If you squint your eyes you can see a little bit of Al Nunes in Paul Le Mat’s character from American Graffiti.
But while the “Carol” that jumped into Le Mat’s yellow Deuce Coupe in George Lucas’ retelling of his high school days cruising the streets of Downtown Modesto, the “Carol” that jumped into the passenger seat of Nunes’ Silver and Black Plymouth Road Runner would end up becoming his wife.
That’s the way that they did things in Manteca back then. The pretty girl that you met in the parking lot of Foster’s Freeze – where Nunes pulled in with some buddies to chat with a group of young ladies and offer them a drive up Yosemite Avenue – could very well end up becoming your wife before it was all said and done.
“Fortunately I saw her and I took her for a cruise on Main Street and the rest is history,” Nunes said. “That’s what you did back them. We went everywhere – Manteca, Stockton and of course Modesto was the basis for American Graffiti.
“I liked looking at everybody’s cars that they would clean up and bring out for Friday and Saturday nights. That’s what we did back then. I remember it fondly.”
While the practice is outlawed today – passing by the same spot twice within a preset amount of time will land you a ticket and possibly even get your car impounded – it was one of the only things that local kids had to do back in those days.
Ron Haushka went to high school in Modesto in the late 1960s and says that remembers when the movie came out in 1973. By that time he was already away at college and thought it was kind of a drag that the same downtown streets that he use to prowl with friends were scrapped for Petaluma when Lucas had to find a place to film.
Regardless, he knows what it’s about. And he remembers it all vividly.
“My friend Jack’s father had this 1956 Mercury, and as long as he did everything that he was supposed to that week, we could take it out on Friday night,” Haushka said. “I can still feel the tuck-and-roll interior and the way that the girls would look at us when we pulled up in it. It wasn’t a ‘classic’ the way it would be today, but it was a luxury-type car, you know?
“That movie hit the nail on the head. We look at it now and say, ‘Oh, it was so simple then.’ But man did it feel complicated.”