Wheelin’ weekend showcases 260 cars

Elise Otto

The Phi Luau and the Black Student Union Dance weren’t the only scene available to Whitman students on Saturday evening. A street dance party, the culmination of the Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend, took place from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m., not including a ten minute power outage at 8:54.

The weekend started off with a cruise where 260 cars, accompanied by representatives from the police and fire departments, drove through Walla Walla and the surrounding countryside. A barbeque, a beer garden and a showing of Buddy Holly on the wall of the Marcus Whitman Friday night followed, and the main event, a car show containing 361 cars occured between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“This year’s show was record breaking,” said Robyn Gehrke, who organized the event with her husband Marty and their secretary at Walla Walla Recycling, Tammy Stapelton. “We had 361 cars this year versus 221 last year.”

The Gehrkes took over the 13-year-old event five years ago after attendance dropped and the car show was in danger of being canceled. Since then they’ve seen resurgence in attendance and registration, this year almost reaching maximum amount of cars they can allow to enter.

The event gives out 125 awards, 100 provided by Les Schwab, several class awards, and, most prominently, the “Best in Show,” this year earned by a custom outfitted Lincoln Seplar.

The culminating dance party attracted all the diversity that Eastern Washington had to offer. Teenage girls swayed to the music, holding their little brothers, grandfathers joined grandchildren on the dance floor, a few line dancers donned boots and hats, along with the standard wine tasting 40-somethings partaking in a quick waltz or jive.

The band, Hot Rod Deluxe, who has played at the event the last few years, hails from Spokane, Wash., and covered everything from “Pretty Woman” to a few Doobie Brothers hits. “It’s pretty good once the power gets going and people start dancing,” said Katie Gladden, a Walla Walla College student who came out with her sister to enjoy the show and specifically a newer Corvette owned by their aunt and uncle.

The weekend was good not only for the fans but also for downtown Walla Walla economy. Ashley Georgia, an employee at Bright’s Candies said, “It’s been good for business, very good. We’ve had people non-stop all day and it’s been swamped during the street dance.”

The lack of support from downtown businesses surprises Gehrke. “We’re bringing in all these people, and still just a few of the banks come out for the weekend, but that’s pretty much it.”

Businesses that were actually benefiting from the crowds showed a surprising lack of support for what Gladden calls “one of the most interesting weekends in Walla Walla.” Workers at Starbucks were too busy with a line of customers that stretched out the door to comment on why their company chooses not to back an event so unique in the local community.

Overall, the event adds a touch of excitement and unity in a community Whitman students often see as a deficit. That doesn’t mean the campus showed up for an event that they feel their town lacks. “The college is only a few blocks away, students should be here,” said Gehrke. After all, how many opportunities are there to dance in the streets?