As a high school kid in the 1980s, Patrick Toepfer worked at Mammal’s grocery store on the north end of downtown Main Street.
"Saturday nights I got off at 8 and I’d just get straight in my car and go drag Main," Toepfer said. "I was looking for my friends. We didn’t have phones."
This Friday night he plans to drag Main again, beginning at 8 p.m. on the bricks in downtown Hays.
Toepfer on Monday posted the suggestion to drag Main on Friday in the Facebook group "You know you’re from Hays if." By Tuesday morning, the idea had gone viral. Dozens of residents, past and present, have said they plan to cruise with him on Friday night.
There is an official route map, and two downtown eateries have said they’ll pitch in by offering food curbside so people can stay in their cars because of social distancing standards recommended in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
All cars, and all ages, are welcome, Toepfer said Tuesday afternoon outside his house on 21st Street.
He’ll be driving his 1968 Pontiac Catalina, but Friday night’s event isn’t a car show, nor is it only for classic cars like his, which he bought from Auto World owner Dick Werth.
"It’s just for fun, and nostalgic," Toepfer said. "This is a safe way for people to get outside and get in their cars. At 8 o’clock we’re just going to get out and go the old route."
Old-timers remember the drill, but for young kids who have never done it, Toepfer says the concept of dragging Main Street, like back in the day, is pretty simple.
"You just honk, and wave, and roll down your window and talk to people," said Toepfer, a 1985 graduate of Hays High School.
Sara Bloom, executive director of Downtown Hays Development Corp., enthusiastically embraced the idea when she saw Toepfer’s post on Facebook and all the interest it was generating.
"We’re excited to see a lot of car traffic on downtown Main this Friday," Bloom said. "It’s one way to be connected even in all the craziness."
Some on Facebook suggested it’s illegal, which it was at one time, Bloom said, but not anymore. The only concern of the police, she said, is that people don’t congregate in crowds.
"We just want to encourage people, don’t gather, just enjoy the cruise," she said.
Paisley Pear Wine Bar, Bistro and Market, 1100 Main St., will have appetizers and its flatbread pizza for sale. Cruisers can call in their orders, then pick them up curbside or have them delivered for free, with no minimum order, said Paisley Pear co-owner Shaun Musil.
"I’m excited for what they’re doing," said Musil, who is also mayor of Hays and a city commissioner. "People can maybe park their cars and watch something fun, instead of sitting in their house."
With Gov. Laura Kelly banning gatherings of more than 10 people, Musil said his store’s delivery and carry-out business has been strong the past couple of weeks, more than usual. To help keep business going, he waived his delivery fee and doesn’t require a minimum order.
"Small business owners have to do what they can now to stay afloat," Musil said.
Tiger Burger, at the south end of Main Street, is offering a $5 grab ’n go burger for $5, said Gari Herdt, general manager.
"We are doing a quarter-pound burger and fries," Herdt said. "We’re just going to make it plain and simple."
Tiger Burger staff will probably walk orders out to each car, she said.
Bloom on Tuesday morning was creating the official route map. She has her own memories of dragging a different downtown.
"I grew up in Lindsborg, and we used to drive to Salina and drag Santa Fe," Bloom recalled. "Patrick said that back in the day in Hays it would take 30 minutes to get from one end of Main to the other."
For a few years after Toepfer graduated, kids were still dragging Main, he said. But then the practice died out, especially as kids started connecting through their cellphone, he said, and as alcohol and driving became a bigger concern.
On Friday night, the younger generation can see what it’s like, as Toepfer said everyone is welcome.
"I encourage everyone. It’s not a car show," he said. "Back in the day we didn’t have classic cars, we had whatever we could afford."
The routine is known to many: circling through the law enforcement parking lot, dragging Main south to the Varsity Bowl Drive In, owned by Red Wycoff.
"We’d park at the Varsity Bowl and order food from Red," Toepfer said. "And that’s where we turned around."
The route has changed a little, so cruisers on Friday night will circle the courthouse block at the north end and drive through the Hays Aquatic Park parking lot at the south end, Bloom said.
And hopefully this won’t be the last Friday night cruise, Toepfer said.
"The true experience could be maybe late summer?" he said. "Where we park by the railroad tracks and be social and park by the Pavilion."