Forest Lane may be tame now, but it was once a haven for rowdy teenagers. Every weekend for nearly three decades, thousands of high school students cruised up and down the street, mingled in nearby parking lots and occasionally drag-raced for money. By all accounts, their fun was mostly harmless until the early 1990s when D Magazine says, “A gang called Fly Boys International had adopted Forest as their turf, and they were known to terrorize cruisers by smashing their cars with baseball bats.” But we’re here to remember the golden years, with three neighbors who share what Forest Lane was like in its prime — exciting, liberating, distinctly Americana.
The Good Girl
Stefanie Brown describes herself as a rule follower, but in the mid-1980s, she cruised Forest Lane against her mother’s wishes.
“She forbid me to go,” Brown says. “I went anyway.”
Brown’s older brother had been a cruiser, which is how she developed an interest in the street. Though they’re only a couple of years apart, Brown says their Forest Lane experiences were radically different. By the time she and her friends were old enough to drive, ‘no U-turn’ signs had been erected, police officers were more plentiful and kids were sometimes ticketed for loitering in nearby parking lots. But there was plenty of fun to be had.
“It looked like rush hour traffic,” Brown remembers, estimating there were about 200 to 300 people on the drag each weekend night. “When you were stopped at a light you could talk for 3 or 5 minutes. You didn’t have to worry about crazy people then. I would never roll down my window now and talk to people.”
As someone who didn’t have a lot of expendable income, she also liked that cruising was an inexpensive way to stay entertained.
“Gas was cheap then,” Brown says with a hint of longing.
Her memories of Forest Lane are so positive that about eight years ago she created a Facebook page for fans of the street. It now has more than 4,000 members, most of whom were cruisers themselves.
“I didn’t think it would be this big,” she says. “The first week there were like 300 people … Most of them are older. Brown says it’s “kind of cool” to converse with people who attended W.T. White and Thomas Jefferson high schools in the ’60s and ’70s. “They’re the ones who really started it all. They have some great stories.”
She gets to hear some of those stories in person. Since the group’s formation, the original Forest Lane cruisers have hosted a few reunions, much to the police department’s chagrin.
“We’re kinda banned from [hosting reunions on Forest Lane],” Brown laughs. “The last one didn’t go too great. Someone did a burnout. We got word that we weren’t allowed back.”
But that hasn’t stopped the cruisers from swapping anecdotes virtually. When they’re not reliving the good ol’ days, they’re posting pictures of vintage cars. Brown, who was never much of an automotive junkie before, now fantasizes about replacing her Honda with a 1968 Mustang.
“I like cars more now than I used to,” Brown says. “I used to want a Louis Vuitton purse, but now I want a car.”
In high school, Wylie Merritt drove an old Volkswagen, which he says is the main reason he never became a major player in the Forest Lane scene.
“Even now that neighborhood is pretty affluent,” he explains. “Most of the kids who participated had newer, nicer cars. It was the later part of the muscle car era.”
Still, Merritt and his buddies cruised the street enough times to know what it was like on the weekends.
“On the sides of the road the kids would pull over and park and talk or whatever,” he remembers. “Usually there was some illicit activity going on over there — underage drinking, fights, that kind of thing. It was lik
e the main drag of any small town, but on a grander scale. Instead of 100 kids, there were 1,000 to 1,500 kids. It became a traffic issue. The cops probably hated it, the clogging of the road — it was the main artery back then.”
He says there was an industrial area nearby, just west of the Galleria, where some teens raced for money. Because his car wasn’t built for speed, he mainly watched. Perhaps because of these evening observations, he developed an interest in automobiles. That’s what led him to join the Forest Lane Facebook group a few years ago.
“A lot of people from my high school [W.T. White] were part of it already and I knew they were posting lots of pictures of cars from that era,” he says. “I just started talking to people – ‘Where are you from? What do you do?’ I have developed quite a few friendships on there.”
Thanks to the Facebook page, Merritt is no longer a Forest Lane outsider. Stefanie Brown, who started the group, says he’s one of its most active and “funny” members. Merritt, who now lives in Oklahoma, has even trekked to Dallas on a few occasions for cruising reunions.
“Everybody who used to cruise who still has a cool old car shows up,” he says. “They park in parking lots like they used to do. It’s a blast from the past. People love to reminiscence about that time in their lives.”
Billy Ford was only 14 years old when he started cruising Forest Lane — but don’t worry, he was in the passenger seat.
“In 1970, my parents bought my sister a 1970 TransAm for graduation,” he explains. “Her boyfriend, Bobby Williams, would take myself and my younger brother up and down Forest Lane … I got hooked.”
Once he obtained a license of his own, Ford cruised the street almost every weekend with his friends from Hillcrest High School.
“If you wanted a pretty girlfriend, you had to have a hot rod,” he says matter-of-factly. “I had about 10 of them. I’d sell one and get something different about every six months.”
The sweet wheels must have paid off. Williams met “the first love of [his] life on Forest Lane.” They dated for two years, or roughly an eternity in teenage time. He probably wooed her in the FedMart parking lot. It was his favorite place on the drag.
“That’s basically where everyone would park and hang out and shoot the bull,” Ford says. “It was something.”
They never had much trouble with the police. In fact, he remembers one officer fondly.
“Officer Smiley,” he says enthusiastically. “Everybody knew who Officer Smiley was. If it got out of hand, he’d tell you tone it down. He just passed away a year or so ago. He was a really good guy.”
Ford is nostalgic about his Forest Lane days, but he still cruises with his buds any time the opportunity presents itself.
“If you want to see something similar, you can go to Keller’s pretty much every Saturday night, east of Abrams. The vast majority of people out there are ex-Forest Laners.”
They arrive at the burger joint in all sorts of cars. Some have expensive new rides, like Lamborghinis, but others keep it old school. Ford usually brings his Corvette, a limited edition released in the ’90s. His interest in automobiles hasn’t waned a bit since he was a teenager. If anything, it’s grown.
“I owned an automotive shop,” he says. “I was always intrigued by how things worked. I’d take apart every clock in the house. My dad was happy when I learned to put them back together. My intrigue about how things work and fast cars and stuff like that made [Forest Lane] a perfect fit for me.
“That’s what it was all about– seeing those fast cars. I never got over it.”