Car lovers’ gathering shifts into new gear

Cruise the Couve to rev up along city’s Main Street

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: Cruise the Couve.

• When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. July 15.

• Where: Along Main Street in Vancouver, between 28th and Sixth; some spillover onto Broadway and Washington Street.

• Contact:

Car lovers know that the exterior can be shiny, gorgeous and impressive even while the guts need help. Even to the point of rebuilding or simply replacing the heart of the machine, the engine itself.

That’s pretty much what’s happened with Vancouver’s favorite grass-roots festival, a massive invasion of downtown by stylish automobiles and the humans who worship them. What was called Cruisin’ the Gut was launched in 2009 by Phil Medina, a natural-born Clark County cruiser who spent his high school weekends continuing his parents’ grand tradition: piloting vintage vehicles up and down prominent local streets, including Highway 99 in Hazel Dell as well hot spots in Longview and Portland.

Medina eventually decided to cruise back home to downtown Vancouver and its “gut,” Main Street. All car enthusiasts and clubs were welcomed to a Saturday extravaganza in mid-July, and many thousands turned out. Medina, local merchants and the city of Vancouver were all amazed.

Cruise forward a decade, though, and the picture gets complicated. When Medina, disputing the city’s liability insurance requirements and objecting to rising police costs, decided not to sponsor the event this year, Uptown Village’s merchants revved up. Led by Bryan Shull of Trap Door Brewing, they formed a planning committee and lined up numerous local sponsors. They even took it a step further than Medina had done in the past, quickly securing legal nonprofit corporation status, according to Shull.

The event has a different name now: Cruise the Couve. But that was too similar for Medina, who had his lawyers warn organizers that the new name violated his intellectual property rights. (Medina has not responded to requests for comment.)

Widespread reaction appears to be a collective shrug. Most people appear thrilled that a downtown Vancouver car cruise will roll forward; a few are frankly relieved that the rather chubby former name, Cruisin’ the Gut, has been slimmed down to something less diabetic.

A chief reason why Shull and his Main Street peers decided to swoop in and save the cruise is that it would have happened anyway, he said. Upwards of 20,000 people, and many thousands of cars, all jostling up and down Main Street “with no garbage collection, portable bathrooms, traffic-control measures and coordinated police presence, would be quite frankly horrific,” Shull said in an email.

Gratuitous complaints that the city of Vancouver tried to kill the event, or is grasping for its massive profits, are “complete hogwash,” Shull added. The city may realize a few thousand bucks in sales tax revenues from Main Street merchants who sell extra ice cream cones or beers that day, he said, but it also carries half the extra police costs — and used to carry the whole cost.

Bottom line, Vancouver Parks and Recreation Director Julie Hannon has said: It’s a great event, but not a moneymaker for the city.

“I don’t know what all the fuss is. The city has been nothing but generous,” Shull said. “They’ve bent over backward to help us.” So have the Uptown Village Association and Vancouver’s Downtown Association, he said.

Vancouver Brewfest manager Cody Gray has been hired as event manager for the day, Shull said. Dozens of volunteers are lined up, too.

‘Organic’ approach

“The event is somewhat organic in nature,” says Shull’s understated press release. “There is no registration process” or fee for participants; it’s pretty much a show-up-and-join-the-fun situation. Vintage, classic and “kustomized” cars are preferred, but anything that looks cool — or makes you feel cool — is perfectly welcome.

Just don’t forget that normal traffic laws always apply.

Cruising (un-)officially begins at 10 a.m. July 15 on Main Street at East 27th, and heads south. (Many folks show up much earlier than that to stake sidewalk viewing spots.) Major cross streets will be open, but smaller streets will be closed at Main. There’s some spillover onto Washington (which is one way, southbound) and Broadway.

That’s all there is to it. Many participants spend part of the time behind the wheel and cruising, and part of the time parked, sidewalk picnicking and strolling about to make new friends and admire one another’s fancy machines. The event ends at 10 p.m.

All are asked to please bring a nonperishable food donation for Share, a leading local charity that feeds and houses the hungry and homeless. The collection spot is on Main at 16th Street.

Auto art

If you can never worship automobiles enough, consider worshipping them through the eyes of worshipful local artists. The Boomerang art and charity shop at 808 Main St. has set out “Cars Cars Cars” as its July exhibition. Take a break from the parade of colorful cars on the street to check out a parade of unique car paintings and photographs on the walls at Boomerang.

To really get into the automotive spirit, Boomerang is even hosting Portland auto “pin striper” Paul Mackie, who’ll decorate a “rat rod” on the street right in front of the shop from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2 to 7 p.m. July 15.

Official Cruise the Couve swag — T-shirts, posters, glassware, thermoses — are for sale via Salmon Creek Outfitters, one of the event sponsors, online at or at 2309 Main St.