The smell of hot dogs and the sound of Ritchie Valens booming from the speakers near the gazebo is back at Oakland Beach Tuesday night and so, too, are the muscle cars, the classics, the antiques and lots of people there to be a part of it all.
A tradition is back at the beach: the Tuesday night “Cruz Night.”
Although the event was supposed to start two weeks ago, the weather caused cancellations and an empty beach. Every Tuesday night throughout the summer, car enthusiasts from all over New England bring their antique cars to the Oakland Beach Commons for a night of cars, music and fun with friends.
Cruz Night started 12 years ago, when founder Kevin Oliver came up with a very simple idea: he and his friends just getting together on Tuesdays to show their cars. Oliver has since developed Lewy body dementia, a form of dementia that causes a progressive decline in mental abilities, which caused him to retire to Florida. But, he left the Tuesday night gatherings in the capable hands of his friends at the Greater Warwick Lions that always volunteered to help Oliver with the nights.
“Kevin had a dream,” said Lions member and head of Cruz Night Rob Farrell, “of car guys just getting together. And he picked here because he grew up here.”
Farrell speaks fondly of Oliver, saying that everyone loves him, and he wanted to help the Oakland Beach neighborhood as much as possible.
“The main thing was giving back to the community. His thing was the Christmas party at Oakland Beach School for the kids, and there was also a backpack program where he gave backpacks to the students. We give them eye glasses now, but its still giving back to the community, which is what the Lions are all about,” he said.
Oliver’s spirit remains a large part of the Cruz Night even after he has passed it to the Lions Club. That spirit is what made the car show blossom. Soon there were people coming from not just Warwick, but all parts of Rhode Island, and even Massachusetts. One car owner, Jack Gallagher, has driven from Burrillville for the Tuesday night festivities for many years.
Jim Daneker, owner of Tuesday’s “Cruiser of the Week,” has also been coming to Cruz Night for quite some time. His car, a 1933 Willys, is named the Hairy Canary, for its shockingly vibrant shade of yellow. Daneker built the Canary himself from a kit; he received the frame and the parts and pieced it together by hand. The driver gave multiple reasons about why he has been coming to Cruz Night for so long.
“All the different cars, friends, people having a good time. There’s always a new car coming in, too,” he said.
Another staple of Cruz Nights has been Oakland Beach’s personal DJ, who simply introduced himself as Doc.
Driving an antique car known as “Memory Lane,” Doc said that he has been involved in Cruz Night ever since it began. Kevin Oliver asked him to join in and play some music for the event in 2001, and although Oliver is no longer part of the Cruz Night tradition, Doc still comes to the beach every Tuesday to provide tunes from days gone by, giving the opportunity for children and the elderly alike to dance to their heart’s content.
The Greater Warwick Lions Club has hosted the Oakland Beach Cruz Night since summer of 2012, making this their second season. Last year, they donated their profits from the Cruz Nights to various causes and local establishments, including National Night Out, New England Lemonade’s Tony Lombardi Scholarship, the Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial Fund, the Kayla Gilbert Foundation, House of Hope, the Children with Cancer Fund and the Oakland Beach School.
Farrell smiled as he watched the families and children roam the beach, in awe of the various models, styles and paint jobs on all the vehicles.
“Where else can you get a view like this on a Tuesday night? Most of these are held on parking lots and it’s great that we can have this on the grass where people can sit and enjoy a million dollar view. Families can come here, it’s free, the smell of hot dogs, old cars, free music, what’s better than that?” he said.
Oakland Beach Cruz Night is every Tuesday night on the Oakland Beach Commons, starting at 4 p.m. and ending at dusk. The minimum required donation to show a car is either $2 a week, or to buy a season pass for $10. Rain will result in a cancellation of the Cruz Night, but it will resume the following week.