Cruising cars in the era of COVID
Published - 05/17/20 - 01:00 PM | 2803 views | 5 5 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A classic car passes onlookers in front of San Diego Fire Station 10 during the Cars & Coffee Social Distancing Tour and Neighborhood Drive-By. (Photo by Brian Howarth)
A classic car passes onlookers in front of San Diego Fire Station 10 during the Cars & Coffee Social Distancing Tour and Neighborhood Drive-By. (Photo by Brian Howarth)

On May 3, families along residential roads stretching from Rolando into Talmadge were treated to a little Sunday morning entertainment — a car show parade featuring a variety of classic, vintage and old-timey automobiles.

The car show was organized by Cars & Coffee, an informal group of car enthusiasts who met on the first Sunday every month in the parking lot of the Chase Bank at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue. However, for the last two months the group had not been able to hold any events, first due to rain in March and then due to the coronavirus outbreak in April. Organizers thought May's event would be cancelled too until late in April, a new plan was formed. 

“A neighbor of mine had a drive-by surprise birthday party for her and that gave me an idea,” said Cars & Coffee organizer Newell Booth. “I thought, ‘Wow, instead of having a car show for the neighbors to come look at, we’ll take it to them.”

Booth said he knew the event — dubbed the Cars & Coffee Social Distancing Tour and Neighborhood Drive-By — would have a captive audience with people staying at home in self isolation, even those who would normally be at church on Sunday morning. He also knew it would be easy to find cars and drivers for the parade.

“The car people are anxious to go somewhere because all our tours are cancelled,” he said. “Everything is on hold for all of the car activities.”

In the two short weeks before the parade, Booth laid out the route, got the word out to car clubs throughout the region and advertised the event through social media sites like NextDoor and through neighborhood groups like the El Cerrito Community Council. He set up a website for the event and enlisted the help of a realtor friend who lent him signs to put up along the route, inviting residents to take part. Booth’s wife Gladene also pitched in with the planning and was “just as enthused” for the parade as he was, even offering up some fun ideas for the participating drivers that brought some levity to the event in these troubled times.

“In the middle of the show, we had a health inspection,” Booth said. “We have a circle drive at our home so we drove [the cars] through our circle drive and we had a ‘doctor’ at one end that aimed a hair dryer at ‘em and showed ‘em they had a, you know, fake temperature. Then we sent ‘em to a ‘pharmacist’ where we had a funny prescription and gave ‘em a bag of trail mix.”

The event also included a canned food drive for local food banks.

On the day of the parade, Booth knew the event would bring a good turnout of cars so the meet up for the event was changed from the Chase Bank to the College Area Baptist Church parking lot. A whopping 76 cars showed up for the parade, making it Cars & Coffee’s largest event to date.

“It went viral, pardon the pun, mainly because people were ready to get out,” Booth said.

Cars & Coffee began several years ago as an informal gathering at the Duet Coffee Shop on El Cajon Boulevard. In it’s early years, there would be only five or six cars, one being Booth’s 1906 Buick. When the original organizer for the group announced he was moving away from San Diego, the future of the informal club looked like it was in jeopardy of losing leadership.

“We waited around and waited around and on the last time [he organized a show] he said, ‘I guess it’s going to fold,’ so I raised my hand because nobody was going to take it on,” Booth said.

Two months after taking over, Booth moved the show to the Chase Bank parking lot, also next to Ultreya Coffee and Tea. The group regularly meets 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on the first Sunday of the month.

With the new location, the Cars & Coffee shows began to steadily attract more members. Booth invited friends from the San Diego Police Museum and the Horseless Carriage Club he belongs to. He also brought in some special events like an annual electric car show.

“That’s a very popular one where we get the electrics out and the people that are interested in buying an electric car come talk to the owners and that gets the crowd out in the neighborhood,” Booth said. “We’ve had every kind of electric car, we have 10 or 15 when we do the electric one.”

The group also recently started doing occasional tours around local neighborhoods. In August, Cars & Coffee invited the Horseless Carriage Club and the Police Museum on a tour through La Mesa and Lemon Grove, stopping at various points of interest along the way.

“We gave them an hour long tour of the area, but it was not a parade,” Booth said. “We saw people of course, but it was not for their entertainment it was for ours.”

At the group’s next regular meeting the first Sunday of June, Cars & Coffee is planning a short tour of Rolando, Allied Gardens and Del Cerro at the end of the car show. However, Booth said there are no plans for another parade like the one on May 3.

“Not that kind,” he said. “It was too much work.”


Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at [email protected]

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