Vital signs

OK, I admit it: Initially, I was disappointed. I wanted to hear the Boss bark that line about “broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.” I wanted to slump low in my seat and let the penetrating bass of some blue-chip cruising standard send primeval rumblings through my chest and nether regions. War’s “Low Rider” would have worked — “Take a little trip, take a little trip….” And let’s not forget the Beach Boys. After all, I’m cruisin’ Patton Avenue tonight, and going “round round” to get around doesn’t just make good background sound: It’s a directive.

But as luck would have it, I’m cruising with a guy who doesn’t care all that much about music. In fact, he doesn’t even have his stereo on. “What about the sound system?” I inquire wistfully, pointing toward the glowing array of buttons, screens and doohickeys that make his car’s dashboard look more like the control panel on an F-15.

“I don’t really need it,” he replies. That point is driven home when the light at the corner of Patton and Louisiana Avenue jumps from red to green and Blake Arflin releases the clutch on his 2003 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra, unleashing the 390 stallions he has corralled under the hood. The energy explodes, hoofbeats thundering in time to Arflin’s quick, precise shifting. By the time his conductor’s baton has slid into third gear, my skull is flattened back against the seat, my limbs are lead, and every nerve in my body hums in synch with the ceaseless clamor that envelops us. The Nissan “Z” that had the temerity to eyeball us back at the light is now just a pitiful blip in the rear-view mirror. “Imports,” sniffs Arflin, voice dripping with disdain.

He eases up on the gas pedal, the din subsides, and we roll to the next light, keeping to the posted speed limit. “This isn’t the place to race,” notes Arflin, adding: “If someone really wants to challenge, we’ll arrange a race at the drag strip in Bristol. But the Cobras always dominate.” Bristol, Tenn., might seem like a long way to drive for a chance to prove one’s manifold destiny, but to Arflin — who thinks nothing of driving up from his Anderson, S.C., home just to cruise Patton Avenue — the distance merely means more quality wheel time with the love of his life.

As we do the loop, I realize that while the Patton Avenue cruisers take a lot of heat for their hobby (critics’ refrain: It’s senseless; polluting; loud; fraught with danger; blah, blah, blah), these unceasing circuits are really just a variation on what countless other local folks are up to on any given Friday night — grooving to the beat. Some prefer to waltz alone in four-wheeled ballrooms lit by gleaming neon; others tango seductively within the cozy confines of a pickup cab. But in assorted guises, all are enjoying what is arguably one of Asheville’s more popular weekend diversions.

And though you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody hereabouts cruising to R&B, whether they know it or not, they all owe healthy a debt of gratitude to Motown. Because in Arflin’s eyes, at any rate, the mechanical maestros of the Motor City have built him one screaming Stradivarius.

And as we wait our turn to do an about-face on Patton and begin another lap, he gently revs the engine. It’s time for an encore.

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