom. Yes, the ranks of gangs have grown but so has the population and arguably law enforcement ranks are about the same.

We as a society, though, answered many of the threats gangs posed by cracking down on diversions that most people participated in - for the most part – without creating problems.

Gangs are similar to termites. They do nothing but undermine a civilized society but you can never eradicate them. You can, however, keep them in check.

And one of the ways to do that is not conceding anything to them – our parks, our neighborhoods, or our streets.
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