February 25, 2024
Downtown cruising revival launched – San Benito News


By CATHERINE DONNELLY
Special to the NEWS

Every Friday night, car enthusiasts from around the Rio Grande Valley polish up their muscle cars, hot rods, low riders and jalopies to join in on a grass roots revival of cruise nights in downtown San Benito.

Spectators can hear engines purr and rev as the cars drive down Sam Houston Boulevard. Music from bygone eras emanates from original eight-track players or thump a loud beat. Lifted cars light up and bounce. It’s a night to shine and show off a little. It’s a night of community. It’s a time to “take pride in your ride,” as they say.

Greg Goyo Hernandez, a life coach for a youth ministry, has been hitting the social media hard with videos from each cruise night to build up the momentum so that the movement can grow. He wants to build a family event to help rejuvenate San Benito’s hometown spirit and spur some positive growth and prosperity for downtown.

When Hernandez traveled to Kissimmee, Florida, for work, he and his wife visited Old Town. They found a vibrant city that had so much going on with cruise nights, music, good food and entertainment. It was like a party, but structured and family friendly. And he thought, “Why can’t we have this in San Benito?”

Hernandez knew that they used to have cruise nights all around the area, but they were shut down in the early 1990s because of some problems they caused.

“I feel like there’s so much to be gained by having a safe and structured event in San Benito to get families out and enjoying themselves again,” said Hernandez. “Not only can it help the city flourish again, but it will help people feel good about our community which has been struggling.”

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In the ‘80s and ‘90s, San Benito had cruise nights and other events, but also started to experience a lot of gang activity, according to Hernandez. Shutting down cruise night left a vacuum where there was once celebration. It left downtown empty and silent on weekend nights as people mourned the absence of that fun thing that they looked forward to doing with their friends and family.

“We had a good thing going, but because of the bad behavior of a few, the event became unsafe,” said Hernandez. “But I feel that shutting it down was a collective punishment, which was unfair to the rest who were just there to have a good time.”

San Benito Mayor Ricardo Guerra has been spearheading the idea of bringing cruise nights back to San Benito, but he also has concerns. He wants to bring the “sparkle back,” but he wants it to be a safe event for everyone.

“I remember the great cruise nights we used to have, and I thought we should try it again. I went to the local car clubs and encouraged them to bring it back,” said Guerra. “But I also warned them to control their group, and keep it safe for everyone.”

Guerra relayed that drag racing was the cause of an accident in another city, which was why a lot of municipalities in the area wound up shutting cruise nights down completely. Unofficial drag racing still springs up in outlying areas, but any sign of it happening during San Benito’s cruise nights, like two cars revving their engines, will not be tolerated by San Benito police officers. Muffler decibel will be strictly enforced as well.

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“San Benito cruise nights is getting better,” reads Henry T. Thomae Facebook post. “Met up with a lot of old friends haven’t seen in years. SBPD is very cool as long as you don’t do something completely stupid.”
“There seems to be a lot of interest in bringing back the cruise nights like we had on Sam Houston Boulevard back in the day,” said Fred Sandoval, San Benito City Manager. “I think this can be good for downtown merchants and is an opportunity to help our city evolve as a destination to come and do something positive, fun and safe for the whole family.”

Right now, news of cruise night is spreading mostly by word of mouth and on social media and it’s growing. Car enthusiasts are eager to take the covers off of their rides and get to show them off and meet with like-minded people and field questions from inquisitive folks who take an interest in their projects. Of course, not everyone agrees.

“Our beautiful quiet town — this will only bring gangs to our city, shameful,” said Minnie Rodriguez in a Facebook comment responding to a post.

“The mayor brought up the idea of bringing back cruise night and by the third one, I could see the potential economic drive for the city and the people’s smiles as they were walking around downtown. We haven’t seen foot traffic down there in decades,” said San Benito Commissioner Pete Galvan. “The event really brightens up downtown, bringing it alive. And it’s so refreshing to see the car washes, gas stations and late-night eateries filled with customers. We haven’t seen this kind of action around here since the ‘90s.”

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Galvan wants the city administration to connect with the community to keep cruise nights alive, yet safe for all, without burnouts and other potentially unsafe behaviors.

“Our local car enthusiasts have been held back for decades, unable to express themselves through their interest and love of cars like you can at a cruise night. It’s nice to see them able to come out and show their pride again,” said Galvan.

“Cruise night in downtown San Benito. Took me back to the 80’s. Thank you city of San Benito for bringing it back!” read a Facebook post from Wildflower Cottage Company, a downtown merchant.