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Cruising the Sky View

ETV recently lamented the demise of old style drive-in restaurants, the kind with the speaker on a pedestal right by your car and your food delivered to the car window. A film crew visited the Sky View, interviewing patrons about the way "Cruising the Sky View" used to be. One late 1950's Cruising the View adventure is still vivid in my mind.

Eating places were as different as car styles in the 1950's and Florence had a variety of choices for any taste buds. Smiley's, on East Palmetto where Cheves Street veers off for downtown, offered the world's best cheeseburgers. Fried chicken lovers headed to Ed Turner's Chicken Basket at Coles Crossroads. You might drop in to the Sanitary Lunch across from McLeod Infirmary for a hot Apple Jack. If you had a really sweet tooth, you visited the Donut Dinette on West Palmetto for a dozen of those melt-in-the-mouth, hot-out-of-the-grease doughnuts. Quite a few full-fledged restaurants, corner cafes, serious steak houses and fish camps were scattered around town, each one unique.

For teenage drivers, however, the Beacon Drive-in on South Irby offered places to park, grab a bite to eat and listen to the radio. Palmetto Street offered two great destinations with similar fare and service (still does), the 301 Drive-In across from the main Fire Station and the Sky View at Five Points. All three featured curb service, hamburgers, fries, milk shakes and fountain drinks. Remember Clarinets? Cruising the View in the 1950's came to include making the rounds of all three several times an evening, boys in their cars, girls in theirs if not out on a date.

Tri-Hi-Y met at the YMCA downtown and I was fortunate enough to be trusted with my daddy's car to attend these meetings. Since they were over early in the evening, all the kids hunted up refreshments afterwards. It was only natural that my friend Sally and I would do likewise. The way this activity worked, we might order a fountain coke at the 301, sip on it a while and watch other cars go by. We'd check out who was driving what and who was riding with who, then crank up and head over to the Beacon. There we'd park again, order french fries, munch and watch other cars go by.

Now, daddy had given me definite instructions about where I could drive his car and how many hours I could stay out, and I was supposed to keep his car in the downtown area. That meant no Sky View it was too far out on West Palmetto. But once you've cruised the Beacon and 301 a couple of times, it's too obvious to keep on circling those two. It was only natural that you'd follow the cruising crowd out to the Sky View, right? And if we paid for the extra gas, daddy really wouldn't mind, right?

Half way out to Five Points, we had a flat tire. In those days there were almost no businesses between downtown and Five Points, no gas stations and no tire companies, only residences. We made it to the phone booth at the Dairy Queen and sat in the car a few minutes, contemplating our dilemma. Who did we know that could change a tire? Having a flat tire wasn't that big a problem where we had the flat tire was a big problem! My earlier reasoning about Cruising the Sky View suddenly felt a little faulty even to me.

"Honesty is the best policy," Daddy had drummed that into my skull a few times and when I finally ran out of options I called him. I was honest. We'd had a flat tire, and we were where we'd been told not to be, out in the middle of "nowhere" way out on West Palmetto Street headed toward the Sky View. I don't remember who came to change the tire, somebody daddy called, but I do remember the consequences. No more driving daddy's car to Tri-Hi-Y meetings, no more going anywhere at night for a month, and definitely no more Cruising the View in his car.

We did Cruise the Sky View in later days in Sally's car and it was still fun ordering a burger here, onion rings there, and a Clarinet somewhere else, watching the other cars go by and seeing who was riding with who.

These days Tim and I visit the Sonic out on West Palmetto, park and enjoy milkshakes on hot summer afternoons. As we sip our shakes and listen to the radio, I watch other cars go by and realize cruising is still alive and well with a brand-new generation of teenagers, plus an extra destination or two. You know, I believe ETV lamented the demise of the old-time drive-in restaurants a little too early.


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